The post-Stalin era in the Soviet Union was a time of great relief and increasing freedom for artists. Fearing for his welfare, Shostakovich had abandoned the symphony for nine years, finally ending the moratorium with the vastly successful Tenth, which he composed shortly after the March 5, 1953, death of Stalin.
With the artistic climate vastly improved, Shostakovich's expressive language ironically turned conservative and he even began to criticize the avant-garde. Shostakovich then went on to compose thoroughly unadventurous works like The Gadfly film score (1955), the Piano Concerto No. 2 (1957), and the Symphony No. 11 (1957). The Festive Overture came near the beginning of this period and is as conservative a composition ever to come from his pen. It is a light work written to celebrate the 37th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. Its joyous mood and lack of pomp clearly suggest the composer viewed politics in a different light now and felt that political leaders no longer had to be feared.
This work lasts about five minutes and often turns up as a bonus on Shostakovich symphony recordings, thus gaining considerable currency. It is colorful and thematically appealing, sounding like typical Shostakovich in a lighter vein. While the ending flirts with bombast, it is tasteful in its brevity and understatedness. If the work is truly the composer's then-current take on the meaning of the Revolution in an encapsulated form, he must have viewed it most benignly, clearly as a happy and positive event. The freedom Shostakovich enjoyed during this time would not last long, as in the following decade he would become censured for some of his compositions again, most notably the Symphony No. 13 (1962).