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Dmitri Shostakovich: Symphony No. 5. Analysis by Gerard Schwarz (part 4)

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- The finale, last movement, starts out with this aggressive trill, and then the timpani, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam. I mean, this is a march, this is a diabolical march. And the brass come in playing this march. ("Symphony No. 5" by Dmitri Shostakovich) The strings take over and, in fact, they have the second part of this motive. And Shostakovich develops it right away. He takes the material of the violins, and material of the brass, and he immediately makes that into a whole section on its own. So he doesn't introduce more material, he just takes that, in an imaginative way, develops it incredibly until this new theme comes in, and the new theme is played by the trumpet. So after the trumpet states that, that material grows and grows, and then all of a sudden in the most positive expression the whole string section plays that melody, and it's just a great moment. It builds to a high pitch, and then the timpani come in, and then we have the first theme played by the trombones as a canon. So the trombones start and then the trumpets and horns come in, and it leads to this great, tremendous climax, and what do we hear but the same rhythm that we always hear, this. (repeating piano keys playing) That Shostakovich accompany rhythm. Eventually the violins come in playing an accompaniment passage, and the second theme is played in a very poignant way by the solo horn, again, one of the most beautiful horn solos in the repertoire. We talked about the first theme and having a second part of the first theme. At the end of the horn solo the string come in and they a kind of an extension, it's kind of a bridge, and then they play that same melody that we heard but in an augmented way. Very poignant, very beautiful. Then, the harp comes in in this kind of, again, suspended way and the timpani start, ba-ba-bum, ba-ba-ba-ba-ba, and the snare drum, and we hear the first theme. The trumpet, you know, that started the movement, but this time played very softly by the woodwinds as if it were from a distance. It was from somewhere else and it's done in a very different way. Over that, eventually clarinets and oboes come in playing an accompaniment that are just all quicker notes. And eventually the strings come in, those eighth notes keep going, and he starts to build to this triumphant ending. So here is the question for all of us, what is this, is it a very positive ending? What you have is, you have these repeated notes that we heard from the oboes. (repeated piano keys playing) Going on and going on and going on. And then the material is in a major key but Shostakovich does it in a slow way. It's not a fast ending. He brings the timpani in just like the beginning of the movement. But he has this repetition of these notes, this. (repeated piano keys playing) Going on forever, while the trumpets play. (simple piano melody) And the timpani, bom-bom-bom-bom. So the question is, for so many of us, is it a very positive ending? Well, yeah, it is. Or, no, it's not. I'm from the no it's not group. I find it to be as powerful and poignant as anything in a minor key would be. There was a famous performance in the late 1950s that Leonard Bernstein did with the New York Philharmonic, where he did the whole ending very fast. Not written that way but he did it that way, and that sounds very positive. There's no question if you do it really fast, boom, it's over and it's a great coda. But if you do it the way he wrote it, it has a whole different psychological poignancy that is quite remarkable.