Classical Check-Up – 1953

A relatively quiet year for Western art music. Dmitri Shostakovich (pictured above) takes full mantle of Russia’s greatest composer after Prokofiev’s passing, while Germany’s young wünderkind upstart, Karlheinz Stockhausen, continues to stake his claim as the decade’s greatest visionary.


String Quartet No. 5 in B-Flat Major

Artist: Dmitri Shostakovich

Genre: Romanticism

Grade: A

The second movement — a slow and brooding andante — is particularly haunting. Shostakovich was adept at weaving Russian mysticism into Romantic traditionalism, an entirely unique sound a bit of a throwback when compared to the high modernism of the age.

Shostakovich’s fifth string quartet is an entrancing mini-suite that gets under your skin but remains just out of reach, a common quality shared throughout all his works. Reflective of life itself, the answer is there and then it’s not.


Schlagtrio

Artist: Karlheinz Stockhausen

Genre: Serialism

Grade: A-

If you enjoyed Kontra-Punkte, then you probably won’t find Schlagtrio quite as interesting. Personally, I didn’t find Kontra-Punkte to be interesting at all, which is why I much prefer this contrapuntal adaptation for timpani. Same concept as its predecessor, except this time the mismatched notes coagulate much better — piano becomes timpani, and vice versa, with silence and space playing a key role. Not nearly enough of either, silence nor space, in Kontra-Punkte.


Symphony No. 7, “Sinfonia antartica”

Artist: Ralph Vaughan Williams

Genre: Impressionism

Grade: A-

Vaughan Williams’ Seventh symphony, the “Antarctica,” finds the ever-consistent and ever-British composer in resounding late-career form. This symphonic tone-poem is an emotional rollercoaster in the romantic tradition, painted in exquisite impressionistic colours.


Symphony No. 10 

Artist: Dmitri Shostakovich

Genre: Romanticism

Grade: A-

Shostakovich composed 15 symphonies. Of them, his Tenth is middle of the pack, relatively speaking. It is buoyed by its epic opener, a twentysomethingminute “Moderato,” which takes up the majority of the piece.


Kontra-Punkte

Artist: Karlheinz Stockhausen

Genre: Serialism

Grade: B

Mismatched notes that harmonize in uncanny ways. Listen, fall asleep, then dream of tone rows and electric sheep.

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