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An Ashgate Book

For Laura
Dimensions of Energy in
Shostakovich’s Symphonies

University College, Falmouth, UK
First published 2012 by Ashgate Publishing

Published 2016 by Routledge

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Copyright © Michael Rofe 2012

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British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data

Rofe, Michael.
Dimensions of energy in Shostakovich’s symphonies.
1. Shostakovich, Dmitrii Dmitrievich, 1906–1975.
Symphonies. 2. Symphonies – Analysis, appreciation.
I. Title

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Rofe, Michael.
Dimensions of energy in Shostakovich’s symphonies / Michael Rofe.
pages cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-1-4094-0745-4 (hardcover)
1. Shostakovich, Dmitrii Dmitrievich, 1906-1975. Symphonies. 2.
Symphonies – Analysis, appreciation. I. Title.

ML410.S53R64 2012

ISBN 9781409407454 (hbk)
ISBN 9781315577272 (ebk)

Preface   vii
Acknowledgements   xiii
List of Examples   xv

Part I: Dimensions of Energy

1 Defining Musical Energy; Projecting Energy Musically   3

2 Energy as Melodic–Harmonic Motion: Yavorsky’s ‘Theory

of Modal Rhythm’   21

3 Energy and the Unfolding of Time: Proportional Distribution

and (Im)Balance   43

4 Form in Formation: Process and Pattern Building   71

5 Form in Reflection: Archetype and Energy   93

6 Symphonism   115

Part II: Applications and Implications

7 Multi-Dimensional Energies: Symphony No. 6(i)   137

8 About-Face? Symphonies Nos 4(i) and 5(i)   159

9 Shostakovich as Symphonist; Shostakovich as Modernist:

Symphony No. 14   181

10 Intention, Intuition or a Third Way? A Balanced Approach

to Golden Section   205
vi Dimensions of Energy in Shostakovich’s Symphonies

Epilogue: Using Proportions as Interpretative Tools   235

Appendix I: Accuracy Margin   239
Appendix II: Statistical Tests   243
Bibliography   247
Index   263

For such a widely performed and widely discussed composer, surprisingly little
research has been undertaken outside of Russia on the actual music of Dmitri
Shostakovich. In part, this situation has resulted from the intense interest that
has surrounded his life. In one respect, as Christopher Norris observes, ‘it is
impossible to separate Shostakovich, the man and his music, from the highly
politicized culture in which he came to maturity’.1 However, as David Fanning has
written, Shostakovich’s works survive ‘because they speak to listeners who have
never heard of Stalin’s Great Terror’.2 Indeed, as time passes, that fact will become
increasingly significant for the music’s longevity and its composer’s legacy.3
The approach adopted throughout this book is to place the music centre
stage. Historical contexts are discussed, but only when specifically related to the
analysis. In particular, the focus will be upon one aspect of the music that, to this
author at least, is highly characteristic of Shostakovich’s work: the strong sense
of energy that it so frequently projects. Several analytical methods are used to
demonstrate the multi-dimensional nature of this energy – energy will be seen to
emanate from multiple aspects of the music. Boleslav Yavorsky’s ‘theory of modal
rhythm’ is used to consider melodic–harmonic motion, Boris Asafiev’s conception
of ‘form as process’ sheds light upon the sense of growth in Shostakovich’s music
and proportional analysis reveals that many of the composer’s temporal structures
exhibit symmetries and golden sections. The ways in which each of these aspects
might contribute to an overall sense of energy is explored as the book unfolds.
It is also hoped that, through analytical discussion of Shostakovich’s music,
this book will offer perspectives on questions of a much broader nature. First,
what is ‘energy’ in music, and how is this related to the similarly elusive quality
of musical ‘motion’? Second, what is the significance of golden section in music,
and are there ways to conceive of its presence that move beyond the mythological?
I hope to offer a synthesis of approaches capable of shedding light on music
other than that of Shostakovich: the impression of musical ‘energy’, after all, is
not unique to this composer’s work – though, as will be seen, the way in which

  Norris, 1982: 8.
  Fanning, 2000: 31.
  Fortunately, ‘Shostakovich studies’ has undergone something of a renaissance over
the last few years, resulting in a much more detailed – and balanced – understanding of the
composer’s life and work (see e.g. Bartlett, 2000; Fairclough, 2006; 2010; Fairclough and
Fanning, 2008; Fanning, 1995; 2004a; Hein, 2007; Mishra, 2008).
viii Dimensions of Energy in Shostakovich’s Symphonies

Shostakovich manipulates energy streams is, at least, a highly distinctive part of

his music.

Defining limits

Shostakovich was a prolific composer, so to consider all of his output would be

impractical. Whilst I am confident that the approaches presented here are valid
for many of his other works, I will focus solely upon the symphonies – the music
for which he is surely most remembered. Moreover, these 15 works constitute a
microcosm of the composer’s output: they are spaced more or less evenly across
his life and, taken together, demonstrate an evolution in musical language that is
representative of his output overall. Of course, focusing on ‘just’ the symphonies is
still somewhat ambitious in a single book: some 17 hours of highly detailed music
inheres in their combined 62 movements. A proper grasp of this music requires
both overview and detail. The book is therefore divided into two parts, reflecting
this balance between breadth and depth of study.
Part I establishes the multi-dimensional nature of energy in Shostakovich’s
music, drawing examples from across the symphonies to demonstrate the
composer’s handling of energy in all its diversity: norms and oddities are explored.
Works that receive less-detailed attention are referenced in footnotes if they display
similar principles or processes to examples discussed in the main text. All the
symphonies are therefore considered at some point. Chapter 1 introduces the idea
of energy, setting out both a conceptual and historical framework for approaching
the symphonies. Chapters 2–6 deal with individual musical dimensions, organized
in increasing size and scope: local melodic–harmonic language, temporal patterns,
formal growth (considered over two chapters) and Shostakovich’s large-scale
approach to the symphony.
Part II begins with a detailed case study of the first movement of the Sixth
Symphony – a movement that has proved difficult to describe analytically –
drawing together musical dimensions that were considered independently in Part
I. Chapters 8 and 9 apply the theory of multi-dimensional energy to broader issues,
offering new perspectives on long-standing questions. How did Shostakovich’s
musical language evolve over his life? Are there links between his early and late
styles? To what extent did his musical language change at times of intense political
pressure? The book ends with a detailed exploration of what will no doubt be one
of the more contentious aspects of this project: the apparent discovery of golden
sections in Shostakovich’s music.

Notation and abbreviations

Bracketed Roman numerals are used throughout the book to denote movements
of a symphony: Symphony No. 5(i) refers to the first movement of the Fifth
Preface ix

Example P.1  Chronological overview of the symphonies

x Dimensions of Energy in Shostakovich’s Symphonies

Symphony. I follow the DSCH edition for Symphonies Nos 1–10 and the Muzika
edition for Symphonies Nos 11–15 (as the DSCH editions of these works are yet
to be published). Figure numbers follow these editions using the notation f5 (for
figure 5). Bar numbers are shown as b5 (for bar 5). All transcriptions are presented
in short score and at pitch unless otherwise indicated: scoring is only added where
it is necessary for discussion. All analytical notations are explained at their first
appearance. Yavorskian notation is explained on page 28, while proportional
notation is explained on pages 60–1 and 64.

A brief history of the symphonies

By way of an additional introduction – aimed in particular at those readers less

familiar with Shostakovich’s symphonies – it is useful to take a moment to outline
briefly the 15 works that form the backbone of this book. As charted in Example
P.1, the symphonies can be subdivided into three interlocking groups.
The initial period is one of exploration. It begins with the First Symphony, which
was written as a conservatory assignment and shows the influence of Shostakovich’s
tutor, Maximilian Steinberg, in its formal (almost Classical) sophistication. It was
an immediate success and won the support of audiences and critics alike, ensuring
that the young composer was taken seriously from the outset of his career. In the
Second and Third Symphonies, a more theatrical approach can be found, lacking
the formal control of their predecessor. It is quite possible that they were conceived
in part as a response to what Shostakovich saw as the restrictive nature of his own
education. Steinberg even seemed to have sensed this rebellion in his comments
on the Second: ‘Can this be the “New Art”? Or is it only the daring of a naughty
boy?’4 In both, choral finales appear to have been grafted on at a later stage in the
compositional process, and neither was conceived originally as a symphony per se:
in both cases this title was added later.5 At one point, Shostakovich posited that
the Second and Third would be parts of a larger cycle of works dedicated to the
Revolution, yet this project was never completed.6 Instead, following the Third – a
work that seems to offer a snapshot of compositional techniques to be explored in
later music – Shostakovich turned away from the symphonic genre, focusing instead
on opera as his primary artistic outlet.7
However, in 1936, Pravda published an article entitled ‘Muddle Instead of
Music’, in which Shostakovich’s recent opera, Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk

  Cited in Wilson, 2006: 71; see also 42–3.
  Fay, 2000: 39, 52.
  Ibid. 52.
  Shostakovich’s son Maxim has since revealed that the early Second and Third
Symphonies fell out of favour with his father later in the composer’s life (M. Shostakovich,
1990: 401).
Preface xi

District, was denounced.8 His career as an opera composer was thereby cut short,
and he refocused his efforts on the symphony – and, in particular, the Fourth
Symphony, work on which had in fact begun before the Pravda crisis. Symphony
No. 4 can be described as marking the onset of Shostakovich’s musical maturity:
there is a synthesis of the formal and theatrical strands of previous efforts, creating
a more unified and distinctive approach. These first four works constitute a period
of exploration – of finding his symphonic feet, so to speak. Yet while the Fourth
initiated his symphonic maturity, this work was not given its public unveiling
until 1961, as Shostakovich withdrew it before its premiere. Instead, it was the
Fifth Symphony, in the public’s eyes at least, that consolidated his compositional
maturity. Its more subtle integration of formal and theatrical elements consolidates
a style that would continue for some 20 years.
Shostakovich’s next symphonic venture was his proposed ‘Lenin Symphony’,
but plans seem to have been abandoned in favour of the purely instrumental Sixth
Symphony that now stands in its place.9 Following this come three symphonies,
often referred to as the ‘war triptych’,10 which were written at successive stages of
the German invasion of Soviet Russia. Each work not only possesses a different
character and style but also received an increasingly negative reception, from
the fervent adoration of the Seventh to the outright condemnation of the Ninth.
Additionally, there is an important thematic connection between the Seventh and
Eighth, the first movement of the latter using the ‘war theme’ from the former
as the basis of its own first subject.11 Symphony No. 9 was widely attacked
under Zhdanov’s purging of the arts in the late 1940s, in part due to its apparent
anti-heroic stance and ironic simplicity: this was not the ‘Ninth Symphony’ of
Beethovenian stature that was expected. As a result, Shostakovich endured
unprecedented condemnation. Levon Hakobian describes the Ninth as ‘the most
striking faux pas ever committed by Shostakovich’ given the political climate at
the time, whilst Francis Maes views it more as ‘a plea for artistic freedom’.12 Either

  This period is discussed in detail in Ch. 8.
  Fay, 2000: 115.
  This term is used frequently by commentators: e.g. Ottaway, 1978: 33–4; Blokker
and Dearling, 1979: 96. However, recent archival work has shown that what currently
stands as the Ninth Symphony was not actually what Shostakovich originally intended. The
first version – full of pomp and grandiosity – was apparently abandoned as Shostakovich
felt unable to live up to the inevitable comparisons with Beethoven. What he instead
wrote – with its ironic neoclassicism – could not be further from that model. In a letter
dated 6 June 1947, written two years after the Ninth Symphony, Shostakovich explained
to Kara Karaev: ‘I have said that the Seventh and Eighth symphonies (mine) are parts of a
symphonic trilogy. But the Ninth is not the third part of this trilogy. That, I hope, will be the
Tenth’ (see Yakubov’s commentary to D. Shostakovich, 2000–10: vol. 10, 264).
  Compare No. 7(i), f19 with No. 8(i), f1. For further discussion, see Gow, 1964: 193;
Fanning, 2001b: 134.
  Hakobian, 1998: 190; Maes, 2002: 357.
xii Dimensions of Energy in Shostakovich’s Symphonies

way, Shostakovich was apparently affected by its icy reception and did not return
to the genre for another eight years. As Fanning has observed, ‘it is a sobering
thought that the hostility of the post-war ideological climate in Russia might have
put paid to [Shostakovich’s] career as a symphonist, just as the tribulations of
1936 had blighted his prospects as an opera composer’.13 Yet in 1953, with the
death of Stalin, Shostakovich apparently felt the freedom to return to symphonism
again and soon released his Tenth Symphony – a project that he had, in fact, been
working on for some time.
From the Eleventh Symphony onwards, the composer’s mature style gives way
to a new exploration of the symphonic form. Initial experiments in the Eleventh
and Twelfth saw the reintroduction of an explicit political programme, the use of
a continuous form through conjoined movements and thematic recurrences across
each work. Further, Shostakovich promoted a deeper connection between the two
symphonies, stating that the Eleventh and Twelfth actually form a diptych that
should be played in the same concert.14 Their shared ‘Revolutionary’ programme
confirms this connection, as does the appearance of snippets of the Eleventh in the
latter work.15 From here, Shostakovich returned to the use of texts in the Thirteenth
and Fourteenth Symphonies: their more experimental forms represent the
composer at his most progressive. Particularly in the Fourteenth, the introvert tone
and song-cycle form betray the influence of Benjamin Britten, who Shostakovich
first met in 1960, and to whom the work is dedicated.
Interestingly, in the Fifteenth Symphony, Shostakovich returned in part
to the formal and stylistic simplicity of the First and Ninth, yet with a degree
of sophistication befitting the journey that had culminated in this quasi-cyclic
conclusion. Its subtle use of quotation again seeks to make references outside the
symphonic genre. His last foray into symphonism was not in the Fifteenth, however,
but in his Suite on Texts of Michelangelo Buonarroti, op. 145: Shostakovich’s son,
Maxim, has since revealed that his father considered this work his Sixteenth in all
but name.16 Like the Fourteenth, it contains a series of text settings, confirming
again Shostakovich’s experimental approach to the symphony at this late stage in
his career.17

  Fanning, 2004a: 32.
  Cited in Nikolskaya, 2004: 174.
  See e.g. No. 12(i), f26; cf. No. 11(ii), f71.
  Cited in Redepenning, 1995: 218.
  As this work was not ultimately entitled Symphony No. 16, it is not discussed here
in any further detail, nor are the aborted symphonies.

This book began life some ten years ago, growing first into a PhD thesis, then
ultimately into its present form. As such, it would not exist were it not for the
continuing support of the Music Department at the University of York. In
particular, I am indebted to my supervisor Tim Howell, without whose inspiration
I would not have chosen this path, and without whose constant time and support
and remarkable insights and ideas that path would have been significantly less
I would also like to thank David Fanning for his time as external examiner for the
PhD thesis and for his feedback and suggestions both at that stage and in the period
since. Thanks too to him, Kristian Hibberd and Pauline Fairclough for allowing
me to see advance copies of Shostakovich Studies II. Thanks to Anna Fortunova
and Michail Rukosujev, for their translations; Stephen Connor and Katie Bell, for
reading drafts; Irina Shostakovich, Olga Digonskaya, Olga Dombrovskaya and
Emmanuel Utwiller for their archival support; and Roy Howat, Alan George and
Chris Owen, for their advice and ideas. Particular thanks go to Jon Hargreaves, for
so many interesting conversations (some about Shostakovich), for reading drafts
and for offering numerous ideas and suggestions.
This project would have been impossible without the backing of my family.
My parents and grandparents have encouraged and supported me in everything I
have undertaken. Without their love and endless hard work, this book would not
exist. Finally, Laura Hodsdon provided much needed, abundantly received and
greatly appreciated emotional and practical support. She also painstakingly read
every word I have written and offered numerous insights and ideas. Her feedback
was invaluable; her presence, uplifting. The book is dedicated to her.
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List of Examples

P.1 Chronological overview of the symphonies ix

2.1 Symphony No. 8(iii): modality of the dance theme 22

2.2 Symphony No. 10(i): opening  24
2.3 Symphony No. 10(i): tritone-driven voice leading 28
2.4 Potential resolutions of a tritone 30
2.5 Symphony No. 10(i): modal structure of second subject 31
2.6 Symphony No. 5(iv): systems of tritone motion 34
2.7 Degrees of tritone motivity 36
2.8 Symphony No. 1(i): use of duplex in the introduction 38
2.9 Disruptive duplex 40
2.10 Tritone-driven motion 41

3.1 Symphony No. 1(i): periodic phrasing 44

3.2 Symphony No. 5(i): sectional durations 51
3.3 Symphony No. 10(i): Shostakovich’s recorded tempi 55
3.4 Symphony No. 10(i): comparison of recordings 56
3.5 Definitions of symmetry and golden section 58
3.6 Symphony No. 10(i): formal proportions 59
3.7 Clustering of sonata divisions about absolute GS– and SY 64
3.8 Symphony No. 10(i): temporal design of the opening 67
3.9 Three nesting patterns of multiple proportions 69

4.1 Symphony No. 10(iii): thematic material and its diversification 74

4.2 Symphony No. 4(iii): stable and unstable motion 76
4.3 Symphony No. 8(iv): creating stasis 80
4.4 Symphony No. 10(i): climactic wave 82
4.5 Symphony No. 10(iii): thematic pattern 84
4.6 Oppositional and integrative tonal patterns 85
4.7 Symphony No. 10(i): projection of F$87
4.8 Symphony No. 7(i): projection of the duplex 89
4.9 Symphony No. 11(i): projection of the motto-theme 90

5.1 Symphony No. 5(ii): stable formal proportions 95

5.2 Symphony No. 4(ii): proportional distribution of form 97
5.3 Symphony No. 9(i): recapitulation and formal proportions 100
5.4 Symphony No. 8(i): thematic and proportional structure 103
xvi Dimensions of Energy in Shostakovich’s Symphonies

5.5 Symphony No. 8(v): sonata–rondo form 107

5.6 Symphony No. 13(iii): formal organization 109
5.7 First-movement sonata forms 112

6.1 Aranovsky’s symphonic paradigm 118

6.2 Movement segues 121
6.3 Symphony No. 8: thematic connections 123
6.4 Relative duration of movements 126
6.5 Large-scale climactic patterns 127
6.6 Large-scale key schemes 129
6.7 Symphony No. 13: foreground instances of B@–E tritone 130

7.1 Symphony No. 6(i): thematic material 139

7.2 Symphony No. 6(i): variation process in first thematic group 139
7.3 Symphony No. 6(i): use of E–B@ and B 141
7.4 Symphony No. 6(i): cadenza and resolution 144
7.5 Symphony No. 6(i): tonal organization 146
7.6 Symphony No. 6(i): half-cadence to D# minor147
7.7 Symphony No. 6(i): timbral organization 149
7.8 Symphony No. 6(i): complete structure 152
7.9 Symphony No. 6(i): global energy curve 155
7.10 Symphony No. 6: distribution of movements 156

8.1 Symphonies Nos 4(i) and 5(i): sonata-form layout 162

8.2 Symphonies Nos 4(i) and 5(i): background formal distribution 163
8.3 Symphony No. 4(i): variations of theme 1a during development 167
8.4 Symphony No. 5(i): march variation as symmetrical apex 168
8.5 Symphony No. 4(i): climactic shape 169
8.6 Symphony No. 5(i): climactic shape 171
8.7 Symphony No. 4(i): linearity of theme 1b 172
8.8 Symphony No. 4(i): A as a tonal irritant to C 173
8.9 Symphony No. 4(i): multi-dimensional shape 174
8.10 Symphony No. 5(i): linear to vertical organization 175
8.11 Symphony No. 5(i): use of D#/E@ 177
8.12 Symphony No. 5(i): multi-dimensional shape 178

9.1 Symphony No. 14: poetic content 183

9.2 Symphony No. 14(iii) and (vii): content-specific forms 185
9.3 Symphony No. 14: climactic contour 186
9.4 Symphony No. 14(i): opening material 189
9.5 Symphony No. 14: thirds and fourths 191
9.6 Symphony No. 14: grouping of movements by interval type 192
9.7 Symphony No. 14: use of dodecaphony 195
9.8 Symphony No. 14(i): tonal organization 197
List of Examples xvii

9.9 Symphony No. 14: overall key scheme 199

9.10 Symphony No. 14: multi-dimensional structure 202

10.1 Symphony No. 2: composer’s sketch 208

10.2 Symphony No. 2: proportion layout of introduction 210
10.3 Golden sections in the natural world 221
10.4 Zonal possibilities for subdividing a whole 228
10.5 Symphony No. 1(i): unfolding proportional structure 231

E.1 Symphony No. 2: hypothetical background proportions 236

AI.1 Symphony No. 8(ii): cross-referenced formal divisions 240

AII.1 Symphony No. 8(ii): durational ratios as percentages 244
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Part I:
Dimensions of Energy
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Chapter 1
Defining Musical Energy; Projecting
Energy Musically

Struggle, energy and ceaseless work run through the whole symphony like a red
Dmitri Shostakovich1

Shostakovich’s music has a certain dynamic quality, an energy that has long
appealed to listeners and critics alike. For instance, David Rabinovich notes that
‘the music of the mature Shostakovich is not calculated to soothe the idle ear, it
compels the brain to work and the heart to beat faster’; Edward Downes states that
‘there are moments when a listener feels swept along by sheer temperament’; Roy
Blokker and Robert Dearling observe ‘Shostakovich’s ability to write music of
unremitting impetus’; Alexander Ivashkin proposes that ‘Shostakovich employs
ostinato and other forms of rhythmic inertia as a special “supercharging” device, a
sort of psychological pressure or pressurization’; Gerard McBurney suggests that
Shostakovich builds ‘sequences and pulsing paragraphs of sound which, in the old
phrase, “rock and roll”’.2
All of these observations make use of energy-related metaphors, as does
Shostakovich’s own description of the Third Symphony in the epigraph to this
chapter. But what is meant by ‘energy’ in music? A starting point for answering
this question could involve the physical reality of sound. Sound travels in
waves, and these waves carry energy from source to receiver: music involves
no transference of matter and has no tangible existence (scores and recordings
are simply representations). In this respect, sound – music – is pure energy. It
is therefore possible to quantify the extent of energy by measuring certain sonic
characteristics. For instance, the intensity of a sound wave – defined technically
as its energy per unit time, per unit area – is interpreted by the mind as loudness:
loud music literally carries more energy than quiet music.3 And this seems
intuitively reasonable: lullabies are quiet, so they are perceived as less energetic

  Describing how he aimed to recreate the general mood of the International Workers’
Day Festival in his Third Symphony (cited in Roseberry, 2008: 17).
  Rabinovich, 1959: 4; Downes, 1976: 856; Blokker and Dearling, 1979: 52; Ivashkin,
1995: 262; McBurney, 2000: 296. There are also many instances of commentators discussing
energy in specific sections of Shostakovich’s music: a few examples include Ottaway, 1978:
27; Blokker and Dearling, 1979: 115–16; Fanning, 2004a: 77, 86; Fairclough, 2006: 116;
Hurwitz, 2006: 128; Roseberry, 2008: 15.
  Fishbane, Gasiorowicz and Thornton, 1996: 394.
4 Dimensions of Energy in Shostakovich’s Symphonies

than marches, which are loud. Further, given that the intensity of many orchestral
timbres naturally decays over time, it stands to reason that the greater the number
of fresh attack points within a particular duration – its rhythmic ‘activity’ – the
higher the energy. Again, this seems intuitively reasonable: active music (music
with a high number of attack points per unit of time), is more energetic than
inactive music. Both of these conclusions seem intuitively correct, because they
are analogues to the experience of being alive: it takes more energy to shout than
to whisper; to run than to sleep.4
Another dimension of music from which energy might be said to emanate is
the relative consonance or dissonance of harmonies. Writing in 1877, Hermann
Helmholtz suggested that the perception of musical ‘consonance’ results when
two or more notes that are sounded together share multiple partials: ‘dissonant’
intervals have fewer correspondences between partials.5 When pitches are
particularly close together – as in a semitone, for instance – their sound waves
interfere, and this interference can take the form of beating, resulting in a notably
uneven sound. Given the historical use – or, rather, avoidance – of such intervals
in Western music, experience also comes into play in designating degrees of
harmonic consonance and dissonance.
It might be posited, then, that Shostakovich’s music feels ‘energetic’ simply
because the composer frequently writes loud, active, dissonant soundscapes.
Symphony No. 10(ii) is one of the most famous examples: its tutti ffff markings
and quick succession of attack points – including Shostakovich’s signature chains
of dactyls (Ö é») and of trochees (Ö.») – certainly play a leading role in determining
its energetic character. Likewise, for Shostakovich to open his Fourth Symphony
with high, ff, A–B@ trills in the woodwind, supported by a C–D@ clash in the
horns and strings, very much presents the listener with a harsh soundworld, full
of energy and aggression. But such QED mapping inevitably falls down upon
closer inspection: music is more than simple physical sound, as listeners interpret
the relativity of parameters such as ‘loud’ and ‘quiet’, ‘active’ and inactive’,
‘consonant’ and ‘dissonant’ as they form perceptions of energy. So, for instance,
a uniformly loud sound is unlikely to be perceived as ‘energetic’ in the sense
described in the opening quotations, and Shostakovich’s work contains numerous
instances of music that is neither especially loud nor active, but is nonetheless
energized. In Symphony No. 8(iv), for instance, there is a remarkably strong sense
of tension and nervousness, despite (or maybe because of) the pp markings, the
arching legatos and the tempo of ± = 50. Musical ‘energy’ must therefore refer to
something more than the physical attributes of sound: those attributes undergo a
process of interpretation, and that interpretation is culturally conditioned.

  For various perspectives on embodied music cognition, see Toiviainen and Keller,
  Helmholtz, 1954 [1877]: 182–3. A single ‘pitch’ is actually a composite of a
fundamental – the pitch we hear most strongly – and a series of higher pitches (partials)
that sound much more quietly.
Defining Musical Energy; Projecting Energy Musically 5

As such, an alternative source of musical energy might lie in the cultural–

semantic associations that certain music suggests. To continue the earlier
comparison, marches signify movement, whereas lullabies signify sleep and rest
(again, embodied cognition is somehow important).6 In this way, the extent of
energy associated with these topics does not simply result from sonic characteristics
but also from the range of associations that are signified. It is therefore notable that
Shostakovich frequently uses dance topics in his symphonies: the gallop (Nos 1(ii)
f2; 10(ii) f94), the folk dance (Nos 8(v) f139; 13(ii) f44) and the waltz (Nos 1(i)
f13; No. 12(iv) f96). But the most common topics in his work are marches and
march-like stylizations; particularly famous examples occur in the first movements
of the Fifth and Seventh Symphonies (ff27–32 and ff19–52 respectively). When
considered in relation to the subtitles of several symphonies – No. 2, To October
(marking the October Revolution of 1917); No. 11, The Year 1905 (marking
the First Revolution, a particularly bloody year in Russian history) – military
topics in the music take on particularly disquieting associations. And when these
associations are combined with a broader understanding of the circumstances
under which Soviet artists worked, it is understandable why so many perceive this
music as being highly charged.
As discussed in the Preface, it is not the aim of this book to trace these
circumstances.7 But it is useful to spend a moment considering a particular
example – the Seventh Symphony – in order to give a snapshot of the unsettling
nature of these contexts. Following the outbreak of war, Shostakovich immediately
volunteered for the army but was instead accepted into the Home Guard. There, he
helped to prepare Leningrad’s defences, before being assigned to the fire brigade
at the conservatory.8 When not on duty, Shostakovich would compose, and on 19
July 1941 he began work on what would become his Seventh Symphony. Before
its completion, Shostakovich was ordered to leave Leningrad, and on 1 October,
a month into the siege, he was flown to Moscow, leaving much of his family
behind in the terrible conditions of Leningrad. The Seventh was given its premiere
in Kuybïshev in March 1942, prior to which Shostakovich’s own programmatic
interpretation of the work was widely circulated: ‘The exposition of the first
movement tells of the happy, peaceful life. … In the development, war bursts into
the peaceful life of these people.’9 But it was the Leningrad premiere in August
1942 that has since become legendary. Still besieged by the Nazi forces, the city

  For a detailed study of musical topics and their semiotic associations, see Monelle,
2000. Monelle characterizes topics as either iconic – those that embody their referents,
such as the musical imitation of a cuckoo – or indexical – whereby sounds imply associated
meanings, as a cuckoo might point to wider topics of ‘springtime’ (Monelle, 2000: 14–15).
It is this last category that can be found most frequently in Shostakovich’s work.
  For thorough and engaging historical outlines of Shostakovich and his music, see
Fay, 2000; Wilson, 2006.
  Details of this episode are taken from Fay, 2000: 123.
  Cited in Fay, 2000: 129.
6 Dimensions of Energy in Shostakovich’s Symphonies

had just undergone a bitter winter. Surviving members of the Radio Orchestra
were joined by anyone capable of performing, including musicians called back
from the trenches. Special rations were given to restore their strength, and the
score was flown in under cover of darkness. The symphony was performed to
a packed audience and broadcast on loudspeakers throughout the city, including
– as a form of psychological warfare – to the German troops outside the city,
who had just undergone intense artillery bombardment in order to ensure silence
during the performance. Little wonder the Seventh’s subsequent designation as the
‘Leningrad Symphony’ carries such unsettling poignancy.
Such deeply moving stories abound in Shostakovich’s complex biography,
and these before considering the Soviets’ haphazard – and, at times, deeply
endangering – attempts to control artistic activities. Given this political climate,
it is hardly surprising that the purported memoirs of Shostakovich, as described
in Solomon Volkov’s Testimony, could unlock the profound distress that they did.
The authenticity of these recollections has since been rebutted by Fay,10 amongst
others, but their message remains powerful, even if it comes from Volkov rather
than Shostakovich. As an example, Volkov’s Shostakovich writes:

The Seventh Symphony had been planned before the war and consequently it
simply cannot be seen as a reaction to Hitler’s attack. The ‘invasion theme’ has
nothing to do with the attack. I was thinking of other enemies of humanity when
I composed the theme. … Hitler is a criminal, that’s clear, but so is Stalin. … I
have nothing against calling the Seventh the Leningrad Symphony, but it’s not
about Leningrad under siege, it’s about the Leningrad that Stalin destroyed and
that Hitler merely finished off.11

No matter how one interprets the Seventh Symphony, acquaintance with aspects
of its history, its composer’s biography or subsequent anti-Stalinist interpretations
are bound to shape one’s understanding, particularly when the work contains such
straightforwardly ‘military’ topics. For many, such readings constitute a vital source
of this music’s power, and, once one is sufficiently acquainted with these profound
histories, it is very easy to transfer the more precise extra-musical associations
of the Seventh onto other, less programmatic works. Amongst the many such
readings, Ian MacDonald’s The New Shostakovich is probably the most extensive,
in which traces of anti-Stalinism are proposed throughout Shostakovich’s music.
For instance, on part of Symphony No. 10(ii) – a movement that has no explicit
programme – MacDonald writes: ‘the crash of two-note figures clearly denote the
presence of Stalin, portrayed as a kind of malevolent tornado’.12 For MacDonald,

  See Fay, 1980; 2002.
  Volkov, 1979: 155–6.
  MacDonald, 1991: 206. Interestingly, Shostakovich had a clear view on this type
of musical ‘reading’: ‘When a critic, in Rabochiy i Teatr or Vechernyaya krasnaya gazeta,
writes that in such-and-such a symphony Soviet civil servants are represented by the oboe
Defining Musical Energy; Projecting Energy Musically 7

and for many listeners like him, the profound energy in Shostakovich’s music
stems from the distressing ordeals through which the composer lived.

Energy, change and motion

Taking stock, we have seen several dimensions of the music that radiate energy:
loudness, activity, dissonance; and the dynamic/violent extra-musical associations
of topics, hermeneutics and politics. Some are physical properties of sound, others
are products of interpretation; some exist in the sounds themselves, others in the
knowledge and emotional responses of the listener; some concern nature, others,
culture.13 It is apparent, then, that ‘energy’ in music can take a range of forms. Just
as in the physical world, where it is manifest in heat, light, kinetic or potential
energy, and even matter (through E = mc2), ‘energy’ can be used as a metaphor to
describe a number of possible musical and extra-musical characteristics. Works or
passages described as ‘energetic’ might be loud, fast, dissonant, timbrally harsh,
tense, exciting, dramatic and so on. But linking all of these possibilities is the
sense that energy in music is something unstable, imbalanced. Again, reference to
the physical world is illuminating in this regard: technically defined, energy is the
capacity of matter or radiation to do work. It cannot be created or destroyed but
instead is converted into different forms (for instance, the burning of a substance
converts chemical energy into heat and light).14 Consequently, highly energized
states are highly unstable, as they have the greatest capacity to do work. Moreover,

and the clarinet, and Red Army men by the brass section, you want to scream!’ (cited in
Taruskin, 1995: 53).
  This division mirrors Lévi-Strauss’s ‘The raw and the cooked’ (see Lévi-Strauss,
1983 [1964]). What all of these musical dimensions also share is an accessibility: little
musical training is needed to perceive loud, active soundscapes as aggressive, nor is
comprehensive historical–political knowledge needed to understand the hard-hitting
significance of military topics in a ‘Leningrad Symphony’, written during – and in part from
inside – the siege of Leningrad. This accessibility in Shostakovich’s music is inherently tied
to the composer’s position as a Soviet artist, whose early development coincided with the
rise of one of the most notorious dogmas of the Soviet state: Socialist Realism. As Innokentii
Popov has observed, ‘the fundamental principle of Socialist Realism is manifest in the
striving to express the thoughts and feelings of the masses and to speak to those masses
in an understandable language’ (cited in M. Brown, 1974: 567). The nemesis of Socialist
Realism, in the eyes of some Soviet officials at least, was formalism: the cardinal aesthetic
sin of art for art’s sake, of elitism. In this context, the accessibility of Shostakovich’s work
takes on a darker tone. But his clarity of expression – and the intrigue over whether that
clarity is genuinely pro-Stalinist or covertly cynical – has nonetheless helped to ensure
the continued popularity of his music: Shostakovich is one of the most widely performed
twentieth-century composers, and that fact must result in part from the accessibility of his
  Fishbane, Gasiorowicz and Thornton, 1996: 174–84.
8 Dimensions of Energy in Shostakovich’s Symphonies

nature tends towards states that minimize unstable energy: high energy states tend
to convert into low energy states (highly combustible material burns at the first
opportunity). In other words, energies often change form over time.
Changes in energy are also vital in music. Returning to the example of
Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony, one of the most famous episodes is the Bolero-
like march in the first movement. This passage projects energy, but that energy
comes not simply from the fact that the climax is loud but from the fact that it
is becoming loud: the music becomes increasingly energized – hence, increasingly
unstable – through a process of textural and timbral growth that lasts for some ten
minutes. The climax dissipates that accumulated energy by rupturing a pattern of
growth that previously seemed inescapable. Changes in energy over time thus have
the capacity to form patterns of intensification and release.15 And, given that we
experience music diachronically rather than synchronically, such patterns in turn
imply a metaphorical ‘journey’ between successive stages – a process of becoming –
as sonic information changes. We thus stumble upon the related metaphor of musical
motion. For Aristotle, change and motion were two sides of the same coin. Motion
constitutes a change in substance, quantity, quality or position:16 it is ‘the act, event,
or process by which the matter of any substance acquires in actuality a form toward
which it is (while it is moving) still partly in potentiality’.17 In other words, an entity
in motion is one undergoing change, one that is becoming. But if changes in energy
can simulate motion, then motion reciprocally indicates the presence of energy,
since it is that energy that drives the movement. The two are thus related by the
single concept of kinetic energy: the energy of motion, or energy in motion.

Music as energy in motion

In my view, the observation that Shostakovich’s music is energetic only scratches

the surface of the broader question of how that energy ebbs and flows: how it is
initiated, prolonged, subverted and allowed to dissipate; how energy moves through
and changes over time. Metaphors of motion have long been used to describe
music: we speak of chord ‘progressions’ and voice ‘leading’; we refer to degrees
of loudness as ‘dynamics’ and pitch patterns as ‘ascending’ or ‘descending’; we
describe short musical ideas as ‘motives’ (motifs in French) and sections of a work

  Intensification–release patterns play a prominent role in a variety of analytical
methods, not least that of Wallace Berry, who terms them ‘energy curves’ (see Berry, 1987).
Of relevance to the music of Shostakovich is Schoenberg’s famous observation that his
Russian contemporary had ‘the breath of the symphonist’, an issue that Fanning expands
as ‘the way we hold our breath, musically speaking, over long time-spans’ (Fanning, 2000:
  See Jammer, 1967: 396; for a discussion of Aristotelian motion in music, see
Cohen, 2001.
  Cohen, 2001: 154.
Defining Musical Energy; Projecting Energy Musically 9

as ‘movements’. Moreover, we talk of being emotionally ‘moved’ by music, and

we physically ‘move’ our bodies to music.
Given such widespread use, we might question whether motional terminologies
are merely convenient metaphors to describe music, or whether these metaphors
are so deeply ingrained in our understanding of music that they have become a
framework for perception. Recent empirical studies have begun to corroborate
the latter: Zohar Eitan and Roni Granot, for instance, ran experiments in which
‘participants were asked to associate melodic stimuli with imagined motions of
a human character and to specify the type, direction, and pace change of these
motions, as well as the forces affecting them’. Their results indicate that ‘listeners
indeed map musical features into kinetic ones consistently’ and that ‘most musical
parameters significantly affect several dimensions of motion imagery’. Their
research thus suggests that ‘the mapping of music into motion is surprisingly
multifaceted and can be affected by changes in a wide variety of musical
parameters’.18 Eric Clarke suggests an ecological rationale for this fact:

Since sounds in the everyday world specify (among other things) the motional
characteristics of their sources, it is inevitable that musical sound will also
specify movements and gestures … [including] the fictional movements and
gestures of the virtual environment which they conjure up. … This relationship
is truly perceptual rather than metaphorical, symbolic or analogical.19

Neil Todd proposes a physiological basis for the sense of motion in music,
suggesting that sound directly activates the vestibular apparatus of the inner ear
that is also responsible for our sense of self motion.20 Whether metaphorical,
ecological or physiological in origin, the sense of ‘movement’ is a common percept
when listening to music. But, if so, what is moving, where is it going and why?
The science of motion – mechanics – falls into two parts: ‘kinematics’
concerns the mathematical description of motion (direction, speed and so on),
whilst ‘dynamics’ involves the causes of motion. It is productive to draw a similar
two-part distinction when considering its musical equivalent.


To identify a kinematics of musical motion requires first that the moving object
be specified. However, if Aristotle’s definition of motion as a change in substance,

  Eitan and Granot, 2006: 221, 242. Likewise, Steve Larson and Leigh van Handel
have shown that ‘experienced listeners of tonal music not only talk about music in terms
used to describe physical motion, but actually experience musical motion as if it were
shaped by quantifiable analogues of physical gravity, magnetism and inertia’ (Larson and
van Handel, 2005: 457).
  Clarke, 2001: 222.
  Ibid. 215.
10 Dimensions of Energy in Shostakovich’s Symphonies

quantity, quality or position is accepted, then sounds do not ‘move’ in the same
sense as objects in the physical world. For instance, in the melodic pattern C–D–E,
there is no continuous change in pitch through, say, a glissando; rather, each new
pitch displaces its predecessor. The brain must therefore stitch together a series of
individual ‘nows’ into a broader pattern, and it is through that virtual pattern that
musical motion takes place. Henri Bergson describes the perception of reality in
similar terms, using the analogy of cinematography: a series of still pictures when
presented in rapid succession gives rise to the impression of motion.21
For listeners to perceive motion therefore requires the recognition of a pattern: a
recognition of the relatedness of sonic information. That relatedness could exist in
one (or several) of many different dimensions of the music: the grouping of notes
into a melody, the grouping of harmonies into a chord progression and so on. In such
patterns, individual elements can be perceived as parts of a larger gestalt. As David
Huron has written, these groups of events are ‘held together in short-term memory
and processed as a unit before the brain moves on to the next group’.22
But recognizing musical patterns is not simply a matter of grouping information
‘from scratch’ (cognition). Information is likely to be coded according to learned
schemas (recognition), and this in turn highlights the important role of memory. In
some cases, those schemas may be very precise – such as when a listener is already
familiar with a work. At other times, listeners may rely on auditory generalizations.
As Huron notes, the vast majority of musical works in the Western tradition follow
a number of conventions: ‘Melodies typically exhibit central pitch tendency, pitch
proximity and step declination. Rhythms tend to exhibit metric hierarchy and
metric proximity. Phrases lean towards arc-shaped trajectories and four- and eight-
bar hypermetres. Harmonies tend to rely on common chord progressions, stable
harmonic rhythms and cadential clichés.’23 These generalizations are culturally
learned through continual exposure, which is to say ‘listeners somehow absorb
the statistical regularities evident in their sound environment’.24 Importantly these
schemas are recalled when listening to ‘new’ stimuli in order to form expectations
of how patterns will develop: ‘the most frequently occurring events of the past are
the most likely events to occur in the future. Thus, a simple yet optimum inductive
strategy is to expect the most frequent past event.’25 Expectations can also be
generated without reference to long-term memory: for instance, a composer may
reuse a theme or chord progression in a particular work, giving rise to work-
specific expectations. As such, Huron identifies four forms of expectation:

  Cited in Trippett, 2007: 528.
  Huron, 2007: 197. As Huron observes, ‘it bears emphasizing that music-related
representations exist as real biological patterns in individual brains. They aren’t just formal
abstractions. With advances in brain-imaging, neuroscientists are beginning to show how
brain organization reflects the organization of the auditory world’ (ibid. 128).
  Ibid. 267.
  Ibid. 71.
  Ibid. 360.