This Year Will Be One to Remember. REVIEW

Article excerpt


2006 anniversaries Mozart Shostakovich Gliere Arensky Finzi

This is, of course, Mozart's year, but his 250th is but one of a dozen significant anniversaries of leading composers in 2006. They range from the 150th of the death, aged only 52, of the Parisian Adolphe Adam, composer of the evergreen Giselle and 80 other almost totally forgotten stage works, to the 150th of the birth of the Norwegian Christian Sinding, who deserves to be remembered for more than the Rustle Of Spring.

Of these others, by far the most significant is the centenary of the birth of Dmitri Shostakovich. Alongside his friend Benjamin Britten, he is surely the greatest voice among composers born in the 20th Century.

Shostakovich is certainly the most distinguished symphonist of the mid-20th Century, with 15 to his credit. Several are among the finest ever written, notably the populist Fifth, the searing 10th and the quizzical 15th; full of references to childhood musical memories and the ticking of time's clock as life ebbs away.

His 15 string quartets yield in significance only to Beethoven's. As a journey they are, dare I say, an even more impressive achievement than those of Mozart.

Shostakovich's greatness lies in his irony as much as his seriousness, notably his ability to satirise Stalin's Russia in terms any musical person can understand. Not for him the blind alley of atonalism.

Shostakovich was an unashamed melodist and populist. Some of his film tunes, such as the beautiful Romance from The Gadfly, are unforgettable.

He is to be treasured, not least because after his death in 1975, and Britten's a year later, truly great living voices in serious music have been stilled. In 30 years no one has proved fit to assume their mantle.

Two other Russians are also worth remembering this year: Reinhold Gliere, who died 50 years ago, and Anton Arensky, who died in 1906.

Gliere was a well established romantic composer of the nationalist school before the revolution and he continued to write the same sort of stuff thereafter.

As such, he had none of the problems with Stalin that beset Shostakovich and Prokofiev. …