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Dmitri Shostakovich: Symphony No. 5. Analysis by Gerard Schwarz (part 2)

Video transcript

- The second movement, typical symphony style, the way it's supposed to be, it's the scherzo. Now, some people think it's a light-hearted scherzo. Oh, I don't think so, not at all. This is a sarcastic, angry, ominous scherzo. He writes it that way. The cellos and the basses begin fortissimo, and he writes actually long notes. When the recapitulation comes, when the theme comes back, in the bassoons and contrabassoon, it's written with staccato marks. Well, that is supposed to be short. The beginning, there are no staccato marks, clearly not to be short, and we play it in that kind of vigorous, vulgar, grotesque way. ("Symphony No. 5" by Dmitri Shostakovich) The horns enter, and then the upper woodwinds come in, and you have a solo for the E flat clarinet. I mean, how bizarre is that? That's not normal. If this was a normal, lighthearted moment, you'd have the flute play the melody. You wouldn't have the E flat clarinet, and all of a sudden, the E flat clarinet is playing really short notes, and it's accompanied by two horns. I mean, it's just wild. ("Symphony No. 5" by Dmitri Shostakovich) Woodwinds take over. The strings enter. And we finally get to the third theme, which is played by the upper woodwinds. ("Symphony No. 5" by Dmitri Shostakovich) The horns play the answer to all of these themes with a very big brassy moment. Now we come to the middle section of this minuet in trio, or scherzo in trio. When we talk about classical music and we talk about this kind of movement in three, it was always a minuet, the dance. It had a trio section, which was usually contrasting orchestration, and basically three voices, and then a recapitulation of the first section. Let's call it A-B-A. As Beethoven developed the scherzo, it was the same except all of a sudden it became faster. Shostakovich goes back, I think, to the original, and the opening tempo, I believe, is more like a minuet than a scherzo, and the trio is in fact a trio. There's a passage written for cello playing pizzicato, harp playing single notes, and a solo violin. For me, this passage is so much like what I would consider Viennese cafe music. It's full of charm and kind of superficial, but a real trio. And then it's repeated, but when it's repeated, it's repeated with pizzicato strings, one voice, bassoon, and flute. Again, a trio, and this time, it almost sounds like, instead of a Viennese cafe, it sounds like a Viennese music box, and the flute plays in a very different way than the violin would. ("Symphony No. 5" by Dmitri Shostakovich) So we had the A, the middle trio, and now we go back to the A, and this time, instead of being loud and aggressive, it's soft and short, played in octaves. In other words, there's one note here and a note here, so it's played in octaves, (playing piano notes) with the bassoon and the contrabassoon. Again, a stroke of genius. I just think it's incredible. And then, when the E flat clarinet material comes in, instead of having it played by the E flat clarinet or even in that register, he has the whole string section play it pizzicato. ("Symphony No. 5" by Dmitri Shostakovich) it's just these great moments of music, and obviously he builds to a very wonderful, exciting ending. ("Symphony No. 5" by Dmitri Shostakovich)