Dmitri’s War…

Sorry if I’m being a bore about this; but I’m so determined to see if I can find an actual use of a German tune or some bona-fide Nazi music in something Shostakovich wrote to accompany film of real or acted Nazis that I went and looked about for the movie Fall of Berlin (1950) that I mentioned here last week.

berlinposter1To be honest, I didn’t really expect to find the film online — but I was proved wrong within seconds: it is in fact on YouTube — yes, all 145 minutes of it! — and I’m linking to it here so you can join me in investigating just what music Shostakovich wrote or otherwise provided for it. It is, as you will imagine, loaded with Hitlerites and, indeed, contains a depiction of the man himself, if man is what he was.

Alas, there are two rather unfortunate things I need to reveal before we go further. First, watching this film means seeing Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin depicted with such a degree of hagiographic servility that it’s liable to make you puke: if you can’t face the thought of seeing him depicted as a peace-loving demigod and cool-headed military genius of the kind we normally only see in films about US presidents, then you should should look away now. (Though, in fact, you shouldn’t. The propaganda of the late Stalin era was, of course, vastly less sophisticated than the kind we in the West are soaked in today — but seeing how those mechanisms of thought-control worked in practise can only sharpen awareness of the way our own society’s state-corporate media do their job of making elite-serving ideas the thoughts that everyone finds themselves thinking, and other ideas and possibilities essentially un-think-able. If you want examples, I can provide them.)

Secondly, you’ll discover — as soon as you click on one of the panels below — that, just like the copy of Bronenosets Potemkin to which I linked the other day, this print of Padeniye Berlina comes from the Mosfilm archive — and, since they’ve acted to disable the ’embed’ function that I need to use if I’m to make the film viewable through this blog, you have to click your way through to YouTube to see each of the two parts at the webpages where Mosfilm has hosted them.

That restriction is unfortunate in that it prevents me from coding up specific segments as individual clips; but I don’t think that’s too great a price to pay for what is, after all, the chance to see some of (presumably) Shostakovich’s own film music in (presumably) its authentic context. If you want to drop in to a single scene with relevance to our recent discussions, go to 23’00” in the first part and see if any of the music you hear during the next few minutes seems at all familiar…

23 March 1949: Associated Press photo shows Shostakovich's arrival in New York for the 'Cultural and Scientific Conference on World Peace' held at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel

23 March 1949: Associated Press photo shows Shostakovich’s arrival in New York for the ‘Cultural and Scientific Congress for World Peace’ held at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel

Before you start watching, just remind yourself that this film was released in the USSR in January 1950. That’s less than 5 years after the end of the war that may have seen the deaths of 25,000,000 Russians. It’s also three years before the death of Stalin: you are watching a film every single frame of which was produced with the knowledge that he would be staring at it.

You may also like to ponder the fact that Shostakovich will have written this score in 1949. That’s the year after his official denunciation by Zhdanov; his public humiliation at that infamous composers’ conference, and his sacking from the Conservatoire — and it’s the year of his equally humiliating despatch to New York for an appearance at the ‘Cultural and Scientific Congress for World Peace’.

Well, here’s the first part of Padeniye Berlina . (If you want to see Shostakovich’s actual on-screen credit, he’s the ‘Д. Шостако́вич‘ at 45 secs):

And here’s the second part:

— Any German music in it…?


MOcoverforblogIf you enjoyed this posting, remember that I am a regular contributor and columnist for the UK magazine Musical Opinion. The magazine’s website can be found here; to see its Twitter feed, click here; to see its Facebook page, click here. To subscribe to Musical Opinion, click here.


2 thoughts on “Dmitri’s War…

  1. It was during Shostakovich’s visit to New York for that ‘Peace Conference’ that he visited the Juilliard School and heard the first ever complete publicly performed cycle of Bartok String Quartets played by the recently-formed Juilliard Quartet, and met the Quartet’s leader, Robert Mann and William Schuman. On his return to Russia, Shostakovich wrote (?) rather disparagingly about the works, though one doubts if what was published under his name was actually written by him.


  2. At the risk of extending this thread even further than it has been already – are we (taking that to those of us in the UK, and possibly in the West more generally) certain that what we would instantly recognise as “German” music is what would be familiarly “German” to the average Russian cinemagoer 65 years ago? Shostakovich was writing for them, not “westerners”…


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