By Gabriel Prynn, cellist
Part 3/4 Shostakovich Piano Trio No 2
Dmitry Dmitriyevich Shostakovich was born in St. Petersburg in 1906. Unlike his compatriots Glinka, Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov, he did not experience a provincial childhood as the son of a country gentleman. On the contrary, he grew up in an atmosphere disturbed by the recent « aborted revolution » of 1905, and with the presentiment of inevitable upheavals to come. When he was eleven years old, a childhood friend was killed in the street before his eyes by agents of the Tsar’s police, and this dramatic event seems to have marked him definitively.
« I cannot conceive, as far as I am concerned, of any musical evolution outside our socialist evolution. And the goal I assign to my work is to contribute in every way to the building of our great and wonderful country. There can be no better satisfaction for a composer than to have helped, through his creative activity, the development of Soviet musical culture, which is destined to play a primordial role in the recasting of human consciousness.”
Shostakovich expressed himself thus in 1936, and it would be hard to imagine taking a clearer political and artistic position. Indeed, his entire life and creative work can be considered as an enhancement, a defense and an illustration of this formula.
The Piano Trio No.2 Op 67 was finished in the Spring of 1944, and grew out of both national and personal tragedy. After several years of brutal war, Russia was in a state of exhaustion. The siege of Leningrad, in which over a million people had died, had come to an end in January. The German army was in retreat from Russia, and revelations of the horrors of the death camps and the fate of Jews were beginning to surface.
It was just at this time that Shostakovich lost his closest friend, Ivan Sollertinsky, a fine writer on music, a brilliant linguist and a witty public speaker. Shostakovich had first met him in 1927, and Sollertinsky had actually given a talk introducing a performance of Shostakovich’s Symphony No.8 just five days before his death from a heart attack in February 1944. Shostakovich wrote to Sollertinsky’s widow:
“I cannot express in words all the grief I felt when I received the news of the death of Ivan Ivanovich. He was my closest friend. I owe all my education to him. It will be unbelievably hard for me to live without him.”
So Shostakovich, who had been working on his second Piano Trio since December of 1943, decided to dedicate it to Sollertinsky, following in a tradition of elegiac Russian piano trios (Tchaikovsky had written his in memory of Nikolai Rubinstein, Rachmaninov had followed with a trio in memory of Tchaikovsky). But the music itself makes it clear that Shostakovich intended this trio to be a memorial far greater than a simple homage to the individual human being who was his friend.
We are particularly attached to this Shostakovich trio because we had the rare opportunity to work intensively on it with none other than a student of Shostakovich, Eberhard Feltz, in Berlin in 2008.