Our music for this week is the Festive Overture by Dimitri Shostakovich.
Shostakovich wrote the Festive Overture in 1954 to commemorate the 37th anniversary of the October Revolution of 1917. The anniversary concert, however, found itself without an appropriate opening piece with only three days to go until the performance. The conductor frantically contacted Shostakovich and asked him to write an overture in a mere two days. Shostakovich casually dashed off what we now know and love as one of his greatest compositions. There exists an account, written by a friend, that describes what it was like to watch Shostakovich write the Festive Overture in such a short time. The writer was astounded by the speed with which Shostakovich wrote, and exclaimed more than once over the fact that he could do so while simultaneously cracking jokes with bystanders and carrying on conversations with his friends. All of those present were shocked, upon the completion of their conversation with Shostakovich, to look down at his desk and see a completed orchestral masterpiece lying on the table.
The Festive Overture was written early in Shostakovich’s career, so it contains many stylistic references to the Romantic period rather than the 20th Century/Modern period. Those of us who are used to the modern and wild erraticism of the more mature Shostakovich will undoubtedly find this piece a significant departure from his usual inclinations. As is fitting for an overture, the Festive opens with a brass fanfare, continues with a lyrical melody in the strings, and finishes with a death-defying scramble.