Symphony No. 11 (Shostakovich)

The Symphony No. 11 in G minor, Op. 103 (subtitled The Year 1905), by Dmitri Shostakovich was written in 1957 and premiered by the USSR Symphony Orchestra under Natan Rakhlin on 30 October 1957. The subtitle of the symphony refers to the events of the Russian Revolution of 1905, which the symphony depicts. The first performance given outside the Soviet Union took place in London's Royal Festival Hall on 22 January 1958 when Sir Malcolm Sargent conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra. The United States premiere was performed by Leopold Stokowski conducting the Houston Symphony on 7 April 1958. The symphony was conceived as a popular piece and proved an instant success in Russia, his greatest one since the Leningrad Symphony fifteen years earlier.[1] The work's popular success, as well as its earning him a Lenin Prize in April 1958, marked the composer's formal rehabilitation from the Zhdanov Doctrine of 1948.[citation needed]


The symphony is scored for 3 flutes (3rd doubling piccolo), 3 oboes (3rd doubling cor anglais), 3 clarinets (3rd doubling bass clarinet), 3 bassoons (3rd doubling contrabassoon), 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, triangle, snare drum, cymbals, orchestral bass drum, tam-tam, xylophone, tubular bells, 2 harps (preferably doubled), celesta and strings.

It has become common professional performance practice for the tubular bells part (only used at the conclusion of the fourth movement) to be played on 4 large church bells, each chromatically tuned to the four notes required (G, C, B flat and B natural).


Demonstrators march to the Winter Palace

The symphony has four movements played without break, and lasts approximately one hour.

  1. Adagio (The Palace Square)
    The first movement reflects the discomforting quietness of Palace Square on the morning of Bloody Sunday. The Adagio incorporates two Russian folk songs, Slushai ("Hearken"), and Arrestant ("The Prisoner"), played by flute and bass respectively, that are associated with famed political figures.[2] Throughout the movement Shostakovich calls for timpani motifs that allude to events to come
  2. Allegro (The 9th of January)
    The second movement, referring to the events of Bloody Sunday at the Winter Palace on 22 January 1905 [O.S. 9 January]. Shostakovich bases the movement on two themes from his Ten Choral Poems on Revolutionary Texts, entitled Goy ty, tsar nash, batyushka ("O thou, our Tsar, our father"), and Obnazhite golovy ("Bare your heads").[2] The first section depicts the petitioners at the protest, in which crowds descended on the Winter Palace to complain about the government's increased inefficiency, corruption, and harsh ways. This first section is busy and constantly moves forward. It builds to two steep climaxes, then recedes into a deep, frozen calm in the prolonged piccolo and flute melodies, underscored again with distant brass.
    Another full orchestra build-up launches into a pounding march, in a burst from the snare drum like gunfire and fugal strings, as the troops descend on the crowd. This breaks out into a section of relentless strings, and trombone and tuba glissandos procure a nauseating sound underneath the troops' advance on the crowd. Then comes a section with prominent snare drum, bass drum, timpani, and tam-tam solo before a climax gives way to pianissimo trills on the strings.
  3. Adagio (Memory Eternal)[3]
    The third movement is a lament based on the revolutionary funeral march Vy zhertvoyu pali ("You fell as victims").[2] Toward the end, there is one more outbreak, where material from the second movement is represented.
  4. Allegro non troppo (Tocsin)
    The finale serves as a warning and a stance of defiance. Shostakovich uses celesta as a tocsin (in Russian nabat, also the name of a revolutionary magazine) to anticipate the events of 1917. Three pieces are quoted: Besnuytes, tyranny ("Rage, tyrants"), Varshavyanka ("Whirlwind of danger"), and Ogonki ("Sparks").[2]

The Eleventh is sometimes dubbed "a film score without the film".[citation needed] An additional thread is provided by the nine revolutionary songs that appear during the work. Some of these songs date back to the 19th century, others to the year 1905. Shostakovich integrates them into the textures of his symphony. This use of folk and revolutionary songs was a departure from his usual style. They were also songs the composer knew well. His family knew and sang them regularly while he was growing up.[4][unreliable source] In his study of Shostakovich's symphonies, Hugh Ottaway praised the Eleventh as one of the great achievements in program music.[5]



Shostakovich originally intended the Eleventh Symphony to mark the 50th anniversary of the Russian Revolution of 1905 and would have written it in 1955. Several personal factors kept him from composing the work until 1957. These factors included his mother's death, his tumultuous second marriage and the arrival of many newly freed friends from the Gulag. Events in Hungary in 1956 may have stirred Shostakovich out of his compositional inertia and acted as a catalyst for his writing the symphony.[6]

Requiem for a generationEdit

According to the composer's son-in-law Yevgeny Chukovsky, the original title sheet for this symphony read not "1905" but "1906", the year of the composer's birth. This causes critics to view the Eleventh Symphony as a requiem not only for the composer himself but for his generation.[citation needed] Still, because the work was composed for the Revolution, its purpose is not lost. The 1905 Revolution was not politicized by the Party, so the piece maintained its romantic aura in the eyes of later generations. Because of this romantic aura, The Eleventh Symphony is among a group of diverse works that embody a spirit of struggle for a just cause, such as Sergei Eisenstein's film Battleship Potemkin and Boris Pasternak's narrative poems "1905" and "Lieutenant Schmidt."[7]

The title, "The Year 1905", recalls the start of the first Russian Revolution of 1905, which was partially fired by the events on 9 January (9 January by the Julian calendar still in use in Russia at the time, modern date of 22 January 1905) of that year. Some Western critics[who?] characterized the symphony as overblown "film music" – in other words, as an agitprop broadsheet lacking both substance and depth.[1]

Most Mussorgskian symphonyEdit

Shostakovich considered this work his most "Mussorgskian" symphony.[citation needed] He wrote the Eleventh in a simple, direct manner. According to Solomon Volkov, Shostakovich allegedly told him that the symphony was "about the people, who have stopped believing because the cup of evil has run over."[8][full citation needed]

In the first movement, the song "Slushay!" ("Listen!") contains the text "The autumn night is ... black as the tyrant's conscience," while the final movement refers to a piece including the words "shame on you tyrants." Volkov compares this movement's juxtaposition of revolutionary songs (notably the Varshavianska song) to a cinematic montage, while quoting Anna Akhmatova's description of it as "white birds against a black sky".[citation needed]

Testimony and the Hungarian RevolutionEdit

In the wake of the publishing of Testimony, the Eleventh has attracted speculation over its possible references to the Hungarian Revolution of 1956.[9] According to Solomon Volkov, Shostakovich said that the Eleventh Symphony "deals with contemporary themes even though it's called '1905.'"[10] According to Zoya Tomashevskaya, Shostakovich also allegedly remarked to Igor Belsky not to forget that he "wrote the symphony in the aftermath of (the) Hungarian Uprising".[11] Shostakovich's widow Irina has also said that he had the Hungarian Revolution "in mind" during composition.[12] Extant evidence and the chronology of the symphony's composition suggests that this could not have been the case. When Sofia Khentova asked Shostakovich in 1974 whether the Eleventh was a veiled reference to the Hungarian Revolution, he replied: "No, it is 1905, it is Russian history."[13]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b MacDonald, 214.
  2. ^ a b c d Freed, Richard. "Symphony No. 11 in G minor, Op. 103, "The Year 1905"". The Kennedy Center. Retrieved 2 November 2018.
  3. ^ Чайковский, Борис Александрович, ed. (1980). Д. Шостакович: Собрание сочинений: Том 6. Симфоний 11, 12 (in Russian). Москва: Музыка. p. 116. III. Вечная память
  4. ^ Volkov, 37–38.
  5. ^ Ottaway, Hugh (1978). Shostakovich Symphonies. London: BBC Publications. p. 52. ISBN 0-563-12772-4. Such vital image-making within so well ordered a musical stream entitles the Eleventh to rank highly among the achievement of programme music.
  6. ^ MacDonald, 216.
  7. ^ Volkov, 39.
  8. ^ Quoted in MacDonald, 215.
  9. ^ Weininger, David. "Eleventh Symphony reveals the political complexities of Shostakovich". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 4 November 2018.
  10. ^ Volkov, Solomon (1979). Testimony: The Memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich (First ed.). New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc. p. 8.
  11. ^ Wilson, E. Shostakovich: A Life Remembered, pp. 360–361
  12. ^ Mazo, Margarita (January 2000). "More Thoughts from Irina Shostakovich". DSCH Journal (12): 72.
  13. ^ Fay, Laurel (2000). Shostakovich: A Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 330. ISBN 0-19-513438-9. The chronology of composition, specificity of musical materials, and dearth of reliable first-person testimony are among the arguments against [interpreting the Eleventh as a response to the Hungarian Uprising]. . . For what it is worth, when asked point-blank by his Soviet biographer in 1974 whether it was true that it was the Hungarian Uprising that was rendered in the Eleventh Symphony, Shostakovich responded: 'No, it is 1905, it is Russian history.'


External linksEdit

  • London Shostakovich Orchestra
  • Some revolutionary songs quoted in the symphony can be heard here. ("Слушай", "Вы жертвою пали...", "Беснуйтесь, тираны", "Варшавянка")