Shostakovitch, Yevtushenko, the five poems and the Land of Endless Expectations

I moved to Russia in 1993 above all driven by the music Dmitry Shostakovitch. One of his most powerful (and hardest to listen to) works is his 13th Symphony, which is for both orchestra and choir, and sets five poems by the poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko to music. The titles and themes of those five poems are a kind of broad brush overview of Soviet life. While I was developing In the Land of Endless Expectations, I noticed that the themes that I saw around me, mirrored quite closely (but not identically) the themes of the five poems - memory, fear, career (fortune/intelligentsia), women, humour (a thread of absurdity in literature through Gogol, Bulgakov, Yerofeev, Kurkov and so on). Whether this was coincidence, or operation of the subconscious, or just because Yevtushenko and Shostakovitch had covered themes that are universal in a Soviet/Russian context, I don't know. But here are links to the five movements/poems on Youtube:

 I      Babi Yar 

II      Humour

III     At the Store

IV    Fears

V     A Career

A lot of western music critics bend over backwards trying to identify Shostakovitch's music as 'anti-Soviet', or at least 'critical of the Soviet regime' - and therefore good. Nearly every concert programme note includes the words "anti" or " against" and "Soviet" somewhere in the same sentence. It's as if one symphony might almost be regarded as better than another because it demonstrated more 'anti-Soviet' feeling than another. This has always irritated me as a way to evaluate music. Life, music, art - at least, if it is any good - is not so black and white, good and bad, pro- and anti-. You don't have to be a dissident to be a great composer. The music, and Yevtushenko's words, speak for themselves.