Skip navigation

Tag Archives: 1930s

Richard Wagner (1813-1883) is undoubtedly one of Western music’s most controversial figures.  His operas (he called them music-dramas) redefined the genre and pushed it to its limits.  His epic Ring cycle spans four operas and about 16 hours of music.   For this, he invented the leitmotif, a recognizable melodic theme connected to certain characters, places, events, or moods in his operas.  He also invented new instruments (e.g. the Wagner tuba) and had his own opera house built (at Bayreuth) in order to get exactly the sound that he wanted.  He pushed harmonic boundaries ever further, eventually eschewing any tonal resolution in the opera Tristan und Isolde (which is often regarded as the first modern opera).  For all of these operas, he assumed near total control, writing the librettos and designing the sets himself.  He was also a writer whose opinions on many things,especially Judaism, have remained a stain on his character.  In short, he was a large, uncompromising personality whose effects are still strongly felt in music and beyond.

Wagner finished the opera Lohengrin in 1848.  It tells the story of Elsa, a princess in Brabant (what we now call Antwerp), who is rescued and wedded a by a knight in shining armor who insists on remaining nameless.  Drama and tragedy ensue, ending with the death of several characters in typical Wagnerian fashion. Elsa’s Procession to the Cathedral comes at the end of Act II, when Elsa is on her way to be married to the knight, who we later learn is Lohengrin, knight of the Holy Grail.  Even in its original form, this section is almost a band piece, dominated by winds and percussion.  It has become a staple of the band repertoire as a standalone piece.

The Baylor University Wind Ensemble performs the classic band arrangement of Elsa, created by Lucien Cailliet in 1938:

Here is the version from the original opera, in a production at La Scala in Milan in 2012:

You can read more about Lohengrin on Wikipedia and at the Met Opera website.  As for Wagner himself, here is just a small sampling of what the Internet has to say about him: Wikipedia, Biography.com (video), the Jewish Virtual Library,WagnerOpera.net, ipl2, and PBS Great Performances.

Gustav Holst (1874-1934) was a British composer and teacher.  After studying composition at London’s Royal College of Music, he spent the early part of his career playing trombone in an opera orchestra.  It was not until the early 1900s that his career as a composer began to take off.  Around this same time he acquired positions at both St. Paul’s Girls’ School and Morley College that he would hold until retirement, despite his rising star as a composer.  His music was influenced by his interest in English folk songs and Hindu mysticism, late-Romantic era composers like Strauss and Delius, and avante-garde composers of his time like Stravinsky and Schoenberg.  He is perhaps best known for composing The Planets, a massive orchestral suite that depicts the astrological character of each known planet.  His works for wind band (two suites and a tone poem, Hammersmith) are foundational to the modern wind literature.

Hammersmith, op. 52, is Holst’s only late-period work for wind band, and the only one intended for professional musicians.  Although it was commissioned by the BBC military band in 1930, it received its premiere on April 17, 1932 by the United States Marine Band, conducted by Captain Taylor Branson, at the American Bandmasters Association convention in Washington, D.C.  This performance was not repeated, and the piece was forgotten for two decades, to the extent that Boosey & Hawkes, which published Holst’s 1931 orchestral transcription, had no record of the band version at all.  It remained unknown until 1954 , when Richard Cantrick, the band director at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University), unearthed the band version, which existed only as a manuscript in the possession of Holst’s daughter (also his biographer), Imogen.  He conducted the second performance with their Kiltie Band on April 12 of that year, after which Boosey & Hawkes finally published the piece.  Imogen Holst provides program notes in the score:

Hammersmith is a Prelude and Scherzo which was commissioned by the BBC military band in 1930.  Holst afterwards rewrote it for full orchestra.

Those who knew nothing of this forty-year-old affection for the Hammersmith district of London were puzzled at the title.  The work is not program music.  Its mood is the outcome of long years of familiarity with the changing crowds and the changing river [Thames]: those Saturday night crowds, who were always good-natured even when they were being pushed of the pavement into the middle of the traffic, and the stall-holders in that narrow lane behind the Broadway, with their unexpected assortment of goods lit up by brilliant flares, and the large woman at the fruit shop who always called him “dearie” when he bought oranges for his Sunday picnics.  As for the river, he had known it since he was a student, when he paced up and down outside William Morris‘s house, discussing Ibsen with earnest young socialists.  During all the years since then, his favorite London walk had been along the river-path to Chiswick.

In Hammersmith the river is the background to the crowd: it is a river that goes on its way unnoticed and unconcerned.

from Gustav Holst, A Biography by Imogen Holst

A wind group from the Royal Scottish National Orchestra plays the original (band) version of Hammersmith:

Hammersmith has generated a lot of scholarship and general chatter.  Will Rapp includes a chapter on it in his book The Wind Masterworks of Holst, Vaughan Williams, and Grainger  (click for a Google Books preview of the Hammersmith chapter).  It figures prominently in this internet biography of Holst and his final years.  It shows up on the Wind Repertory Project, which includes a useful errata list.  You can read Robert Cantrick’s fascinating account of re-discovering the piece on JSTOR (or at least a preview of it if you do not have access through a school or otherwise).  Understand that he wrote it believing that his performance was the actual premiere, demonstrating the extent to which the US Marine Band performance was forgotten.  Finally, visit Gustavholst.info, a major web resource for information on the composer.

Carmina Burana is the iconic secular work for chorus and orchestra.  It’s opening and closing moments have been used in countless films and commercials – they make any situation sound epic.  The texts come from a collection of 12th- and 13th-century poems of the same name.  Although they were found in a Benedictine monastery at Beuern, Bavaria (the title translates as “Songs of Beuern”), they deal exclusively with secular subjects, from the unpredictability of fortune to the moral failings of the Catholic Church of the time to a catalog of all the people who drink (hint: everyone).  They were written by the Goliards, a group of vagrant students, clergy, and poets who satirized the church through their writings.  German composer Carl Orff (1895-1982) discovered the poems for himself in 1934 and spent the next two years setting 24 of them to music.  The result was so successful that Orff wrote to his publisher: “Everything I have written to date, and which you have, unfortunately, printed, can be destroyed. With Carmina Burana, my collected works begin.”

Seiji Ozawa conducts the Berlin Philharmonic in a 1989 performance:

So, what business does this piece have being in a wind band blog?  In 1967, John Krance took the choral/orchestral work and, with the composer’s enthusiastic blessing, transcribed a big chunk of it (12 movements) for band, incorporating the vocal parts into the instrumentation.  It works spectacularly well, as proven by this performance of Jerry Junkin conducting the 2011 California All-State band:

The wind ensemble version allows for movements to be selected out for a shorter program.  This year in the Columbia Wind Ensemble (at the request of senior trumpeter and Festival guru Thomas Callander ’13), we are doing the following:

1. O Fortuna (just the famous intro)

2. Fortune plango vulnera:

6. Were diu werlt alle min

10. In trutina
13. Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi

Carl Orff is famous in the world of music education as well, where his Orff Schulwerk method of teaching children music remains hugely influential.  Read more about him at his own very informative and up to date website, Wikipedia, Naxos, and, for something slightly more probing and political, look at this article about music and the Holocaust as it relates to him.

There is no shortage of Internet material about Carmina Burana.  Read on Wikipedia about the texts and the music.  NPR has a piece from 2006 about why it’s still so popular.  This article has links to the texts of all of the poems that Orff used.  Dr. John Magnum wrote extensive program notes on the piece for the Hollywood Bowl.  Similar to the piece listed above, WQXR classical radio did a piece about Carmina Burana‘s connection to Nazi GermanyThis article deals exclusively with the text and its origins.  There are many different ballet versions of the piece.  There is an entire Wikiepdia article just about the opening movement, “O Fortuna”, in popular culture.  One of my favorites:

Finally, if you’ve read this far, you might as well hear my favorite Carmina Burana joke (although you may not like it):

(sung to the tune of Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off):
I say Carmina, you say Carmana,
I say Burina, you say Burana,
Carmina, Carmana, Burina, Burana,
Let’s Carl the whole thing Orff.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.  And I can’t take full credit for this one: I first heard it from my Dartmouth classmate, now an operatic soprano, Laura Choi Stuart.

Percy Grainger (1882-1961) was a piano prodigy turned composer who was known for his strange personal habits, his colorful prose, and his equally unusual music – his many admirers today still recognize that he possessed “the supreme virtue of never being dull.”  Born in Australia, he began studying piano at an early age.  He came to the U. S. at the outbreak of World War I and enlisted as an Army bandsman, becoming an American citizen in 1918.  He went on to explore the frontiers of music with his idiosyncratic folk song settings, his lifelong advocacy for the saxophone, and his Free Music machines which predated electronic synthesizers.  His many masterworks for winds include Lincolnshire Posy, Irish Tune from County Derry, and Molly on the Shore.

Ye Banks and Braes O’Bonnie Doon is among Grainger’s many folk song settings.  He first set it for “chorus and whistlers” in 1903, and created the band setting in 1932.  The folk song comes from Scotland.  The melody first appeared in print as The Caledonian Hunts Delight in a collection of songs published by Neil Gow in 1788.  In 1792, it was paired with a poem by Robert BurnsThe Banks of Doon, and this pairing has been handed down through the generations.  The poem describes a love story around the River Doon, which flows through Ayrshire from Loch Doon in Scotland:

Ye banks and braes o’ bonnie Doon,
How can ye bloom sae fair!
How can ye chant, ye little birds,
And I sae fu’ o’ care!

Thou’ll break my heart, thou bonnie bird
That sings upon the bough;
Thou minds me o’ the happy days
When my fause Luve was true.

Thou’ll break my heart, thou bonnie bird
That sings beside thy mate;
For sae I sat, and sae I sang,
And wist na o’ my fate.

Aft hae I roved by bonnie Doon
To see the woodbine twine,
And ilka bird sang o’ its love;
And sae did I o’ mine.

Wi’ lightsome heart I pu’d a rose
Frae aff its thorny tree;
And my fause luver staw the rose,
But left the thorn wi’ me.

Read more about Ye Banks and Braes at windband.org, the Wind Repertory Project, the Percy Grainger Society program notes page (scroll down to find it), the Internet Archive, and Contemplator.org.

The North Texas Wind Symphony plays Ye Banks and Braes:

The actual folk song recorded in a studio:

Percygrainger.com – much general information on the composer with a focus on his wind band works.

International Percy Grainger Society – Based in White Plains, NY, they take care of the Grainger house there as well as the archives that remain there.  They also like to support concerts in our area that feature Grainger’s music.

Grainger Museum – in his hometown of Melbourne, Australia, at the University there.

Grainger’s works and performances available at Naxos.com

Aaron Copland (1900-1990) is one of the titans of American art music.  A native New Yorker, he went to France at age 21 and became the first American to study with the legendary Nadia Boulanger.  His Organ Symphony, written for Boulanger, provided his breakthrough into composition stardom.  After experimenting with many different styles, he became best known for his idiomatic treatment of Americana, leaving behind such chestnuts as The Tender Land (1954), Billy The Kid (1938), and Appalachian Spring (1944).  This last piece won Copland the Pulitzer Prize in Music in 1945.  He was also an acclaimed conductor and writer.

An Outdoor Overture had its genesis as a commission from Alexander Richter, the music director at the High School for Music and Art (now LaGuardia High School) in New York City.  Richter was looking for music that would appeal to American youth.  Copland responded with a brightly optimistic, wide-open triumph of Americana, in versions for both orchestra and band.  It was premiered in December 1938 (ironically, indoors) at the high school.  Copland describes how the piece progresses:

The piece starts in a large and grandiose manner with a theme that is immediately developed as a long solo for the trumpet with a string pizzicato accompaniment.  A short bridge passage in the woodwinds leads imperceptibly to the first theme of the allegro section, characterized by repeated notes.  Shortly afterwards, these same repeated notes, played broadly, give us a second, snappy march-like theme, developed in a canon form.  There is an abrupt pause, a sudden decrescendo, and the third, lyric theme appears, first in the flute, then the clarinet, and finally, high up in the strings.  Repeated notes on the bassoon seem to lead the piece in the direction of the opening allegro.  Instead, a fourth and final theme evolves another march theme, but this time less snappy, and with more serious implications.  There is a build-up to the opening grandiose introduction again, continuing with the trumpet solo melody, this time sung by all the strings in a somewhat smoother version.  A short bridge section based on steady rhythm brings a condensed recapitulation of the allegro section.  As a climactic moment all the themes are combined.  A brief coda ends the work on the grandiose note of the beginning.

Copland’s greatest works started to appear immediately on the heels of this piece.  He even interrupted work on Billy the Kid, the first of his famous Americana-themed ballets, to write An Outdoor Overture.  It is thus a window into an important period in his career, as he developed the musical language that would be associated both with him and with the broader idea of Americana in classical music in the following decades.

The Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra plays the band version An Outdoor Overture:

Leonard Bernstein conducts the New York Philharmonic in the orchestra version:

To see more about An Outdoor Overture, visit the Redwood Symphony, the LA Phil, allmusic, the Fargo-Moorehouse Symphony Orchestra, and the East Texas Symphony Orchestra.

Copland has a huge presence on the internet, thus this site will feature only the main portals into his work.  Please click far beyond the sites listed here for a complete idea of Copland’s footprint on the web.

Fanfare for Aaron Copland – a blog with information on the composer, extraordinarily useful links, and some downloadable versions of old LP recordings.  This is the place to explore the several links beyond the main site.

Aaron Copland Wikipedia Biography.

Quotes from Aaron Copland on Wikiquote.

New York Times archive of Copland-related material. Includes reviews of his music and books as well as several fascinating articles that he wrote.

Copland Centennial (from 2000) on NPR.

I’ve played An Outdoor Overture twice with Columbia University Wind Ensemble (2003 and 2007) and once with Columbia Summer Winds (2003).

This summer, Columbia Summer Winds is taking a trip over the rainbow, down the yellow brick road, to the Emerald City.  James Barnes’s arrangement of Harold Arlen’s famous tunes is so ravishingly good, it almost makes it sound like they were originally written for band.  Here it is, performed by the Alabama All-State Red Band (in a gymtorium – what does that say about Alabama?) in a truly fine 2007 performance:

I’m not sure what I can possibly add to the mountain of Wizard of Oz knowledge that’s out there.  So here are a few highlights:

The movie vs. the book on Wikipedia.

There are too many spin-offs of The Wizard of Oz to even conceive of naming, but here are a few.  L. Frank Baum, the author of the original book, wrote two sequels himself, Ozma of Oz and The Marvelous Land of Oz (which was itself reinterpreted as a comic in 2010).  These two together spawned a nightmare-inducing movie sequel by Disney in 1985.  But most spin-offs come from the original.  There’s the 2005 Muppet version, and the crummy, steampunky Syfy version (how is it so bad with Alan Cumming and Zoey Deschanel?!) from 2007.   There’s the 1995 book and the 2003 musical (not to mention the band arrangementWicked, which recasts the Wicked Witch of the West as the misunderstood protagonist.  There’s also 1978’s the Wiz, which retells the tale through the lense of African American culture.  These two musicals have given us a treasure of excellent music.  But none of these have come close to rivaling the beloved status or the cultural pervasiveness of the original 1939 film.

For those who have spent their lives under a rock: The Wizard of Oz tells the story of Dorothy Gale, who lives on a grey farm in Kansas.  She wants to see what’s over the rainbow.  Well, wouldn’t you know it, a tornado comes to town and sweeps her, her house, and her dog, Toto, to Oz, where everything is in brilliant color.  Her house lands on the Wicked Witch of the East, killing her and freeing the Munchkins from her tyranny.  The Munchkins and Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, hail her as a hero and tell her to follow the yellow-brick road to the Wizard of Oz in Emerald City if she wants to get home.  Before she leaves, they give her the Wicked Witch of the East’s ruby slippers.  Along the way, she meets the Scarecrow, who needs a brain, the Tin Man, who lacks a heart, and the Cowardly Lion, who lacks courage.  Together, they travel to the Emerald City, only to be told by the mysterious and powerful Wizard that they have to kill the Wicked Witch of the West in order to get their wishes granted.  The Witch captures them.  When all seems lost, Dorothy throws water on the Witch, causing her to melt away.  They return to the Wizard, only to find that he’s just an ordinary guy from Omaha with no powers at all.  Still, he makes things right, and in the end, everyone gets home.

Here’s the iconic performance of the film: Judy Garland sings “Over the Rainbow”:

Finally, I have to mention my favorite Oz-related thing: Play the Pink Floyd album Dark Side of the Moon along with the movie (sound off, of course), and a great many interesting coincidences happen!  They call this phenomenon Dark Side of the Rainbow.

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) was an influential British composer and folk-song collector.  His powerful and expressive orchestral music is notable for its very “English” sound.  His early adventures collecting folk songs in the English countryside profoundly influenced his later compositions.  Along with Gustav Holst, his works for wind band form a foundation for the serious literature in that medium.

Vaughan Williams wrote Flourish for Wind Band in 1939 as the opening to the pageant Music and the People in the Royal Albert Hall in London.  It was subsequently lost, only to be rediscovered and finally published in 1971.  Arranger Roy Douglas created versions of the piece for brass band and for symphony orchestra, but it has become part of the basic literature of the wind band for which it was created.  It opens with a simple brass fanfare.  This gives way to a lyrical melody before the fanfare returns to end the piece.   At just under 2 minutes long, Flourish for Wind Band is a concise gem of Vaughan Williams’s output.  I like to pair it with his Toccata Marziale, with which it shares the key of B-flat and some motivic material, in a prelude and fugue sort of arrangement.

Flourish for Wind Band at the Wind Repertory Project, Answers.com, and (not for the faint of heart) a detailed music analysis of the piece in the form of a master’s thesis.

A chapter on British wind band music from an online History of the Wind Band by Dr. Stephen L. Rhodes. Vaughan Williams features prominently.

Flourish played by the University of North Texas.  I prefer it a tiny bit slower, but they’re REALLY good!

The Ralph Vaughan Williams Society – the source for anything you might ever possibly want to know about the composer.

Vaughan Williams on Wikipedia.

Dmitri Kabalevsky (1904-1987) was a Russian composer who managed a successful artistic career during Soviet times.  His music won many awards in his homeland during his lifetime.  He was also a force in music education: he set up a music education curriculum in 25 schools and even briefly taught a class of 7-year-olds.  He wrote “Comedians’ Galop” in 1938 as part of a broader suite of pieces, The Comedians, op. 26.  Originally conceived as incidental music for a play, he later chose 10 numbers for the suite, which became his most famous work.

Here’s the straight-up orchestra version of “Galop”:

And here it is in a bottle band arrangement:

Brooklyn’s Gershwin brothers, George and Ira, were among the leading Tin Pan Alley songwriters of the 1920s and 30s, with countless popular songs and six Broadway musicals to their name.  But George (1898-1937), who wrote all of the music to Ira’s lyrics, longed for a place in the classical music pantheon.  In 1924, his Rhapsody in Blue for piano and band (later orchestra) established his credentials as a serious composer.  Its use of jazz elements within classical structures became a hallmark of Gershwin’s style.  His Piano Concerto in F and An American in Paris continued in this direction, culminating in his 1935 opera Porgy and Bess.  Despite his success in the classical arena, Gershwin’s requests for lessons with other major composers were repeatedly denied.  Arnold Schoenberg, for example, told him “I would only make you a bad Schoenberg, and you’re such a good Gershwin already.”

Gershwin wrote Cuban Overture in 1932 after a vacation in Havana in February of that year.  He returned from that trip with Cuban rhythms in his head and Cuban percussion instruments under his arm.  The overture was premiered on August 16, 1932 under the title Rumba.  It was retitled Cuban Overture by the time of its second performance at the Metropolitan Opera on November 1, 1932.  For that occasion, Gershwin provided his own program notes:

In my composition I have endeavored to combine the Cuban rhythms with my own thematic material.  The result is a symphonic overture, which embodies the essence of the Cuban dance.

It has three main parts.  The first part is preceded by an introduction featuring some of the thematic material.  Then comes a three-part contrapuntal episode leading to a second theme.  The first part finishes with a recurrence of the first theme combined with fragments of the second.

A solo clarinet cadenza leads to a middle part, which is in a plaintive mood.  It is a gradual developing canon in a polytonal manner.  This part concludes witha climax based on an ostinato of the theme in the canon, after which a sudden change in tempo brings us back to the rumba dance rhythms.

The finale is a development of the preceding material in a stretto-like manner.  This leads us back once again to the main theme.

The conclusion of the work is a coda featuring the Cuban instruments of the percussion.

Cuban Overture marks a great leap forward in Gershwin’s symphonic music, both in its harmonic sophistication and its orchestration.  His program notes, with their emphasis on the form of the work, may have been an attempt to quiet his critics who faulted him with awkwardly-constructed music.  But Cuban Overture, with its roots firmly in Gershwin’s famous sound and clearly tempered by his Cuban experience, met with critical praise from its first performance.  This was among his last large-scale instrumental concert works, written when Gershwin was 33.  Had he lived beyond the age of 38, Cuban Overture might have pointed the way towards another era of sophisticated Gershwin compositions.

Further program notes and information on Cuban Overture can be found at the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Redwood Symphony, and on the blog of Gershwin biographer Walter Rimler.

Before listening, I highly recommend that you watch this 1930s tourist film about Cuba.  It puts the piece wonderfully in context, and it shows what a truly different place Cuba has become now.

Here is the US Coast Guard Band playing Cuban Overture. It’s techinically all there, but a bit lacking in the groove:

Now the orchestra version, recorded with a nice professional polish, but too fast in the middle.  Also, it’s a whole step higher than the band one (although it did come first, so I guess the band version is therefore a whole step lower) so don’t let that throw your ears off:

Gershwin often wrote a short score for 2 pianists of his symphonic pieces before orchestrating them.  Cuban Overture is no exception:

Finally, a bit of a curiosity: in 1938, the year after Gershwin’s death, pianist Rose Linda got together with Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra to record a jazzy version of the Overture:

About the composer:

Gershwin.com – the official Gershwin family website.

Gershwin’s death announcement and obituary from the New York Times.

George Gershwin bio at balletmet.org.

Another Gershwin bio, with portraits, at naxos.com.

The 2012 performance of this is a senior choice for CUWE treasurer and oboist Andrea Gillis.

Dmitri Shostokovich (1906-1975) was one of the great composers of the 20th century, and certainly the greatest to emerge from the Soviet Union.  His relationship with the Soviet government, especially Soviet premier Joseph Stalin, defined nearly every aspect of his life.  He was born in St. Petersburg and grew up in the last years of tsarist rule in Russia.  The Bolshevik revolution of 1917 came when Shostakovich was 11, but its influence stayed with him the rest of his life.  His rise to fame came at the hands of an aid to Leon Trotsky, a father of the revolution.  Shortly thereafter, Trotsky’s exile and the death of Vladimir Lenin left  Stalin in charge, and he ruled with an iron fist and no patience for dissent or criticism of any kind.  The arts were to reflect the official reality of Soviet existence, and thus “Formalist” works (that is, any work that displayed hints of modernism or abstract content) were at least frowned upon, if not banned outright.  Shostakovich made something of a game of pushing as far towards this line as possible, sometimes even drifting past it.  He was officially denounced by the regime twice, only to later rehabilitate his reputation through new, more apparently pro-Soviet works.  At times the regime used him as a mouthpiece, and he seemed only too willing to comply.  Yet his works often show signs of weariness or outright contempt for his government.  His controversial memoir, Testimony, seems to confirm the notion that Shostakovich did not wish to support the Soviet regime.  However, the memoir’s emergence 4 years after his death and the murky circumstances of its creation, not to mention its appearance at the height of the Cold War, all call into question its truthfulness.  Still, Shostakovich undeniably made beautiful music, including 15 symphonies, an equal number of string quartets, large quantities of film music, and 2 operas which he held dear for his entire life.

Shostakovich wrote the Symphony no. 5 in 1937.  He was under tremendous, even life-threatening pressure to do so after his previous major work, 1936’s opera Lady Macbeth of Mtensk, was decried as Formalist by Soviet authorities.  The Symphony was his attempt to rehabilitate himself in the eyes of the authorities while still speaking to the broader public.  He succeeded mightily in both tasks.  Government officials read the Symphony as the story of a Soviet man struggling within himself, only to see the light and become one with the Party in the end.  Friends of Shostakovich and Western listeners, on the other hand, could hear Shostakovich pulling against the shackles of totalitarianism, especially in the final measures of the finale, with its seemingly false, stale optimism.  The truth is nearly impossible to know, but it seems very likely that he intended to express some degree of discontent.

Interpretations of the tempos Symphony no. 5 vary widely, especially regarding those final measures of the finale.  I present the finale as conducted by Mravinsky, who conducted the premieres of several Shostakovich symphonies, including the 5th.  Given that, and that he conducted this at the Leningrad Conservatory when it was still called that, I can only think of his interpretation as sound and reflective of the time it was composed.

Now that that’s over with, here’s Leonard Bernstein doing the same movement with the New York Philharmonic.  It’s a better performance on every level, although I would quibble the slightest bit with Bernstein’s final tempo – he goes too fast!  But it’s very much worth a watch!

Now here’s the band version, played very cleanly by a Scottish military band (in 2 parts):

Symphony no. 5 on Wikipedia – very informative.

The San Francisco Symphony deconstructs several key moments in the Symphony.

Shostakovich bio on Wikipedia.

The debate about Shostakovich and his allegiances rages on…