I. Allegro II. Moderato III. Presto IV. Largo V. Allegretto
At the end of 1944, rumours began spreading through Russian musical circles that Shostakovich was planning to write a new symphony which would be the third in a tryptich of symphonies depicting the Soviet Union’s ultimate victory of the Nazis. The first panel was the Seventh “Leningrad” Symphony, the Eighth being “Stalingrad.” Journalists naturally beat a path to the door of the person most qualified to confirm or deny. “Yes, I am thinking of a Ninth symphony, but I would like to write not just for orchestra, but for soloists and choir as well. I just need to find a suitable text. Even so I am afraid certain individuals will draw immodest parallels” said the composer, who had his tongue far more in his cheek than was realised. A few close friends and colleagues listened to the new symphony’s slow minor introduction and optimistic major key allegro – but Shostakovich did not complete the movement. In the summer of 1945, the Soviet press again reported that the new symphony would soon be premiered, which “is dedicated to our great victory.” And indeed, Shostakovich – putting aside his earlier sketches – did compose the Ninth symphony between August 5th and 30th. Its premiere in Leningrad on November 3rd was one of the great scandals of Soviet musical life. Instead of the monumental choral symphony that everyone expected, they were served up a “simfonietta”, that was light in tone, basically one long scherzo, which instead of evoking Beethovenian heroic pathos, seemed to have chosen as its model Haydn’s jokey simplicity. Its simple thematic material, crisp orchestration for small forces, and an archaic repetition of the exposition, made some suspect a parodistic intention. Another statistic that made it hard to accept the Ninth as the final work of a tryptich was its length: its five movements combined were shorter than the opening movements of either the Seventh or the Eighth symphonies. Despite the reservations of contemporary Soviet critics, history dissolved them, and absolved Shotakovich. As memories of the war faded, it was the Ninth Symphony that became increasingly programmed by conductors in their concerts rather than the programatic, weighty Seventh and Eighth.