Composer: Dmitri Shostakovich (b. 1906 - d. 1975)
Performance date: 29/06/2019
Venue: Bantry Library
Composition Year: 1944
Recording Engineer: Ciaran Cullen, RTÉ
Instrumentation: 2vn, va, vc
Delta Piano Trio (Gerard Spronk [violin], Irene Enzlin [cello], Vera Kooper [piano]) -
Dmitri Shostakovich [1906-1975]
Piano Trio No 2 in E minor, Op.67 
• Andante – Moderato – Poco piu mosso
• Allegro con brio
During the siege of Leningrad by the Nazis, a young Jewish pupil of Shostakovich, Benjamin Fleyshman, was killed in action. At the time of his death he had been working on a one-act opera, Rothschild’s Violin, based on a story by Chekov, which Shostakovich proceeded to complete at the same time as beginning a piano trio in memory of his young friend. He finished the opera on 5 February 1944. The same day his Eighth Symphony was performed in Novosibirsk, introduced by his close friend, the musicologist Ivan Sollertinsky. Less than a week later Sollertinsky died of a heart attack. It will be unimaginably difficult to go on living without him; wrote the composer. They had been bosom friends since 1927 and reading Shostakovich’s story you feel that Sollertinsky was not only a true friend, who could be relied on at all times, but was also able to communicate with him as an equal. For instance Sollertinsky had introduced Shostakovich to Mahler, whose music found a vivid response in the young composer.
There is a tradition of Russian composers writing Trios as memorials, Tchaikovsky for Rubinstein, Rachmaninov for Tchaikovsky, Arensky for Davidov, so Shostakovich wrote his for Sollertinsky. But although he dedicated it to his greatest friend it was the same Trio that he had begun in memory of his pupil Fleyshman, and through him the whole Jewish race represented by the Jewish folk tune quoted in the last movement. This makes it the first of his borrowings from Jewish music from this Finale to the Finale of the Fourth Quartet to the Allegro molto of the Eighth Quartet to the song cycle From Jewish Folk Poetry to Babi Yar in the 13th Symphony. Shostakovich wrote: Jewish folk music can seem cheerful and in reality be deeply tragic. Almost always it is laughter under tears. This characteristic comes very close to my concept of music. Music must always contain two strata.
What emerged from this is a great four-movement elegy that is one of the classics of twentieth century music. The eerie introduction with the solo cello in harmonics creates an otherworldly sound to which violin and then piano add their muted voices. This is progressively animated by numerous ostinato and marcellato effects as well as a second theme of bizarrely inappropriate cheerfulness. The Scherzo is like a whirlwind with its wild energy and haunting lilting Allegro, said by many perfectly to mirror the quicksilver intelligence of Sollertinsky There is a brief Trio hidden at the heart of the movement.
The Largo is both its own passionate elegy and an introduction to the unrestrained horror of the Finale. It is cast in the familiar Shostakovich form of the Passacaglia with five variations of painful beauty unfolding over the funereal tread of the piano. The Finale opens with repeated notes on the piano and a subdued pizzicato violin. The tension is then increased so that the piano can start the Yiddish folk tune accompanied by pizzicato chords on the strings as in klezmer music. A new theme is added to this increasingly macabre dance and the tension is screwed tighter and tighter until a climax of total despair is reached with the music spiralling round and round, going nowhere. This is music in the same ferocious spirit as the similar movement in the Fourth Quartet, such a clear-sighted indictment of state terror that they were both banned for years. Then the dance starts again with renewed horror but soon collapses, until eventually the Passacaglia reminds us of who had died and why.
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