Academic journal article Asian Social Science

The Tragic Spirit of Shostakovich's Vocal Cycle

Academic journal article Asian Social Science

The Tragic Spirit of Shostakovich's Vocal Cycle

Article excerpt


Tragedy is an important aesthetic form. And the tragic spirit is a sense of tragedy reflected by both the artist and the artistic work. On the one hand, the tragedy spirit of Shostakovich's vocal cycle comes from the aesthetic preference of the Russian nation, traditional art and the unfortunate fate of the composer himself, and on the other, it is also expressed via the description of death, pessimistic love and the suffering of life. The various composing techniques are the most reliable communication tool for the tragedy spirit of vocal cycle.

Keywords: Shostakovich, vocal cycle, tragedy

1. Tragedy and the Spirit of Tragedy

Tragedy is not just a tragic event occurred in life or a drama in parochial theory of literature, it is a kind of beauty in the form of aesthetic categories as well. It not only belongs to the drama category, but also aesthetic category; not only to the category of literature and art, but also to the philosophical category. Aristotle established the tragic theory which became the source of the western tragedy tradition. He defined it as the "imitation of a complete and whole action having a proper magnitude" (1541a) (Aristotle, 1981). Aristotle believed that it is the hero (i.e., good people who have committed mistakes) himself who leads to the tragedy rather than the fate or behaviour of his character. And, according to his deduction, tragedy has a purifying effect, including a pain, non-accidental "harmless pleasure" (as Rung had called it) (Rung, 1987). Then estheticians and philosophers such as Custer Salvi Castro, Corneille, Lessing, Schiller, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche developed and evolved the theories of tragedy around the concept of tragedy and "Purification" (catharsis, 1449b) and other theories of tragedy. Belinsky who rooted in the soil of the Russian philosopher thinks that the object of tragedy should come from complicated life. However, Chernyshevsky argued that "tragedy is terrible things in life," (Chernychevsky, 1958) and Engels revealed the essence of tragedy as "the inevitable requirement of history, and this requirement is actually impossible" (Engels, 1966). Engels' theory has got broad and deep recognition in Russia, especially in the period of the Soviet regime.

The so-called tragic spirit, is a kind of tragic feelings embodied in both the artist himself and his artistic work and it is also known as "tragic vision" or "sense of tragedy". "It is an important topic in modern western aesthetics of tragedy. It's not only a world outlook but also an artistic view; it is reflected not only in the tragedy of the artist but also reflected in the tragic protagonists. " (Cheng, 1992). The world outlook is related to the corresponding artist and the artistic view to artistic taste. I would like to argue in this thesis, which will also apply to any field of art, including music. Music of the tragic spirit is reflected in the Shostakovich's personality, psychology and writing habits, meanwhile, is expressed by non-visual, non-semantic ways. Yet it is precisely because the non-visual and non-semantic music, we get a broader and more flexible imagination to the tragic heroes of music compositions, and get shocked by stronger tragic feelings.

2. The Tragedy Tradition and the Tragic Life: The Existential Foundation of Shostakovich's Tragic Spirit

As mentioned above, the tragic spirit embodied in the works of art, is also reflected in the artist himself. Shostakovich's vocal cycle tragic spirit, his nation, the times and personal experience are closely linked. Three aspects of Russian national aesthetic tradition, Russian intellectuals, tradition and existing foundation of Shostakovich's personal life experiences are the spokesman for this link.

To understand the aesthetic idea of the artist, it is necessary first to explore from the nation and the social perspectives. To comment upon a piece of tragic art, it is a must to put the tragic poet or dramatist and his work into the concrete historical environment, and apply them to the historical background of the contemporary period, otherwise it would be very hard to find the true causes of how the piece of work of art produced or shaped. …

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