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ClassicsOnline Home » SHOSTAKOVICH: Fall of Berlin (The) / The Unforgettable Year 1919 Suite
By Andrew Keech
Music From The Movies
By Daniel Schweiger
SHOSTAKOVICHS FILM MUSIC
Dmitry Shostakovich (DSCH) composed about 35 film-scores. This is quite remarkable, out of a total quantity of 147 numbered works. These were written between 1929 and 1970, which means about one a year. A dozen have been extracted or arranged as concert suites and were already recorded on LPs during the mono and stereo eras of Melodiya, and were occasionally licensed on American and European labels. Suites or fragments of Zoya (1944), Michurin (1948), The Gadfly (1955) and Hamlet (1963) had also become known in international concert repertoire, together with his symphonies, concertos and chamber music. His score for Leonid Traubergs silent masterpiece New Babylon (1929) was relaunched in Paris in a performance with a live orchestra in 1975, conducted by Marius Constant, on a date which can be considered a memorable one in the history of silent film music. For a young man of 23, this mordant score was already a significant achievement, but by then he had already written his first three symphonies, a chamber opera (The Nose) and over ten chamber and piano works. He had started as a young and underpaid pianist in a Leningrad silent cinema, which was actually the ideal ambiance to learn how to write for the movies. Silent cinemas purely improvisatory or last-minute way of scoring/arranging technique was the best training for a musicians intuition or sense of drama. It is well-known that many of Shostakovichs film scores were not well received by Russian culture apparatchiks, but to him it was much more difficult to overcome harsh criticism of his more important works. Some forty years of film music composing within 56 turbulent years as a composer of symphonies, string quartets, operas and song cycles which all have become world famous, may have taken second place. Considering his film scores as a whole, it may be seen that his earlier works reflect more pleasure in the experimental than his later ones, and this not only in comparison with the greatly inferior musical level of his fellow composers from contemporary Hollywood. Particularly notable is the fact that Shostakovich had found a way to integrate his straightforward lyricism and sardonic language with film music, whether in scoring such simple pieces as a waltz, a polka, a galop, a song or a short interlude. In other words, his complete personality is omnipresent in his film music as well, making it a valuable inheritance of Russias culture, besides the achievements by other composers like Sergey Prokofiev, Aram Khachaturian, Moysey Vainberg and Dimitry Kabalevsky, who also worked for the film industry with excellent results.
THE FALL OF BERLIN
The Fall of Berlin (Padeniye Berlina) is a monumental two-part Mosfilm production of 1949 and 1950 (in black-and-white and in colour), directed by Michail Chiaureli and based on a script by Chiaureli and Pyotr Andreyevich Pavlenko (1899-1951), a famous writer who had also collaborated with Sergey Eisenstein on his script for Alexander Nevsky. Together with Battle of Stalingrad (1949, with music by Aram Khachaturian), it belongs to the genre of Soviet film from the Stalin period known as "artistic documentaries", intended to impress and instruct the masses like written history and, as was usual, to present a historical truth in an often forged or re-invented form, to serve propaganda purposes. A particularly hilarious example in Chiaurelis film is its pompous finale, in which Stalin is seen arriving at Berlin airport to congratulate his troops and the Allies, to deliver a speech to thousands of people, not from a tribune, but from the ground, and this without even a microphone Stalin who had always categorically refused to travel to Germany and had not even done do so after the end of the War. The dictator, in any case, had total control over the films he had approved and, as Shostakovich points out in his memoirs, "he had his own projection room at the Kremlin, and he watched films at night. That was work for him and he worked, like all criminals, at night".
A typical contemporary pamphlet says of this film that "it is a moving picture in which great feelings of patriotism are assembled in an epic of the peoples common struggle for freedom, independence and for the happiness... through realistic and faithful pictures, in which Soviet Man is shown in his unfailing union with the great Leader of the People".
The historical subject of the script is enriched by a conventional and dramatic love story, in order to interest the viewer. From its technical aspect, its incredible luxury of effects and well-staged mass-scenes, this picture can compete with many contemporary Hollywood productions, leaving aside the still difficult times in which it was produced. Like Hitler, Stalin had found in cinema the best propaganda mass-media, and therefore provided that Mosfilm Studios were not to suffer under any budget limitations. As was the case in Berlins Babelsberg studios, particular care had to be taken that in scenes dealing with banquets or meals, plates were to be filled with fake food.
June 1941: Alyosha, a young steel-founder, is in love with Natasha, a school-teacher. Too shy, he does not show her his feelings, thinking she is in love with a more attractive concert pianist. At a personal meeting with Stalin in the latters garden, after having been congratulated for his good work, Alyosha is encouraged by Stalin himself to declare his love and marry her. Unfortunately, during their first meeting in a cornfield, the two lovers are interrupted by the first attack of the Germans and separated. Eventually, Natasha ends up in a concentration camp. Alyosha and his two friends Kostya and Yussuf fight in Moscow and Stalingrad and, finally, in Berlin. It is the mortally wounded Yussuf who tries first to hoist his bloodstained handkerchief on the roof of the Reichstag, before the official Red Flag. It is well-known that this historical scene, celebrated by press photos at the time, was revealed afterwards as faked as well, since it had been necessary to restage it afterwards under better visibility conditions. The omnipresent Stalin, played by M. Gelovani, is seen in the film as an amateur gardener and the owner of a huge park (the cue title modestly calls it a "garden") and, as often, as leaning over maps before giving orders, or as brainstorming with his staff. This is also the case with Hitler, played by Vladimir Savelyev, whose hysterical fits create some chaplinesque episodes. During his last Bunker days, the Führer marries Eva Braun and the ceremony is accompanied by Mendelssohns Wedding March, shortly after he has given orders to flood Berlins underground stations filled with people sheltering from the bombing. Goehring, owning a decadent villa filled from top to bottom with stolen works of art, Goebbels, Roosevelt and Churchill are other dramatis personae, besides, of course, Russian historical personalities like Marshal Zhukov and Malenkov, Stalins secretary, and others. The storming of the Reichstag, during which Alyoshas two friends are killed, has an immediate consequence in general dancing and music-making of the Russians and the Allies in Berlins streets, preceding Stalins triumphal arrival from the skies. Now it is also the right time for Alyosha and Natasha to find each other again. The first part of the film, lasting seventy minutes, ends with Stalin meeting Roosevelt and Churchill at the Yalta Conference.
The second part is 75 minutes long and is, from the filmic point of view, much more valuable and interesting, since not only does it contain some excellent battle and bombing sequences, but it has also some valuable and well-staged episodes, connected with Hitlers last days. A first episode shows the Führer and his staff leaving their palace to take refuge in the Bunker during an air raid, in which the protagonists are seen running away in a distant shot from above, while thousands of sheets of paper flutter around in the room. A second episode is Hitlers ghastly marriage and his suicide, counterpointed with images of a mass of innocents drowning in an overflowing underground station. In the meantime two messengers arrive to tell the Bunkers superintendent that Berlin has now surrendered and they ask to speak to the Führer, but are told that he is not available at the moment becuse he is celebrating his marriage, all this causing hysterical laughter. Incidentally, Eva Braun and Hitlers secretary are portrayed in the film as sympathetic characters, violently reacting against the Dictators last mass-murderous decision. The staging and lightning of some dramatic shots draw inevitable inspiration from Sergey Eisenstein and other earlier Russian film-makers.
The original score
Shostakovich composed most of his Symphony No.7 "Leningrad" in 1941, at a time when he was himself active as an army fireman during the siege of this city. The première of this work, on 5th March, 1942, at which the composer delivered an introductory talk, obviously left a tremendous impression. Subsequent performances were soon broadcast in the United Kingdom and the United States and Shostakovichs C Major became immediately one of the most discussed symphonies of the time, its artistic value largely overshadowed by the emotional circumstances of its composition and performance. Western critics had, in any case, condemned it as a bombastic and second-rate composition, but its initial successful reception in Russia was to last even less than a couple of years before the usual group of envious fellow-composer apparatchiks renewed their opposition to Shostakovich once more, accusing him of being a crypto-Fascist, since the symphony was not convincing enough in its Finale, and its most effective music was only in the Merry Widow-March sequences in which Nazis were portrayed. Shostakovich waited until 1943 to deliver another war-inspired symphony, his eighth, a work which has also been called the Stalingrad Symphony. In short, Shostakovich was more than an expert composer of war-inspired film music, since he had experienced war himself, both as an active soldier and as a deeply committed composer. He may too have been moved again, while checking with his stopwatch, the preview sequences of The Fall of Berlin which were to be set to music eight years later. The music speaks for itself: it contains a lot of valuable elements, definitely far above the usual superficial pathos or caricatures one could expect from such a picture.
Shostakovichs score is based on a simple leitmotif of heroic character, first heard in Main Title I, gradually developing itself through subsequent episodes and re-appearing as a trimphant choral hymn in the Finale. Main Title II contains a new motif, strongly similar to the theme of Borodins Symphony No.2 in B minor, written 73 years before, symbolizing the Russians people consciousness of and will for victory.
Purely orchestral sequences like Alyosha by the river (he thinks about his secret love for Natasha) and In the devastated village (Alyosha visits Natashas village and her destroyed home) and the choral Stalins garden (later published separately as Op.82C, and as the childrens song Beautiful Day, published as Op.82B) are the most lyrical of the score and create sensitive atmospheres through delicate orchestrations. No matter that the composer may not have been of one opinion with the directors or the protagonists rather commonplace feelings and dramatic situations, he succeeded in transporting the activities on the screen to a higher level, as only a good film music composer can do, making his own feelings chime with those of the viewers. Even in more extravert episodes, like The flooding of the underground station and Yussufs Death, we are faced with skilful contrapuntal musical cues, avoiding special effects or platitudes, perfectly fitting the action on the screen. Battle sequences also display Shostakovichs skill in creating pathos, without falling into the clichés of Socialist Realism, and even a perfectly orchestrated short band music piece like Hitlers reception becomes a caricature-like musical jewel. The most questionable pieces are, of course, both bombastic final cues, in which the mixed chorus has to scream Slava Stalinu, and whose remaining lyrics there is no need to translate here, but they also show intelligent realisation and orchestration, nearer in achievement to the choral finale of his Symphony No.3 (The First of May) than to the less logical tonal one of Symphony No.2 (October) and The Song of the Forest, Op.81, composed in the same year as The Fall of Berlin. In the childrens song Beautiful Day, an accompaniment to Natashas visit to a steel foundry with her class, Yevgeny Dolmatovskys words are rather too optimistic, compared to the huge industrial complex in the background, belching apocalyptic billows of smoke.
In her excellent book Soviet Film Music (1997), Tatyana Egorova condemns Shostakovichs Fall of Berlin as "distressing" and "sounding stiff and monotonous", since "the possibilities of development of the glorification theme were limited". Although not agreeing here, I accept, with Egorova, that two additional quotations from the "Leningrad" Symphony to this soundtrack (not included on this disc) are inadequate, but it may be possible that these sequences, partially edited in a rather primitive way as if taken from already existing tapes, were last-minute additions. Following some happy, Sibelius-like love music, the "Nazi machinery" episode of track 5 (Attack) is definitely inspired by the first movement of Symphony No.7.
The original soundtrack of The Fall of Berlin was played by the Ministry of Cinematography Orchestra, under the baton of Alexander Gauk. The orchestra requires a normal symphonic formation, except in tracks 14 and 15, where two and three trumpets, respectively, and trombones are needed, and track 11, which calls for two pianos. Harp, celesta and an extensive percussion section are also required.
The Concert Suite
Composer Levon Tadevosovich Atovmyan (1901-1973) was a close friend of Shostakovich, holding various administrative posts in Russias cultural bureaux. Later he was appointed director of Muzford, the Union office in charge of commissions and disbursements. Shostakovichs large correspondence with Atovmyan make up an important documentation on intrigues and dramas in Russian musical life of that time. Besides this, Atovmyan worked regularly as a vocal score extractor, arranger and editor of Shostakovichs film music and ballet suites.
The eight-part concert suite of The Fall of Berlin includes arranged versions of the cues corresponding to the present tracks Nos. 3, 4, 6, 8, 11, 12, 15 and 16, with a mixed chorus in the first and last movements of the suite and in The Garden (our Stalins Garden, track 4). Atovmyan uses arrangements of track 15 as a Prelude and track 16 as a Finale. His most questionable arrangement is perhaps the rewriting of the beautiful chorus vocalise as an orchestra piece with chorus, although the result sounds very attractive. Most of the suites pieces have been revised, occasionally retouched in their instrumentation, and also either shortened or lengthened. The two piano parts of the Seelov sequence (the longest in Shostakovichs soundtrack) have been re-integrated by Atovmyan with the wind and string sections of the orchestra. In his new Prelude and Finale and in our track 8 (his number 3, entitled Attack), Atovmyan has also rewritten the percussion parts completely. On the soundtrack, the tempo of Alyosha by the river (By the river in the suite) appears to be a semibreve of MM 54, which is almost the double of the Adagio (without metronome indication) in both the original and the suite piece, if played by counting crotchets, but I have adopted the films tempo, even though not all tempi on this recording are a result of a blind matching of those on the soundtrack.
Avtovmyans movements 1, 4, 5, 6 and 8 were first recorded by Melodiya in 1952, in an exciting performance by the State Radio Orchestra and Chorus of the USSR conducted by Alexander Gauk, a recording that came into my collection about 25 years ago.
The score preparation
This first declared original and complete version of Shostakovichs Stalinist score par excellence was based on the composers full autograph, preserved at the Moscow Glinka Museum. The following printed editions were helpful in comparing the music and preparing the orchestral material:
- The symphonic Suite ("Fragments" Op. 82A), arranged by Lev Atovmyan, full score issued by Muzgiz in 1951
- Five "Fragments" (our tracks 1, 2, 5, 6, and 13), issued by Muzgiz in 1987, Complete edition of Shostakovichs works, Vol. 42
- Vocalise for Chorus a cappella (our track 4), issued by Muzgiz in 1985, Complete edition of Shostakovichs works, Vol. 34
Extra video transfers of excellent prints of both parts of the original feature film were made on this occasion by Mosfilm Studios and in the same Studios archives, I was personally allowed to view and choose photographic stills and contemporary pamphlets, and also for The Unforgettable Year 1919. Last but not least, these videos allowed the identification of the remaining source music pieces of The Fall of Berlin, which, of course, had nothing to do with Shostakovichs autograph, but which are listed here for exact information:
- Excerpts from Symphony No.7 "Leningrad", Op.60 (section 39-43 from the first movement in a first cue, and section 37-39 and 39-41 in a second one)
- A March to the Treasurer (a hitherto unidentifiable March by Shostakovich?), apparently arranged by I. V. Petrov)
- Scriabins Etude Op.2 No.1, played in the concert-hall scene by the concert pianist who infatuated Natasha
- Tchaikovskys song Night, Op.60 No.9, first heard during the above-mentioned concert sequence and later during the battlefield scene preceding attacca-like the music of track 10, both times sung by Alyoshas friend Kostya
- Mendelssohns Wedding March (A Midsummer Nights Dream, Opp.21 & 61)
- Various Marches from the contemporary Russian Army repertoire
- Various Russian choral folk-songs and dances with accordion accompaniment
It is also to be noted that a few cues are heard in the film in truncated, or badly edited form. Hitlers Reception (in this scene, he receives a delegation from the Vatican and tells them that they would be looking better dressed in Nazi uniforms) is heard but in a few bars and the Seelov music is also badly truncated in further sequences where it is re-used. Short excerpts of track 8 recur also more than once.
In the Moscow Cinematography Orchestra Museum, I was also able to examine sketches of two further incidental pieces by Shostakovich, one of which is entitled Toast and which was presumably intended to accompany the glass-clinking in the Yalta Conference sequence. I was not allowed to photocopy these, because of the intervention of a conductor, for personal reasons. Shostakovichs cue titles are not all in the original autograph. The retitling of our tracks is based on some of Atovmyans suite titles, or new ones were assigned, according to the action on the screen. The score preparation and orchestral material extraction of all hitherto unpublished tracks was carried out as usual with the help of computer software.
THE UNFORGETTABLE YEAR 1919
While The Fall of Berlin was produced at the height of Stalins power, The Unforgettable Year 1919 (Nyiesabyuvajemyi 1919 God), released in 1951, and also directed by Chiaureli, was to be the last picture in which the Dictator is unrestrainedly glorified. At that time already, audiences, critics and even political leaders had recognised that Soviet art, if it continued as totally controlled as this, would no longer interest or excite the masses. Only through the collaboration of genuine artists (and not "formalistic craftmen"), able to bring into their works conflict, comedy and satire, could the flat pathos of "historic documentaries" be avoided. After Stalins death in 1953, a new chapter of Soviet cinema opened, and new directors, or others, whose projects had been previously rejected, were encouraged to bring fresh life into this popular medium. Michail Kalatozovs The Cranes are flying (a film that won the Cannes Award in 1958, with music by Mieczyslav/Moysey Vainberg) and Sergey Jutkevics adaptation of Shakespeares Othello (1956, with music by Aram Khachaturian) can be considered as typical products of the cultural thaw in Soviet art.
The Unforgettable Year 1919 won an award at the 1952 Karlsbad Film Festival. Once more, its script (based on a play by Vsevolod Vishnyevsky) shows a personally attractive (and taller) heroic Stalin, showing himself on the battlefield more than he ever had in reality. The plot reconstructs Petrograds historical Civil War days of October 1919, during which Stalin had purged the army and the fleet of traitors, after foreign intervention had threatened. He had also opposed directives to evacuate Petersburg and eliminate the fleet, by recruiting an ensemble of bolsheviks and peasants to defend Fort Krasnaya Gorka, a particularly strategic point. The Communists are eventually arrested and Shibayev, a sailor, after he has been helped to escape from imprisonment by a Russian intellectual, participates in the mass raids on Petrograds bourgeois districts, clearing up and repressing counter-revolutionary conspiracies. The Red Army and the Sailors conquer Krasnaya Gorka, whose occupants, the White Guards, are supported by an English squadron, and Shibayev is there at the right time to become a hero, after having unmasked an English spy and prevented the destruction of the Fort. Finally, the Red Flag can be hoisted in its right place again. Shibayevs romance with Katya serves as the usual dramatic counterpoint to the patriotic subject of this film. That for commercial reasons a war film has always to be coupled with a love story is the very best way of promoting or criticising humanitys most cruel and absurd invention. Touching love stories always sell well, even in the case of political propaganda.
The exciting concert suite of The Unforgettable Year 1919 contains a mini-piano concerto, in the style of, but even more Hollywood-like than, Addinsells Warsaw Concerto of 1941, as if Shostakovich drew amusement from it. Within the suite, and probably the whole score too, this piece sounds out of place, and in the film it should accompany the assault on a fort. In Russia this piece, and the sixth movement, were unfortunately missing from Alexander Gauks passionate Melodiya recording of 1956. The present recording is, therefore, the first complete one.
The fierce introduction has some impressive and well-written fanfares, to the delight of excellent brass groups, and the Tarantella of the Scherzo is a whirlwind virtuoso piece for the whole orchestra. The second movement is atmospheric and lyrical and contains beautiful solos for clarinet and cello. The percussion players have their fling in the third, sixth and seventh movements, while in the Intermezzo, fingerwork for the string section must not be underestimated. All in all, some exciting and spontaneous music for an unconventional concert with an excellent ensemble, this as a final argument against those who turn their noses up at this kind of incidental music.
The instrumentation is practically the same as in The Fall of Berlin, except that it also requires also glockenspiel and xylophone, besides one more extra trumpet, and a concert grand piano.
Notes by Adriano
edited by Keith Anderson
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SHOSTAKOVICH: Fall of Berlin (The) / The Unforgett...