What are your favourite pieces by Dimitri Shostakovich and why?

Impressed by Jeremy Shatan’s answer, to have included the Fourth Symphony! So Mahler, so anxious, so my favourite, and not often heard. The Cello Concerto #1 speaks well to Jeremy’s taste as well, but that piece is better known.

So, skipping those two:

  • Ninth Symphony. Jolly, quirky, Haydn on steroids, alternating with genuine lamentation in the 2nd and 4th movements. (Bernstein thought the 4th movement was a parody of Beethoven’s 9th; I’m not seeng it.)
  • 24 Preludes and Fugues. It may not be more formally perfect than Bach’s, but it has a much more prodigious emotional range, from the sunshine arpeggios of #7 to the tears of #24 to the insanity of #15.
  • String Quartet #8. A lot of extramusical lore has built up around this “suicide note”, and not unreasonably, with Shostakovich quoting himself repeatedly; but the music supports it. Harrowing.
  • Seventh Symphony. Not so much for the famous first movement, as for the solemn mass of the third, grieving and angry and soulful.
  • The Anti-Formalist Rayok is not a favourite piece, not even a particularly great piece, but its passive-agressive sniping at Stalin and Zhdanov is certainly instructive about where Shostakovich was at in 1948. Bonus for the YouTube performance featuring Stalin sung by a guy with a Stalin moustache and a Stalin pipe.

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