Shostakovich & R. Strauss
Shostakovich & R. Strauss

Shostakovich & R. Strauss

March 17 – 20, 2022

The Dallas Symphony Orchestra has Russian composers programmed throughout the 2021/22 season, which was planned in 2020. We believe that these works should continue to be performed; the pieces come from all times in history, from the Czarist age to the authoritarian regime of Stalin. Many of these composers, who are integral to the classical music canon, wrote works in reaction to the oppression and violence of their time living in or being forced to leave the Soviet Union or Russia. These works are reflections of universal human emotions that touch us all. To remove these compositions from the programming is to silence their voices based on tragic events in the contemporary world. Musicians use their art to respond to or transcend politics and reminds us that art has the power to eliminate boundaries and connect us to each other.


SHOSTAKOVICH Cello Concerto No. 1
R. STRAUSS Symphonia Domestica

The Dallas Symphony Orchestra stands in solidarity with our musicians of Ukrainian heritage and the people of Ukraine. As a tribute to their strength and courage, we open this program with Myroslav Skoryk’s Melody and dedicate these concerts in their honor.

Unsuk Chin‚Äôs 2019 orchestral time-capsule is ‚Äúseven minutes of soundscapes, juxtaposed violently, then resting peacefully, with pedal points, blurrings and harmonic advances‚Ķ‚ÄĚ (Das Orchester).

Inspired by Prokofiev‚Äôs Sinfonia Concertante, Shostakovich‚Äôs Cello Concerto No. 1 is considered one of the most difficult concerted works for the cello.  Written after the death of Stalin, Shostakovich dedicated the work to the famous Russian cellist, Mstislav Rostropovich.  Both Shostakovich and Rostropovich were no strangers to the horrors of the Soviet regime.  Stalin’s ideal artists were “engineers of souls,” forging a heroic new national character for the laborers. Getting branded by Zhdanov’s crew as a “decadent formalist” could mean the gulag or death for the transgressors‚ÄĒand possibly even their family and friends. Rostropovich emigrated to the US in 1974, yet despite being one of the world‚Äôs most-celebrated musicians, he was banned from performing in his native land.

Richard Strauss’s autobiographical Symphonia Domestica depicts his family life, complete with orchestral lullabies, shrieks, clock chimes and the usual lively chaos of home.

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Program Notes

by René Spencer Saller

Born in Seoul, South Korea, Unsuk Chin spent her childhood in poverty, under a military dictatorship. Although her family barely earned enough to stave off starvation, much less pay for music teachers, music found Chin anyway. Early in life she discovered that she was a synesthete, connecting sounds with specific colors and associations and often experiencing intense visions when she heard music. The self-taught pianist listened obsessively to classical LPs from her school library: Beethoven, Stravinsky, Debussy, Bartók.

In 1985 Chin moved to Hamburg. Rejected two years in a row by the Seoul Conservatory, the aspiring composer won a talent scholarship, allowing her to study abroad with Gy√∂rgy Ligeti, a singular compositional voice and an imposing early influence. As teacher and mentor, he was uncompromising and aggressively original. “Ligeti’s lessons opened my mind and my eyes,” Chin said in a 2018 video interview. “[Ligeti] always told us, “You always have to find your own music.”

Chin did. In 1988 she left Hamburg for Berlin, where she still lives today. Among the new-music luminaries who have championed her compositions are the internationally renowned conductors Alan Gilbert, Esa-Pekka Salonen, David Robertson, Simon Rattle, Hannu Lintu, Susanna Malkki and Gustavo Dudamel. Commissioned by many prominent orchestras and ensembles internationally, her diverse body of work includes an opera (the weird and winsome Alice in Wonderland, from 2007) and a Violin Concerto, which won the 2004 Grawemeyer Award for Composition.

Equally prolific in electronic music, Chin has fulfilled commissions for several electronic music studios, including the seminal IRCAM, which stands for Institut de recherche et coordination acoustique/musique, (Institute for Research and Coordination in Acoustics/Music). The studio home of Boulez, Berio and Cage, the Paris-based IRCAM functions as the mostly subterranean extension of the iconic Centre Pompidou: a sound laboratory churning out electro-acoustical art music. It’s underground, literally and figuratively.

Frontispiece received its world premiere on September 6, 2019, at the Elbphilharmonie, Großer Saal, Hamburg. This is its Dallas premiere.

The Composer Speaks

“Frontispiece for orchestra was commissioned by the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra to open Alan Gilbert‚Äôs inaugural season as Chief Conductor. This occasion prompted me to write a short piece which presents a time lapse of a kind of the history of music: certain aspects of a number of key symphonic works of different epochs are being evoked and poured into new molds by letting them interact and comment upon each other. These are never actual style quotations‚ÄĒ mere allusions, and faint references.

“On the level of details, the work consists of many tiny fragments which all refer to gestures typical to certain works and composers, and these are being ‚Äėtranslated‚Äô to each other in numerous different and occasionally unexpected ways. As to give but a few examples: certain chord sequences by Anton Bruckner are interpreted in a manner akin to Anton von Webern; splinters of Strauss, Scriabin and Stravinsky collide; Brahmsian harmony passes through the prisms of, say, Charles Ives; and certain material from Tchaikovsky‚Äôs Sixth Symphony‚ÄĒHeaven forbid‚ÄĒis being presented √† la mani√®re de Pierre Boulez. This process of ‚Äėtranslating‚Äô happens on several levels: diverse materials and gestures, ranging from Baroque music all the way to the avant-garde, are being transcribed and transformed in an alienating manner so that something very different arises as a sum of their interactions. All of this happens at a rather microscopic level: all aforementioned allusions, as well as other ones, are not immediately perceivable, and it is most certainly not necessary to trace them in order to be able to ‚Äėunderstand‚Äô the piece.

On the level of the macrostructure, the work‚Äôs form is being held together by a certain chord, which could be called its supporting pillar ‚ÄĒa chord which, by way of exception, is completely autarchic. Frontispiece reflects on my decades-long experiences with landmark works of the symphonic literature as composer and recipient. In extracting distinct aspects of works of certain composers, Anton von Webern‚Äôs art of revealing a ‚Äėuniverse in a nutshell‚Äô by means of extreme compression served as a particular inspiration.”
‚ÄĒUnsuk Chin

In 1959 Shostakovich told Sovetskaya Kultura that he was working on a cello concerto in three movements, the first of which he described as an “allegretto in the nature of a scherzo-like march.” He completed his Cello Concerto No. 1 later that year and dedicated it to his friend, the cello virtuoso Mstislav Rostropovich (1907‚Äď2007). As Rostropovich later recalled: “Once, when talking with Nina Vasilyevna, [Shostakovich’s] late wife, I raised the question of a commission: ‘Nina Vasilyevna, what should I do to make Dmitry Dmitriyevich write me a cello concerto?’ She answered, ‘Slava, if you want Dmitry Dmitriyevich to write something for you, the only recipe I can give you is this‚ÄĒnever ask him or talk to him about it.’”

The strategy paid off. The cellist memorized the challenging showpiece in four days and performed it at the composer’s dacha in Komarovo. Rostropovich also gave the formal premiere on October 4, 1959, joined by the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra in the Large Hall of the Leningrad Conservatory. Two days later, Rostropovich and the Moscow Philharmonic performed it for the first recording. In 1966 Rostropovich would receive another cello concerto from Shostakovich, his Second Cello Concerto, a delicately introspective stunner enriched by the composer’s renewed interest in chamber music.

Beyond Socialist Realism

Nine of Shostakovich’s 15 string quartets date to the 1960s and ’70s, when writing purely abstract, or absolute, music no longer came with a possible death sentence. The consequences under Stalin and his most devoted cultural enforcer, Andrei Zhdanov, could be dire. In 1948 Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Khachaturian and other Russian composers were publicly denounced for their “decadent formalism,” which could mean almost anything. Had Soviet censors caught a whiff of Western corruption? Stains of Second Viennese School serialism? Harmonic ambiguity and a frisson of pessimism? An existential vacuum where the victory of the proletariat ought to be?

The reasons hardly mattered. The authorities had criminalized any violations of the aesthetic principles of Socialist Realism. Making art for art’s sake wouldn’t cut it. Stalin’s ideal artists were “engineers of souls,” forging a heroic new national character for the toiling peasants and laborers. Getting branded by Zhdanov’s crew as a “decadent formalist” could mean the gulag or death for the transgressors‚ÄĒand possibly even their family and friends. After 1948 and until Stalin’s death in 1953, Shostakovich took the threat seriously: he kept a packed bug-out bag by his front door, and locked his riskiest, most subversive efforts in a desk drawer.

A Closer Listen

Cello Concerto No. 1 is scored for a small but potent chamber orchestra. Supporting the solo cello are two flutes (the second doubling piccolo), two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons (second doubling contrabassoon), timpani, celesta and strings. Although all the other instruments‚ÄĒthe slippery winds, the folky and frolicsome violins, the fateful timpani‚ÄĒare generously, even lovingly featured in the score, the lone French horn contributes so many essential riffs that the cello concerto becomes a double concerto in all but name.

Structured in four movements, with all but the first played through attaca, or without intervening pauses, Cello Concerto No. 1 is notoriously difficult from a technical standpoint. Shostokovich modeled the work in part after Prokofiev’s Sinfonia Concertante, which was also written for Rostropovich.

The opening Allegretto introduces the composer’s signature four-note motif, the DSCH seed that germinates a ripe crop of motifs for all but the second movement. The so-called motto theme consists of a D, E-flat, C and B, a musical transliteration of DSCH. Shostakovich adapted a theme from his score for the 1948 film The Young Guard, where it was used to accompany scenes of doomed Soviet soldiers marching off to their deaths, by the order of murderous Nazis. The mood is fretful, nerdily contrapuntal. The cello worries the signature motif before passing it along to other instruments. The horn, the only brass instrument featured in the score, steps up as the cello’s primary partner.

The tender Moderato features an elegiac theme sung first by the strings and then taken up, with luminous precision, by the horn. Then, instead of supplying its own variation on the theme, the solo cello pursues new harmonic directions. The cello trades off ideas with the string section and the clarinet. At the close of the second movement, the cello issues its opening melody in ghostly harmonics, echoed by a spectral celesta, as the movement imperceptibly morphs into the cadenza.

The Cadenza merits its own movement designation, even though it transitions seamlessly from the Moderato and then into the Allegro con moto finale. It contains an assortment of themes from the first and last movements, all variations on the DSCH motif. For the closing Piu mossa section, Shostakovich conjures up a flurry of rapid-fire ascending and descending scales, contrasting plucked strings and long, legato lines.

The horn resurrects the four-note motif from the first movement to launch the coda, a fevered concatenation of themes from the Allegretto and finale. Starting on a high D, the horn and oboe mine melodic gold from this slithery, chromatic, endlessly versatile themelet. Shostokovich even transforms the motif into a recognizable parody of one of Stalin’s favorite songs, “Suliko,” which Shostakovich had also plundered for Rayok, his satire of Soviet bureaucracy. By that point Stalin had been dead for six years, but the composer can be forgiven if he indulges in some mild musical gloating. After the soloist and orchestra exchange virtuosic volleys amid some serious contrapuntal majesty, the concerto ends decisively, even brutally, with seven timpani strokes.

By the time Richard Strauss completed Ein Heldenleben [A Hero’s Life], he was a confident practitioner of program music‚ÄĒor, as he preferred to call his efforts in this genre, tone poems. His remarkable run began in 1886, with Aus Italien, and included up to that point Macbeth (1887), Don Juan (1889), Tod und Verkl√§rung (1889), Till Eulenspiegel (1895), Also sprach Zarathustra (1896), Don Quixote (1897) and Ein Heldenleben (1898).

The Munich native worked tirelessly as a composer, touring conductor, and pianist. In 1898 he was named Kapellmeister at the Berlin State Opera. Although he hadn’t yet fulfilled his dream of becoming a successful opera composer, his life was intensely satisfying. He was devoted to his wife, the operatically domineering soprano Pauline de Ahna, whom he married in 1894, and their young son, Franz Alexander, born in 1897. He cherished his home life, never mind how hectic, dramatic, and loud. As he explained the situation to Gustav and Alma Mahler, “My wife is a bit rough at times, but it’s what I need, you know.” Unlike the Mahlers, the Strausses stayed together until their deaths, in 1949 (Richard) and 1950 (Pauline).

Like the widely mocked and deeply misunderstood Ein Heldenleben, Strauss’s Symphonia Domestica was meant to be understood as autobiographical and at least intermittently funny. He intended it as a sequel to Ein Heldenleben: the flip side of the successful artist’s public life. In 1902, still smarting from the reception for Ein Heldenleben, Strauss spoke of the new autobiographical project in simple, straightforward terms: “A day in my family life. It will be partly lyrical, partly humorous‚ÄĒa triple fugue will together portray Papa, Mama and Baby.”

“What can be more serious than family life? I want the Symphonia Domestica to be taken seriously,” he added (almost daring us to forget that he scored a borderline pornographic sex scene and plopped it right smack into the Adagio). He worked on Symphonia Domestica throughout 1903 and finished it on New Year’s Eve of that year, in Charlottenburg.

A Wanamaker’s and a Wedding

After the U.S. premiere, in March 1904, in New York’s Carnegie Hall, Strauss struck a deal with the department store Wanamaker’s to conduct two performances in the Astor Place location, which was temporarily converted to a concert hall. Strauss shrugged off any charges of selling out: “True art ennobles this hall, and a respectable fee for his wife and child is no disgrace, even for an artist.”

Twenty years later, using themes mostly recycled from Symphonia Domestica, Strauss wrote the Wedding Prelude for two harmoniums to honor the union of his son Franz and Alice Grab-Hermannswörth.

A Closer Listen

Transformed as musical motifs, Pauline; Franz, nicknamed Bubi; and himself, Richard Strauss, daddy-composer, are at once totemic and specific: the precise note values of the much-loved infant’s feral squalling, limned in dissonant winds and see-sawing violins; Pauline’s snide barbs and orgasmic arias; the clock chiming seven twice, first to put the sleep-deprived parents to bed, along with the beloved bawler, and then to wake the still-sleep-deprived parents the next morning. In addition to a large orchestra, Strauss scored the 45-minute tone poem for several of what were, at least for the time, somewhat unusual instruments, including the dusky-throated double-reed oboe d’amore and four saxophones (soprano in C, alto in F, baritone in F, bass in C).

Symphonia Domestica is structured in linked sections, which more or less follow the standard four-movement symphonic pattern: introduction, scherzo, adagio, finale. But without distinct pauses between the movements, the work presents itself as a long single movement.

Pauline enters via tantrum. Tempers flare and are soothed‚ÄĒwith a lullaby for the child, and for the parents, sex. A family quarrel erupts into a frenetic double fugue. The family sleeps and awakens to the same seven tolling bells.

The cellos sing the “father” theme first, in F Major, to which the flutes, oboes and violins reply, in B Major‚ÄĒthe most distant key from the father’s F. (Strauss’s take on the “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” binary.) The mother’s theme is an inversion of the father’s, with a descending major sixth substituting for the father’s ascending sixth. The oboe d’amore, pitched between the oboe and the English horn, voices the tranquil (ruhig) child’s theme, in D minor, while the woodwinds and violins unleash some pure cathartic noise here and there to remind us that Franz is an actual child, not some idealized projection. “The boy is screaming like hell,” as Strauss once observed in a letter.

The Composer Speaks

Although he later purged the music of its extramusical content by replacing the father-mother-child designations with the numbers I, II, and III, Strauss wrote the tone poem with specific characters in mind, each linked to one of the three themes and their subsidiaries. He outlined the program for the first Berlin Philharmonic performance of Symphonia Domestica on December 12, 1904:

I. Introduction and development of the three chief groups of themes

The husband’s themes:
a) Easy-going
b) Dreamy
c) Fiery

The wife’s themes:
a) Lively and gay
b) Grazioso

The child’s theme:

II. Scherzo.
Parents’ happiness. Childish play.
Cradle song (the clock strikes seven in the evening).

III. Adagio.
Creation and contemplation. Love scene.
Dreams and preoccupations (the clock strikes seven in the morning).

IV. Finale.
Awakening and merry dispute (double fugue). Joyous confusion.