Azerbaijan International

Spring 2003 (11.1)
Page 57

Melodic Signatures in Shostakovich's 10th Symphony
by Aida Huseinova

See also "Shostakovich's Tenth Symphony: The Azerbaijani Link - Elmira Nazirova," by Aida Huseinova, in Azerbaijan International, Vol 11.1 (Spring 2003), pp. 54-59.

The third movement of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 10 in E Minor, Opus 93 (1953) is based on two musical signatures: that of the composer, and that of one of his young students, a brilliant Azerbaijani young woman named Elmira Nasirova. Shostakovich created these signatures by spelling out their names within the notes of the piece.


In Western musical notation, there are two general practices for naming the notes of major scales: (1) with syllables like Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, and Si/Ti, or (2) with letters like C, D, E, F, G, A, and B/H.

Both notation methods originated during the Middle Ages, when musical theory was being developed. In German musical tradition, "H" eventually replaced the "B" typically found in European music; however, Americans still refer to this note as "B".

On the piano keyboard, the white keys are named for these seven basic notes - C through B/H. The black keys represent half tones between the white notes. They are called "sharps" if they raise the pitch of the white key they are identified with, and "flats" if they lower the pitch. In terms of naming sharps and flats, specific endings may be used, such as "is" for sharp, and "es" for flat. For example, the black key located between notes D and E can be referred to as either D sharp (Dis) or E flat (Es) [pronounced "s"].

Signature Lines in Music
The tradition of transcribing words into musical letters dates back to at least the Baroque period (1600­1750). Composers often embed their names or the name of someone they love, or even a geographic place name as a musical phrase in their works.

For example, the musical signature of Johann Sebastian Bach can be identified in a number of his choral and instrumental works. Robert Schumann immortalized the name of Meta Abegg, a woman he had fallen in love with, when he wrote his "Piano Variations on the ABEGG Theme" (1829­1830). Later, in his Carnaval piano cycle (1833­1835), Schumann incorporated the name of the town of Asch, where his beloved Ernestine von Fricken lived.

Twentieth-century Austrian composer Alban Berg disguised himself alongside with two friends - the prominent Austrian composers Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern - in his Chamber Concerto (1925). A similar device was used by Azerbaijani composer Gara Garayev in his Sonata for Violin and Piano (1960), which he devoted to his long-time friend, pianist Vladimir Kozlov. Shocked by Kozlov's death, Garayev included the name phrase "Vladimir" in the last movement of this sonata.

Signatures in 10th Symphony
Symphony No. 10 contains the most sophisticated and expressive way that Shostakovich ever used to incorporate music signatures into his works. The symphony's 3rd Movement, known as Allegretto or Scherzo, derives its substance from the interplay between two musical phrases: one from his own signature and the other from the first name of the brilliant young Azerbaijani student who had become the muse for this work - Elmira Nazirova.

The composer's initials "D. Sch." (Dmitry Shostakovich) via German transcription are transposed into a melodic signature as follows: D, Es, C and H. In other words, they are: D, E flat, C and B.

The second theme, based on the name of Elmira, was created by incorporating both of the traditional notation methods. The melodic signature for Elmira is E, La, Mi, Re and A - or simply: E, A, E, D and A.

Shostakovich introduces his signature first in the score (Orchestra Phrase No. 113). Ten bars later (No. 114), Elmira's name enters the work, with a lone French Horn solo with no orchestra. It is such a distinctive line that it is impossible to miss. The timbre of the French horn creates the impression of a confident, self-assured, embracing call to the woman who has entered his life at a difficult time and enabled him to regain his identity, which had been stripped away. Both themes function as leitmotifs; that is, music symbols that are used repeatedly; both undergo tonal and rhythmic changes.

Elmira's theme is repeated 12 times throughout the movement, alternating with the DSCH signature like a dialogue between the composer and his muse, or more precisely, between the composer and his inner voice revealing the love that is harbored deep inside. Thus, something mesmerizing occurs in the interplay between these two melodies that gives this movement, enigmatic content and distinguishes it from the rest of the symphony.

Elmira's motif never appears again, whereas Shostakovich's signature is repeated many times in the last movement of the symphony and culminates in a dramatic climax. Once again, this emphasizes the autobiographic nature of this work.

His musical signature first appeared in his Violin Concerto, No.1, Opus 77, finished in 1948 (although performed 7 years later, in 1955). It also appeared in his String Quartets, No.4, Opus 83 (1949) and No.5, Opus 92 (1952). Then came the Tenth Symphony. Later it appears again in several compositions, including his String Quartet No.8, Opus 110 (1960) and Violin Concerto No.2, Opus 129 (1967).

Symbolically this short motif symbolizes the spirit inherent in all of Shostakovich's music - both in terms of modal and intonation peculiarities, but most of all, by its tragic quintessence.

Appropriately enough, Shostakovich's signature is the strongest design element on his gravestone in the Novodevichye Cemetery in St. Petersburg, Russia. Underneath his name written, which is written in large Cyrillic letters, is a musical staff with the treble clef and the DSCH signature.

Many of the musical tributes to Shostakovich composed after his death include this musical phrase, such as Boris Tishchenko's Fifth Symphony (1974) and "Musical Tribute" by Azerbaijani composer Gara Garayev (1976), who maintained strong professional and personal relations with his mentor and close friend.

Back to Index AI 11.1 (Spring 2003)
AI Home
| Search | Magazine Choice | Topics | AI Store | Contact us

Other Web sites created by Azerbaijan International
| |