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4 Romances, Op 46

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Nearly six years after Hypothetically Murdered, in the New Year of 1937, Shostakovich finished his Four Romances on Poems by Pushkin Op 46. From the very first notes it must be clear that this is music from another world, by a man whose musical language and whose message have profoundly changed. Gone is the wild satire and outrageous sense of humour, and gone is the enthusiastic energy of youth. These Romances are music of mature seriousness, dark with sorrow and stripped of superficial effect.

The previous year, 1936, had been the grimmest of the composer's life. Although he had physically survived the assaults and threats from high and low, the destruction of his livelihood and his reputation, he was, not surprisingly in a profound state of shock. For the latter part of the year he hardly wrote any music at all. Like so many others in his country, he seems to have been overcome not only by the personal danger in which he stood, but also the realisation of the madness that had possessed the entire society to which he belonged.

He remained virtually silent until, in the last days before the New Year, he suddenly gave voice again, on the pretext of an anniversary, four poems by the greatest and most humane of all Russian writers, Alexander Pushkin. These poems, as a quick reading even of a crude translation will make clear, were evidently chosen to reflect the composer's feelings about his own particular situation, as well as the situation of those around him.

Both stylistically and in their emotional tone of voice, the Romances mark the beginning of a new chapter in the story of this man's music. Within a short time after finishing them, Shostakovich, apparently swept forward on a creative flood even greater than even he had known before, embarked on the early sketches for one of his grandest and most popular works, the Fifth Symphony. And the careful listener to these songs will find that not only do they usher in the more general matter of their style (a new kind of harmony, a new way of making each phrase grow out of the one before) but that the first of them—Rebirth—actually provides a number of motifs and fragments which the composer then went on to quote in the symphony's last movement. Thus through the connection with the music of this little romance, Shostakovich was able to hide the words of Pushkin's passionate poem, a declaration of the power of art to survive barbarism and oppression, beneath the apparently 'purely' musical argument of his symphonic finale.

At some point (we don't know when) Shostakovich made an orchestration of the first three songs of the cycle, using just a string orchestra, one clarinet and a harp. He kept this orchestral version of the work to himself; perhaps he was waiting for the moment to orchestrate the fourth song. A few years ago, when I first came across this unfinished cycle, it seemed to me a dreadful thing that his beautiful music should not be heard and performed. So, changing only the clarinet to the bass clarinet (to cope with the predominately lower registers), I have orchestrated the last song in a manner as close as possible to that of the first three.

from notes by Gerard McBurney © 2004


Shostakovich: Hypothetically Murdered & other works
SIGCD051Download only


No 1: Rebirth  A barbarian-artist, with a sleepy brush
Track 22 on SIGCD051 [2'14] Download only
No 2: Jealousy  Weeping bitterly, a jealous girl was scolding a young man
Track 23 on SIGCD051 [1'32] Download only
No 3: Foreboding  Once again the clouds have gathered
Track 24 on SIGCD051 [2'51] Download only
No 4: Stanzas  Whether I walk along noisy streets
Track 25 on SIGCD051 [5'21] Download only

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