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"Festive Overture In A Major, Op. 96"
by Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)
Dmitri Shostakovich is one of the most innovative and heroic composers of the 20th century due, in large part, to the circumstances he had to endure under the reign of Joseph Stalin.
In Stalinist Russia it was very common for creative artists to be persecuted for being outspoken about the oppressive conditions. It was expected that all works created be in agreement with the Soviet Union's aesthetic and non-compliance could mean imprisonment or even death for artists such as Shostakovich. Written just months after Stalin's death, the Festive Overture is full of ebullience reflective of the relief Shostakovich must have felt at this time.
Immediately after the death of Stalin in March 1953, Shostakovich's priority was to release works that he had been forced to suppress, including his fourth and fifth string quartets. The Tenth Symphony, one of his most renowned masterpieces, was also written in this year, some of its material taken from his 1950 score for the film Fall of Berlin. Shortly before the Symphony's premiere in December 1953, Shostakovich received an unexpected request to write a short orchestral piece for the anniversary of the October Revolution of 1917. The request for the overture was not only unexpected, it came just three days before the November 6th premiere when the conductor realized they lacked an opening piece for the anniversary concert. Even though Shostakovich was at the 11th hour, his genius allowed him to complete this joyful masterpiece in time. According to his close musical friend Lev Nikolayevich, Shostakovich humored him by allowing Nikolayevich to watch the rapid composition of the overture. Nikolayevich said, "He started composing. The speed with which he wrote was truly astounding. Moreover, when he wrote light music he was able to talk, make jokes and compose simultaneously, like the legendary Mozart. Although he laughed and chuckled, the work was under way and music was being written." The piece was barely finished for the dress rehearsal, with ink still drying on the page. Nonetheless, there is not a hint of carelessness or poor writing to be found in this effervescent work.
The Festive Overture opens with a ceremonial trumpet fanfare as a curtain call. He later adds woodwinds and strings with joyful flurries of bright, quick gestures. It is a high-spirited celebratory work, and the true expression of long-suppressed joy is unmistakable as it bubbles throughout this vivacious overture.
Written by Conservatory student Titus Underwood, oboist in the Artist Diploma program.