Dmitri Shostakovich: The Unforgettable Year 1919

It’s often said that the only truly unforgettable thing about this movie is its soundtrack – in particular, the piano concerto-esque section

The Assault on Beautiful Gorky. This showy, decadent piece, composed to depict a battle scene, is highly reminiscent of Richard Addinsell’s much loved Warsaw Concerto – another example of film music that has well and truly outlived the movie for which it was written.

The film itself is a classic piece of Soviet propaganda, portraying Stalin as a hero and a champion of all that is good and right – something that must have been particularly galling for many of the Russians who were subjected to living under his regime. The most popular excerpts from Shostakovich’s score were later assembled into a concert suite by his close friend Lev Atovmyan. Aside from The Assault on Beautiful Gorky, the most popular section is the lyrical Romance for violin and orchestra.

Shostakovich’s score certainly has its detractors, with one critic describing it as ‘simple, shallow and altogether trivial. The themes are standard-issue bombasticities; the piano part is full of nothing but flash superficialities. The trite and tawdry nature of the music makes one regret that Shostakovich was reduced to writing such tripe for the Soviet film industry because of the vicious politics of the time.’

Recommended Recording

Moscow Symphony Orchestra; Adriano (conductor, who goes only by his first name). Marco Polo: 8223897.

Illustration: Mark Millington