I love Shostakovich's music more than anything in this world. I grew up as a huge music fan and obsessive, but never had I experienced the kind of emotions that some of Shostakovich's works awaken in me. It's always difficult for me to really put into words what music means and what music does (this is the reason why I have a keen interest in philosophy that concerns the relationship between music and language), but maybe now is the time to try.
Just over two years ago I attempted to write an essay about whether Rorty's Contingency, Irony and Solidarity could be useful for our understand of music. I think I kind of failed proving the premise, but I did write some things that I still agree with; "The fictional world that is created in literature can only vaguely and in very abstract form be found in works of music. I can lose myself in both a book and a piece of music, but it is a different kind of loss of self. Whereas in works of literature one imagines oneself to be transposed into the world that is being described, musical experience involves a loss of self without a world that replaces the ‘real’ one. Schopenhauer described this experience when he wrote that through music we forget ourselves, and find ourselves without the principium individuationes. By listening to certain pieces of music we realise the will, we are no longer trapped in the world of representation. Although Schopenhauer’s theory of music is metaphysical, I still believe it to be a useful description of musical experience. There is an element of forgetting one’s identity, of being captivated by music. Do we not often lose ourselves in music, find ourselves unable to think, to talk about it? Does it not make us feel more complete and enlightened? This is the experience that Schopenhauer describes."
And this is exactly what I experience when listening to Shostakovich. But it is not all, I also feel that a lot of my emotions/thought/feelings can be described by his music just as well as by words, if not better. "For example, I cannot describe despair as well as the song ‘Winter’ from his From Jewish Folk Songs. I cannot describe my enthusiasm or passion any better than the first movement of the Fourth Symphony. I cannot describe my fears and frustrations as well as the ‘Allegro molto’ from the Eighth String Quartet. I cannot describe the confusion and silliness of life as well as the ‘Scherzo’ from the First Violin Concerto. In order to (re)describe myself, I need not merely words but also music. Indeed, these concepts that I have used to describe certain works, “despair”, “passion”, “fears” etc., fall short of the actual experience of my life, the musical works are a much more satisfactory description. As Scruton writes, music “touches the heart, but numbs the tongue”."
On to the music. A while ago I made a mix on 8tracks.com with a bunch of short Shostakovich pieces, you can listen to it here. But if you're lazy and don't want to click too much, here are bits of my four favourite Shostakovich pieces.
The Fourth Symphony. This was my first Shostakovich experience and I loved it SO MUCH. You need to turn the volume up though, it needs to be loud.
The Eleventh Symphony. This is the end of the last movement and it always KILLS me because it is so dark and brooding and beautiful. I cry pretty much every time I hear it, or at least get goosebumps.
"The Execution of Stepan Razin". This is a Cantata for Orchestra, Bass and Chorus that is 30 mins long. Obviously youtube doesn't like 30min-long videos, so this is the last bit of it, 9 minutes.
The Thirteenth Symphony. So dark and so beautiful, this first movement is set to the poem "Babi Yar" by Yevtushenko, definitely worth a read.