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Five Fragments, Op 42


The fascinating and rarely performed Five Fragments, written at a single sitting on July 9th 1935, are one of the last of Shostakovich's experimental works, harking back to the instrumental and tonal peculiarities of his early symphonies and even such strange compositions as the First Piano Trio and the Aphorisms for piano. But they are perhaps even more interesting for the way in which they prepare the ground for the composition of the massive Fourth Symphony (as the Romances prepare the ground for the Fifth). There are all sorts of textures and strange instrumental balances in the symphony which seem to spring directly out of what is suggested but not developed in these Fragments. And the two works even have one or two distinctive motifs in common.

The first Fragment is a pastorale for the wind-section and harp, the second is a march for wind and brass and double-basses, while the third (the longest and most important of the five) is a rapt and timeless slow movement for strings and harp, strongly reminiscent of the Siberian spaces in the last act of Lady Macbeth. The fourth Fragment, within the mysterious frame of two horn-notes, is a bitter little canon for bassoon (in B flat major), clarinet (in B major) and oboe (in C major); this is unexpectedly brought to an end by a wispy snatch of the string music from the previous movement. The fifth and last Fragment is a grotesque, almost Stravinskian, waltz for violin solo; accompanied by a side-drum and solo double-bass; a flute, clarinet and bass clarinet briefly interrupt, but fail to stop the sardonic trio from playing on.

from notes by Gerard McBurney © 2004


Shostakovich: Hypothetically Murdered & other works
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