MUSIC: Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1

TRIGGER WARNING: Pretentious and bourgeois content

I started listening to classical music in earnest last year, thinking I’d never really given it a fair shot. Since then, I’ve taken the unprecedentedly cultured step of creating three Spotify playlists for it, and been to a concert in Amsterdam – Beethoven, Elgar and Sibelius – and one in Bristol – Dvořák, Mendelssohn and Vaughan Williams. I rarely stray outside the Romantic Era, which is also my favourite era in poetry and art, yet I must say that Shostakovich has become my favourite composer.

I plan to write more about the man as time goes on, particularly about his relationship with Soviet oppression, but today I just want to talk about his first cello concerto. Shostakovich was a composer who was capable of immense beauty, but loved to dabble with discordant and challenging music. This concerto demonstrates this very well. The first movement is chaotic and discordant, but slides into a Moderato which is at times beautiful yet also filled with anxiety and sorrow. This is carried over into a pondering and moody Cadenza which has some moving progressions with notes and drum beats falling on and off beat so much it feels like it barely follows any time structure. All of this climaxes in a wonderfully chaotic Allegro, which has the same disconnected feeling of the first movement but with more urgency. It’s a fantastic piece which I urge you to listen through, but if you can’t be bothered, I will leave you with the exquisite second movement.

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The Condition of the Left in England

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