Musical Borrowing
An Annotated Bibliography

Individual record

[+] Mah, Eileen. “Alternative Facts in Musicology and Vechnaya Pamyat’ in Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5.” Current Musicology 108 (November 2021): 81-114.

The musicological “war” over the interpretation of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 as an expression of political dissidence has over time generated alternative facts, adversarial rhetoric, and cynical apathy among scholars, all of which get in the way of fully analyzing the music. Setting aside the prominent, polarized interpretations, the symphony illustrates the simultaneous presence of multiple layers of meaning and purposeful ambiguity in Shostakovich’s music. By fusing abstract musical structures with specifically meaningful references, Shostakovich may have created his own kind of alternative fact, making his symphony both provably dissident and provably not dissident. In his extensive Shostakovich scholarship, Richard Taruskin’s main concern seems to be debunking the image of “dissident” Shostakovich as inaccurate. Despite this position, Taruskin identifies a “near citation” of the Orthodox requiem hymn Vechnaya pamyat in the third movement. While the passage does not actually contain a “near citation,” this claim has been repeated by other scholars, becoming an alternative fact. A full quotation of the hymn would likely have been dangerous to include in the Stalin era, but Vechnaya may possibly be referenced in motivic fragments throughout the entire symphony. Three motives—three ascending steps in equal, long note value; three repeated notes in equal, long note value; and three steps ascending or descending half-step to whole-step—are musically significant throughout the symphony and are present in the Vechnaya melody. The three-note ascending motive is especially prominent in the principal theme of the fourth movement. At various points in the third movement, the exact motives, rhythms, and timbre of Vechnaya are present and audible, lending credence to an intentional reference on the part of Shostakovich. The half step-whole step variation of the three-note ascending motive may also be (as Taruskin suggests) a reference to Shostakovich’s setting of Vozrozhdeniye (rebirth), which was composed immediately prior to the symphony and is directly quoted elsewhere in the symphony. The motive of three repeated notes also appears throughout the symphony in a few forms. The repeated short-short-long form could also remind listeners of the (arguably funereal) second movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7. The meaning of these three motives can be multivalent without being mutually exclusive; the motives could reference Vechnaya or Vozrozhdeniye, convey a dead-end feeling, or simply be repeated rhythmic and scalar patterns. Although the nature of truth or meaning in a work of art differs from truth in other fields, musical “data” (the notes on the page) are like any other data, open to different analysis and contextualization by people with different goals and perspectives.

Works: Shostakovich: Symphony No. 5 in D Minor, Op. 47 (90-107)

Sources: Anonymous: Vechnaya pamyat’ (90-107); Shostakovich: Vozrozhdeniye (98-101)

Index Classifications: 1900s

Contributed by: Matthew Van Vleet

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Musical Borrowing and Reworking - - 2024
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