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Dmitri Shostakovich - "Festive Overture"

Dmitri Shostakovich

Festive Overture

Dmitri Shostakovich

Born: September 25, 1906, Saint Petersburg, Russia

Died: August 9, 1975, Moscow, Russia

Original Instrumentation: Symphony Orchestra

Composed: 1954

Arranged: 1965, Donald Hunsberger

University of Maryland Wind Ensemble

"Carmina Burana"

Elsie & Marvin Dekelboum Concert Hall

Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center

The University of Maryland at College Park

After Stalin’s death in 1953, the Soviet government stopped bullying artists quite so much. But by then Shostakovich, who spent his career falling in and out of favor with the Communist authorities, had grown traumatized and paranoid. He retreated to a somewhat conservative creative stance and until 1960 contented himself with writing generally lighter fare, keeping his musical behavior in check as if he suspected the Soviet cultural thaw were simply an illusion that might reverse itself at any moment.

Shostakovich composed his Festive Overture in 1954 for a concert at the Bolshoi Theatre celebrating the thirty-seventh anniversary of the October Revolution. Things were looking up for the composer, who had recently been hired as an artistic consultant for the Bolshoi Theatre. The Bolshoi’s management naturally turned to him to provide a suitable piece for its celebration, though it waited until the eleventh hour to do. Shostakovich’s friend and sometime colleague Lev Lebedinsk recalls the circumstances under which the work was composed (his recollections are published in Elizabeth Wilson’s fascinating compilation Shostakovich: A Life Remembered): “The speed with which [Shostakovich] wrote was truly astounding. Moreover, when he wrote light music he was able to talk, make jokes and compose simultaneously, like the legendary Mozart. He laughed and chuckled, and in the meanwhile work was under way and the music was being written down. Two days later the dress rehearsal took place. I hurried down to the Theatre and I heard this brilliant effervescent work, with its vivacious energy spilling over like uncorked champagne.”

The buoyant six minutes of the Festive Overture make an irresistible curtain-raiser that sounds equal parts John Williams, Leroy Anderson, and a tongue-in-cheek parody of Wagner and Tchaikovsky. We tend to think of Socialist Realism as dull and gray, but even enforced optimism can sound optimistic, as this piece points out in the most delightful way, especially as it spills from its portentous opening into its bubbling Presto.

Additional Resources:

Dmitri Shostakovich, Festive Overture

Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, Yuri Temirkanov, conductor

Dmitri Shostakovich, Festive Overture, arr. Donald Hunsberger

University of Michigan Symphony Band, Michael Haithcock, conductor

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