Dmitri Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony is one of the most exciting, but also most oppressive works in recent music history. After attending a performance of the opera "Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk", Stalin accused the celebrated composer of producing "chaos instead of music" - a scathing verdict in the 1930s. From then on, Shostakovich had to reckon with the worst: his sister was deported, and close friends were murdered. It was in this climate that he wrote his new symphony as a "creative response to justified criticism".
What sounds like a revolt against power is, in fact, a game of hide-and-seek that is both refined and desperate. On the surface, the Fifth Symphony is precisely what the Soviet cultural bureaucracy expected it to be: a classical four-movement symphony, mostly melodic and just like Beethoven, the dark minor at the end turns to major, the final bars appearing almost monumental. But does this "positive" conclusion really outweigh the many expressions of pain and lament in the preceding movements? Why is the Scherzo, a crude collage of quotations, so brazenly cheerful? And why does Shostakovich repeatedly create moments in which the music comes to a halt, sometimes as an unreal sound of the spheres, sometimes as a collective cry? Under these conditions, the symphony's triumphant end does not seem liberated, but forced; it is not the goal of the development, but instead imposed from above. A double compositional strategy, therefore, that rehabilitated its creator - at least momentarily.