Dmitry Shostakovich composed his Festive Overture, Op. 96, in 1954 and the premiere took place on in the capital on 6 November, on the eve of the anniversary of the October Revolution at the Bolshoi Theatre; it was conducted by Alexander Melik-Pashayev. On 1 August, also in 1954, the VDNKh (then known under the different name of the All-Union Agricultural Exhibition), revived its work; the music of the Festive Overture accompanied the movement of the jets of the light-and-music filled fountain The Stone Flower on Kolkhoz Square, adorned with motifs from tales by Bazhov. The Festive Overture is a six-minute-long bravura orchestral piece. After the introductory fanfare there commences a impetuous gallopade, at the height of which the musical themes resound, among them a melody reminiscent of the overture from Glinka’s Ruslan and Lyudmila. There is a view that the composer wrote the Overture in just three days and with unusual ease; another version states that the material of the Overture was created several years earlier and “lay in the drawer”. The Overture is a work “for an occasion” – more than once it has been used as an effective musical backdrop for various events. For example, it was performed at the opening of the Olympic Games in Moscow in 1980.
Sergei Rachmaninoff wrote his Second Symphony in E Minor in 1906–1907 and dedicated it to Sergei Ivanovich Taneyev, one of his teachers.
Following the disaster of his First Symphony in 1895 (conducted by Alexander Glazunov) the composer did not return to the symphony music genre for a long time. It was only twelve years later that the Second Symphony emerged. By then Rachmaninoff was already a famous pianist, composer and conductor. The premiere took place in the same city where the First had been such a failure – St Petersburg. This time the composer conducted the work himself. The opus was a great success.
The symphony is melodic throughout. The melodies come in a flow that seems almost endless. Boris Asafiev wrote that “Rachmaninoff’s great skill lies in his songful melody. Here he determinedly confirmed his position. This was not a theoretical search. Rachmaninoff’s melodies are always spread out, like a path through the fields, unplanned and un-imposed. Whether suggested by verse, imbued with a symphonic idea or sung with the sensitive fingers of Rachmaninoff-the-pianist, in it one can sense regular breathing and the natural quality of the composition, born from a powerful yet deeply disciplined emotion.”
Such intensity makes the violins and the strings in general the main means of orchestration through songful melodiousness. It is rich and dense, Rachmaninoff uses many polyphonic techniques, undertones and mixtures of timbre. The themes for the winds and brass (especially the French horn) and the woodwinds (the clarinet solo in the third movement) stand apart for their particular colour. The symphony has four movements. The sonata allegro of the first movement is preceded by the slow and gloomy introduction in the style of ancient chants, echoes of which appear several times throughout the symphony. The second movement is an impetuous scherzo, the rhythmic pulsation of which becomes transformed by the melodious themes. In the middle of the movement there is a frenzied fugato which, as it abates, leads to the chorale of the brass. The poetic symphonic adagio (the third movement) is the lyrical culmination of the symphony. The symphony concludes with a festive finale.