Dmitry Shostakovich

Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Op. 47

    Description by Allen Schrott

    In 1936, the Soviet government launched an official attack against Dmitri Shostakovich's music, calling it "vulgar, formalistic, [and] neurotic." He became an example to other Soviet composers, who rightfully interpreted these events as a broad campaign against musical modernism. This constituted a crisis, both in Shostakovich's career and in Soviet music as a whole; composers had no choice but to write simple, optimistic music that spoke directly (especially through folk idioms and patriotic programs) to the people and glorified the state.

    In light of these circumstances, Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony (first performed in 1937) is a bold composition that seems to fly in the face of his critics. Although the musical language is pared down from that of his earlier symphonies, the Fifth eschews any hint of a patriotic program and, instead, dwells on undeniably somber and tragic affects -- wholly unacceptable public emotions at the time. According to the cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, the government would certainly have had Shostakovich executed for writing such a work had the public ovation at the first performance not lasted 40 minutes. The official story, however, is quite different. An unknown commentator dubbed the symphony "the creative reply of a Soviet artist to justified criticism," and to the work was attached an autobiographical program focusing on the composer's metamorphosis from incomprehensible formalist to standard-bearer of the communist party. Publicly, Shostakovich accepted the official interpretation of his work; however, in the controversial collection of his memoirs (Testimony, by Solomon Volkov) he is quoted as saying: "I think it is clear to everyone what happens in the Fifth. The rejoicing is forced, created under threat...you have to be a complete oaf not to hear that."

    Regardless of its philosophical underpinnings, Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5 is a masterpiece of the orchestral repertory, poignant and economical in its conception. There is no sign of the excess of ideas so common in the Fourth Symphony. Instead, Shostakovich deploys the orchestra sparingly and allows the entire work to grow naturally out of just a few motives. Given some of his earlier works, the Fifth is conservative in language. Throughout the work he allows the strings to be the dominant orchestral force, making soloistic use of the woodwinds and horn especially effective. The Moderato begins with a jagged, foreboding canon in the strings that forms the motivic basis for the entire movement. The impassioned mood is occasionally interrupted by a lyrical melody with string ostinato, later the subject of a duet for flute and horn.

    The second movement (Allegretto) is a grotesque 3/4 dance which, at times, can't help but mock itself; the brass section is featured prominently. The following Largo, a sincere and personal outpouring of musical emotion, is said to have left the audience at the work's premiere in tears. Significantly, it was composed during an intensely creative period following the arrest and execution of one of Shostakovich's teachers.

    The concluding Allegro non troppo has been the center of much debate: some critics consider it a poorly constructed concession to political pressure, while others have made note of its possible irony. While the prevailing mood is triumphant, there is some diversion to the somber and foreboding, and it is not until the end that it takes on the overtly "big-finishy" character for which it is so noted.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Moderato
    2. Allegretto (Scherzo)
    3. Largo
    4. Allegro non troppo

    Appears On

    Year Title / Performer Label / Catalog # AllMusic Rating
    2020
    Decca
    4850219
    2020
    Musicaphon
    56953
    2020
    BR Klassik
    BRK 900191
    2020
    LSO / LSO Live
    LSO 0802
    2019
    Hallé
    HLL 7550
    2018
    Sony Classical
    19075820802
    2018
    Gega / Gega New
    GD 385
    2018
    Sony Classical
    88985483741
    2018
    Alpha
    427
    2018
    LSO Live
    LSO 302D
    2017
    Deutsche Grammophon
    4797477
    2017
    Reference Recordings
    FR 724
    2017
    Urania
    WS 121168
    2016
    Melodiya
    MELCD 1002431
    2016
    Praga / Praga Digitals
    DSD 350122
    2016
    RCA Red Seal
    88985321742
    2016
    Deutsche Grammophon
    2016
    Deutsche Grammophon
    4795201
    2015
    Naxos
    8501111
    2014
    Deutsche Grammophon
    2014
    Mariinsky
    MAR 0545
    2014
    Hänssler Classic
    CD 93326
    2014
    Alto / Musical Concepts
    MCSCD 6004
    2014
    RCA Red Seal
    88843063602
    2013
    The Entertainment Group
    13802
    2012
    Entertainment Group
    4012
    2012
    Decca
    4784252
    2012
    Decca
    2012
    Various Artists
    Naxos
    8501059
    2012
    Decca / Mercury Living Presence
    001653302
    2012
    The Entertainment Group
    11101
    2012
    Urania
    WS 121143
    2012
    Entertainment Group
    12105
    2012
    RPO
    RPOSP 037
    2012
    Regis Records
    RRC 1377
    2011
    RCO Live
    RCO 11004
    2011
    Erato
    2564698905
    2011
    Antes Edition / Zebralution
    2011
    Melodiya
    100771
    2011
    Decca
    2011
    Warner Classics
    256464177
    2010
    Sony Classical
    8869768365
    2010
    Orfeo
    C 819101 B
    2010
    Denon Records
    2010
    RPO
    28370
    2010
    Denon Records
    2010
    Cascavelle
    3137
    2010
    Decca
    2010
    SFS Media
    8219360035
    2010
    Alto / Musical Concepts
    1067
    2010
    Deutsche Grammophon
    2009
    Denon Records
    2009
    Denon Records
    2009
    Denon Records
    2009
    Naxos
    8572167
    2009
    Warner Classics
    2009
    Music & Arts
    1232
    2008
    Various Artists
    EMI Classics / Warner Classics
    5099921750
    2008
    Brilliant Classics
    8593
    2008
    Brilliant Classics
    8818
    2008
    Melodiya
    1001065
    2008
    Signum UK
    135
    2008
    Urania
    346
    2008
    Classics for Pleasure
    2008
    Ambroisie
    AM 171
    2008
    Ondine
    1109
    2007
    Decca
    4758592
    2007
    Cascavelle
    3106
    2007
    LPO
    99
    2007
    Brilliant Classics
    8128
    2007
    Elatus
    2007
    PentaTone Classics
    5186096
    2007
    BBC Legends
    42262
    2007
    Artek
    37
    2007
    Decca
    475 8748DC12
    2007
    Decca
    2007
    Deutsche Grammophon
    4776579
    2007
    Deutsche Grammophon
    2006
    Chandos
    CHAN2027
    2006
    BBC Legends / BBC Music
    41932
    2006
    Supraphon
    38902
    2006
    Weitblick
    40
    2006
    Edel Classics
    2342
    2006
    Berlin Classics
    0017922
    2006
    Arts Music
    47850
    2006
    Deutsche Grammophon
    4776575
    2006
    Halle Concerts Society
    7511
    2006
    Warner Classics
    62354
    2006
    Arts Music
    47668
    2006
    Warner Classics
    2006
    BIS
    973/974
    2006
    Teldec
    2006
    Decca
    000732502
    2006
    Universal
    2006
    EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics
    0946365300
    2006
    Decca
    475 7413DC11
    2005
    Philips / Universal/Philips
    4708412
    2005
    Supraphon
    36992
    2005
    London Philharmonic Orchestra / LPO
    1
    2005
    MDG
    9371202
    2005
    LSO Live
    LSO 0550
    2005
    Sony Classical
    94733
    2005
    LSO Live
    58
    2005
    EMI Classics
    2005
    BBC Legends / BBC Music
    41652
    2005
    Audiophile Records
    101503
    2005
    Capriccio Records
    71029
    2004
    History
    205651
    2004
    Melodiya
    770
    2004
    Arts Music
    45001
    2004
    Arts Music
    47668
    2004
    Philips
    000248702
    2004
    MDG
    3371202
    2004
    Decca
    000263736
    2004
    Philips / Universal
    2004
    Brilliant Classics
    6324
    2004
    Universal Classics
    000217302
    2004
    Rca Red Seal
    55493
    2003
    Testament
    SBT1290
    2003
    Urania
    11908
    2002
    Harmonia Mundi
    2905255/59
    2002
    Symposium
    1295
    2002
    Brilliant
    6275
    2002
    Decca / Eloquence
    4674782
    2002
    Telarc Distribution
    60561
    2002
    Disky
    70743
    2002
    Doremi Records
    7610
    2001
    Deutsche Grammophon
    469316
    2001
    Well-Tempered Productions
    WTP 190
    2001
    Naxos
    8 501102
    2001
    Amadis
    7194
    2001
    Sony Classical
    89750
    2000
    Vox
    7803
    2000
    Tring
    032
    2000
    Vanguard
    1031
    2000
    Melodiya
    72915
    2000
    Decca
    425066
    1999
    Praga
    250085
    1999
    Praga
    256016/19
    1999
    Antes Edition
    319112
    1999
    London
    440476
    1999
    Sony Classical
    61841
    1999
    ICONE
    9407
    1999
    Carlton
    6601012
    1999
    Delos
    3246
    1999
    Carlton
    6601229
    1998
    Supraphon
    3327
    1998
    EMI Music Distribution
    72658
    1998
    Intersound
    2837
    1998
    Ondine
    8172
    1998
    Teldec
    17046
    1997
    RCA
    902668548
    1997
    EMI Music Distribution
    566557-2
    1997
    Melodiya
    7432149611
    1997
    EMI Music Distribution
    56442
    1997
    Leningrad Masters
    1311
    1997
    Dutton Laboratories
    8017
    1996
    RCA
    68456
    1996
    Melodiya
    29459
    1996
    Berlin Classics
    0092172
    1996
    RCA
    74321 32041-2
    1996
    BMG
    7432129404
    1996
    Everest
    9030
    1995
    Linn Records
    004
    1995
    Praga
    7250085
    1995
    Teldec
    4509-94557-2
    1995
    Carlton
    2018
    1995
    London
    444 430-2LC11
    1994
    Sony Music Distribution
    47615
    1994
    Denon Records
    75719
    1994
    Russian Disc
    11023
    1994
    Russian Disc
    11180
    1994
    Decca
    1994
    BIS
    357
    1994
    Naxos
    506003
    1994
    Supraphon
    1951
    1994
    Naxos
    550632
    1993
    Pearl
    9044
    1993
    Berlin Classics
    0020632
    1993
    Russian Disc
    RDCD11188
    1993
    Sony Music Distribution
    53261
    1993
    Telarc Distribution
    82001
    1992
    Chandos
    8650
    1992
    Erato
    45763
    1992
    Philips
    434 323-2MM
    1992
    Praga
    254002/03
    1992
    Naxos
    550427
    1992
    Erato
    45752
    1990
    Telarc Distribution
    80215
    1989
    CBS Records
    44903
    1981
    CBS Records
    37218
    D Classics
    707462
    Denon Records
    4175
    Carlton
    91542
    Brilliant Classics
    8593/5
    Philips
    422306
    Music & Arts
    765
    History
    205656303
    Various Artists
    All Russia
    PopeMusic
    2009
    PopeMusic
    1009
    Philharmonia of the Nations
    52
    Tring
    032
    Collins Records
    11082
    Brilliant Classics
    8635/90
    Brilliant
    8128/3
    Brilliant
    6275-3
    Capriccio Records
    71031
    Theorema
    121131
    Philips
    420069
    London
    421120
    Decca
    410017
    Warner Music
    Deutsche Grammophon
    410509
    CBS Records
    727
    Manchester
    104
    EMI Music Distribution
    54803
    IMP Classics
    940
    RCA
    5608
    Deutsche Schallplatten
    1035
    London
    410017
    CBS Records
    35854
    Canyon Classics
    3672
    As Disc
    631
    Supraphon
    110676
    Ondine
    817
    Collins Records
    1108
    Preludio
    2156
    Pickwick
    1609
    Russian Revelation
    10025
    RCA
    6801
    Supraphon
    111951
    Arkadia
    765
    Intaglio
    712
    JVC Compact Discs
    6502