This is stirring stuff. Composed around the time of Stalin’s death in 1953, this is a work about power, corruption and secrets. Firstly, a secret: Shostakovich craftily embedded the name of former female student, Elmira Nazirova, in the score. She obviously had had a profound effect on the Russian maestro, as the horn leitmotif "E La Mi Re A" surfaces strong feelings of longing and regret. Here was a love that dare not speak its name – so the 47 year old Dmitri locked it away in his music. Some boyfriend he would have been.
The music, however, is magnificent. The first movement is longer than whole symphonies by other great composers, and it transforms the listener to a world of seriousness, of great events, of emotional trauma.
For anybody frazzled by the ephemeral mediocrity of media today, a good antidote - and much needed reaffirmation of one’s humanity - can be found here in the 10th. The founder of the whole Communist steam train, Karl Marx, can be thanked for giving us the concept of "false consciousness" – the idea that economic and governmental systems, media outlets and marketing executives, continuously feed us trivial, meaningless pap, to sooth us and keep us from realising the structural/ political inequalities and injustices all around us. Shostakovich’s 10th punctures through this to conflate the political, individual and spiritual, leaving us looking again at our circumstances with saddened, but clarified, understanding.
Not for the faint of heart. Shostakovich means it, and faces reality square on. The reality of the Soviet Union in 1953 was a harsh, unforgiving place - full of secrets.
Have a listen: