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Serov Yu.

On two “japanese” vocal cycles of D. D. Shostakovich

It is hard to imagine that any “blind spots” can be found in Dmitry Shostakovich’s legacy in our days. The body of literature on the composer must rule out raising such an issue. And nevertheless, his vocal cycle “Six Songs to Words by Japanese Poets” is among the issues of the master’s legacy that are still insufficiently studied. Not only does it contain only three songs on Japanese poetry, but also the whole story of the composition is full of riddles. The answers may be found in the reality that surrounded Shostakovich, and in his private life, turbulent at that time. It turned out that we can safely maintain that there are two different vocal opuses by the author of the Leningrad Symphony, and that composing the cycle that extended over three years and a half, unprecedented for Shostakovich, fits well in the logic of his complicated private life and creative environment.

Shostakovich wrote three songs for voice and piano to poems from A. Brandt’s book of translations from Japanese lyrical poetry in the autumn of 1928, when he got a strong feeling to his future wife Nina Varzar. He even changed the meaning of poems emphasizing the love confession. The continuation followed three years later. A work of the Indian literary classic Rabindranath Tagore had already been taken as the poetic base, and the new song was intended for voice (tenor) with orchestra. The cycle was completed several weeks before the wedding, in the spring of 1932. The opus was not performed in the composer’s lifetime, and it seemed that the author just forgot about it.

In this article, we analyze the story behind the vocal cycle, review literary sources, and come to the conclusion that there are two “Japanese” vocal cycles by Shostakovich. One of them is Three Songs to words by Japanese poets for voice and piano, and the other is Six Songs for tenor with orchestra to words by various authors.

Key words

Shostakovich, Japanese poems, vocal cycle, piano, symphony orchestra, Rabindranath Tagore, Nina Varzar.

For citation

Serov Yu. On two “japanese” vocal cycles of D. D. Shostakovich // South-Russian Musical Anthology. 2020. No. 3. Pp. 57–62.