Symphony No. 9 in E-flat major, Op. 70, was composed by Dmitri Shostakovich in 1945. It was premiered on 3 November 1945 in Leningrad by the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra under Yevgeny Mravinsky.
The ninth symphony was originally intended to be a celebration of the Russian victory over Nazi Germany in World War II (see Eastern Front). The composer declared in October 1943 that the symphony would be a large composition for orchestra, soloists and chorus "about the greatness of the Russian people, about our Red Army liberating our native land from the enemy". On the occasion of the 27th anniversary of the Revolution held in 1944, Shostakovich affirmed, "Undoubtedly like every Soviet artist, I harbor the tremulous dream of a large-scale work in which the overpowering feelings ruling us today would find expression. I think the epigraph to all our work in the coming years will be the single word 'Victory'."
David Rabinovich recalled from a conversation he had with Shostakovich on the ninth symphony in 1944 that the composer "would like to write it for a chorus and solo singers as well as an orchestra". In a meeting with his students on 16 January 1945, Shostakovich informed them that the day before he had begun work on a new symphony. A week later, he told them that he had reached the middle of the development section, and the work was going to open with a big tutti. Isaak Glikman heard around ten minutes of the music Shostakovich had written for the first movement in late April, which he described as "majestic in scale, in pathos, in its breathtaking motion".
But then Shostakovich dropped the composition for three months. He resumed work on 26 July 1945 and finished on 30 August 1945. The symphony turned out to be a completely different work from the one he had originally planned, with neither soloists nor chorus and a much lighter mood. He forewarned listeners, "In character, the Ninth Symphony differs sharply from my preceding symphonies, the Seventh and the Eighth. If the Seventh and the Eighth symphonies bore a tragic-heroic character, then in the Ninth a transparent, pellucid, and bright mood predominates."
The work is written for:
Shostakovich and Sviatoslav Richter played Symphony No. 9 in a four-hand arrangement for musicians and cultural officials in early September 1945. The premiere, conducted by Yevgeny Mravinsky, took place on 3 November 1945 in the opening concert of the 25th season of the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra, sharing the program with Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5. The concert was broadcast live on the radio.
The Moscow premiere took place on 20 November 1945. A performing version of the first version of the Ninth (Symphonic Fragment) was performed under Gennady Rozhdestvensky in 2008. A Naxos CD containing a recording of the Symphonic Fragment was released in 2009.
Shostakovich once remarked that "musicians will like to play it, and critics will delight in blasting it". But the initial reaction of his peers to the new symphony was generally favourable. Gavriil Popov:
Transparent. Much light and air. Marvellous tutti, fine themes (the main theme of the first movement - Mozart!). Almost literally Mozart. But, of course, everything very individual, Shostakovichian... A marvellous symphony. The finale is splendid in its joie de vivre, gaiety, brilliance, and pungency!!
Shostakovich's prediction was right in the long run: less than a year after its première, Soviet critics censured the symphony for its "ideological weakness" and its failure to "reflect the true spirit of the people of the Soviet Union". On 20 September 1946, a highly critical article by musicologist Izraíl Nestyev, "Remarks on the Work of D. Shostakovich: Some Thoughts Occasioned by His Ninth Symphony", was published:
What remains to be proposed is that the Ninth Symphony is a kind of respite, a light and amusing interlude between Shostakovich's significant creations, a temporary rejection of great, serious problems for the sake of playful, filigree-trimmed trifles. But is it the right time for a great artist to go on vacation, to take a break from contemporary problems?
Neither was the symphony well received in the West: "The Russian composer should not have expressed his feelings about the defeat of Nazism in such a childish manner" (New York World-Telegram, 27 July 1946).
Symphony No. 9 was nominated for the Stalin Prize in 1946, but failed to win it. By order of Glavrertkom, the central censorship board, the work was banned on 14 February 1948 in his second denunciation together with some other works by the composer. It was removed from the list in the summer of 1955 when the symphony was performed and broadcast.
The work has five movements, the last three played without interruption:
- Allegretto - Allegro
A typical performance lasts for around 26 minutes, which makes this symphony one of Shostakovich's shortest. (Only his Second is shorter.)
The symphony is a playful and vivid musical work, with a neoclassical air that has led to comparisons to Haydn's symphonies and to Prokofiev's Classical Symphony. Shostakovich himself considered it "a joyful little piece".