Dmitri Shostakovich: The Gadfly

Although remembered principally for his large-scale orchestral works and concertos, Dmitri Shostakovich’s output for the big screen was also prolific.

He was, in essence, the Russian John Williams of his day. Between 1929 and 1970 Shostakovich wrote more than thirty movie soundtracks, but it’s his score for the 1955 film The Gadfly that remains the big hit in this century.

The film is a proudly boisterous affair: a swashbuckling costume drama depicting the life of a Russian hero in 1830s Italy. The setting of the film gave Shostakovich the excuse to borrow musical ideas from Italian Romantic composers such as Verdi and Bellini, but it’s the six-minute Romance for violin and orchestra that explains the score’s continued popularity today.

Unashamedly inspired by French composer Jules Massenet’s soulful Méditation from the opera Thaïs, it’s an elegant, heart-on-your-sleeve melody, which leans and yearns with grace and poise. Twelve sections from the score were subsequently arranged into a suite, and it’s in this setting that the film’s wider musical content is most likely to be heard today. The Romance also stands alone as a legitimate concert piece in its own right; it is best remembered by millions for its use in the 1980s TV series Reilly, Ace of Spies.

Recommended Recording

(Romance only) Chloë Hanslip (violin); London Symphony Orchestra; Paul Mann (conductor). Warner: 8573 886552.