Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Trying out sound on our blog

Hi Kari,

I'm doing this post because I'm an experimentalist. Getting pictures onto the blog was one experiment and now we feel pretty comfortable doing that. Now, I'll try to introduce sound!

I know little about music at a technical level but I know what I like. One of my favorite symphonic works is Shostakovich Symphony #5. It takes you through scary grinding menacing sounds to parts that are sad but beautiful to the rousing conclusion that sounds triumphant but is a pyrrhic victory.

To hear a clip of the first 20 seconds from the 4th movement, click here for an MP3 (337K) file.

Now, go ahead and click here for that same portion as interpreted by another conductor on another MP3 (234K) file.

Did it work on your computer?

If it did, can you hear a difference?

One clip was the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam under the baton of Bernard Haitink and the other was by the New York Philharmonic under the direction of Leonard Bernstein.

I have to confess I wasn't prepared for the rather large difference!

Shostakovich was trained and worked within the totalitarian regime of the Soviet Union. As such, he did his share of appropriately heroic and patriotic music. But musicians are if anything rebellious types and when he strayed compositionally, the critics and government bosses came down on him.

One example of his heroic music was Symphony #7 which was written partly when he lived in Leningrad during its siege in World War II. Eventually, he was asked to leave Leningrad because as a composer he had morale value to the nation. He eventually finished the work and it premiered with the orchestra of the Bolshoi Theatre. It was then played in Moscow and a microfilmed version of the score was even shipped to the USA for a special radio broadcast (the USA and USSR were allies in WWII). The work was hailed by the USSR government as a great patriotic work. Shostakovich didn't object because he saw the suffering of the people of Leningrad first hand. However, later in life, he would say (quoting the notes in my CD), "I was thinking of the enemies of humanity when I composed the theme [found in the first movement] ... I have nothing against calling the Seventh the 'Leningrad' Symphony, but it's not about Leningrad under siege, it's about the Leningrad that Stalin destroyed and that Hitler merely finished off ... "

Likewise, Symphony #5 (pre-WWII) received acclaim by the government because it sounded victorious and served the needs of the USSR. But in reality, Shostakovich was in his own way criticizing the government. He described this work (quoting the notes in my CD), "I think that it is clear to everyone what happens in the Fifth ... It's as if someone were beating you with a stick and saying, 'Your business is rejoicing, your business is rejoicing' and you rise, shakily, and go off muttering, 'Our business is rejoicing, our business is rejoicing.'"


P.S. If there are some web savvy readers out there, please let me know if the way I have it configured is the best way to yield playable MP3 audio clips. Thanks!


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