Composers Datebook®

with host John Birge

Tuesday, January 8

Fateful anniversaries for Lully and Shostakovich

Synopsis

Today’s date marks two rather macabre anniversaries in the history of music.

The first was a fatal moment for Jean-Baptiste Lully, the 17th-century Superintendent of Music for King Louis XIV of France. In late 1686, King Louis became gravely ill, but surprised everybody by recovering completely. To celebrate, Lully wrote a choral “Te Deum,” praising God for the miracle. Ironically, it would lead to his own demise.

At the performance, on today’s date in 1687, Lully got carried away while beating time with his cane and accidentally smashed his toe. He continued conducting, but an abscess soon developed, followed by gangrene which spread through his lower leg. Lully died a few weeks later.

On today’s date in 1972 another somewhat morbid musical event took place—the world premiere of the 15th and last symphony by the Soviet composer Dmitri Shostakovich. At that time, he was already ill with the heart disease and lung cancer that would eventually kill him.

Although his symphony has no stated programmatic content, Shostakovich fueled speculation by including cryptic musical quotations from familiar classics like the “William Tell” Overture and “Siegfried’s Funeral March” in his dark and brooding new work.

Many listeners come away with the unmistakable impression that Shostakovich’s last symphony is meant as an ironic commentary on his own life and work, written under the shadow of death.

Music Played in Today's Program

Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687) Galliarde, from Trios pour le coucher du Roi Chicago Baroque Ensemble Cedille 043

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) Symphony No. 15 in A, Op. 141 London Symphony; Maxim Shostakovich, cond. Collins 1206

Additional Information

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