Hyperion Records

Five Pieces from The Gadfly, Op 97
From the time of his first public successes as a student until near the end of his life, Shostakovich wrote regularly for the cinema. It was an activity he occasionally complained about, but it provided a good income, especially when official disgrace stripped him of other means of financial support.

The Gadfly (1955) was an adaptation of a novel by the English writer Ethel Voynich, concerning the activities of an Italian revolutionary, Arthur, in the 1830s and ’40s who acquires the nickname Gadfly by having become a thorn in the flesh of the authorities. The film’s director Alexander Faintsimmer is better known for Lieutenant Kijé, and Shostakovich’s score rivals Prokofiev’s in its melodic directness and memorability.

Borisovsky’s five arrangements begin with the portentous music entitled ‘The Cliff’, composed in updated Russian national style. This is taken from the opening scene in the film, where the revolutionaries survey their homeland from a windswept cliff-top. The ‘Intermezzo’ conflates three movements associated with scenes in the cathedral. These originally featured the organ and were tinged with irony, since the Church is firmly on the side of repression and Arthur is tricked into betraying his comrades in the confessional. The piquant ‘Barrel-Organ Waltz’ originally accompanied Arthur walking through a town square some years later to a meeting with the Revolutionary party. The undoubted hit in the film is the ‘Romance’, originally entitled ‘Youth’ and depicting the young Arthur’s revolutionary fervour (rather than, as commonly assumed, his love for Gemma, the main heroine in the drama); its use as the theme-tune for the British TV spy drama Reilly, Ace of Spies helped to spread its fame to the West. Lev Atovmyan’s suite of twelve numbers from the total of twenty-four in the film, on which Borisovsky based his transcription, conflates this movement with ‘A Slap in the Face’, where Gemma discovers that Arthur has inadvertently betrayed the revolutionary movement. Equally attractive is the ‘Folk Festival’, again originally set in the town square. This adopts the folk-celebratory tone that was a more or less compulsory skill for Soviet composers, one Shostakovich had already mastered in the finale of his Symphony No 10 in 1953 and in his Festive Overture the following year.

from notes by David Fanning © 2012

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