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All What Jazz: The Shostakovich Jazz Suite that Never Was

It’s just one of those extremely trivial things that nevertheless irritate me beyond all measure.

As is well known, the great Soviet composer Dmitri Shostakovich wrote two Jazz Suites: the first in 1934 and the second in 1938. They became well known after Decca released a “Jazz Album” of this music in 1993, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra being conducted by Riccardo Chailly, and especially when Stanley Kubrick used “Waltz 2” from the apparent Jazz Suite No.2 in his 1999 film Eyes Wide Shut.

Shostakovich at work

I’m not here to discuss the First Jazz Suite, a great little sequence of music which I love very much. It is the Second Jazz Suite which is my concern, because what was recorded on the Chailly Jazz Album was not in fact the Second Jazz Suite at all but something quite different.

According to the musicologist Gerard McBurney, the score of the original Second Jazz Suite was lost in the 1940s. What turns up on the Chailly album is a confection more properly called the Suite for Variety Orchestra.

This suite of eight movements seems to be largely derived from Shostakovich’s film music from the 1940s and 1950s including The Adventures of Korzinkina (1940), The Gadfly (1955) and The First Echelon (1956). It is from this last film that the famous Waltz derives:

Shostakovich, waltz №2, original performance – YouTube

As such, it is clear that it is impossible for this Suite to be the one composed by Shostakovich in 1938.

This compilation of his later music was possibly made by another hand, perhaps his pupil Lev Atovmyan, a man who in his time was entrusted by Shostakovich to the task of compiling suites of music from his films and other confections, in the process sanding off the angles and often inventing his own development sections to make them suitable for concert performance. To my ear, at any rate, the Suite for Variety Orchestra has something of an Atovmyanian sound to it.

When excerpts from the Suite for Variety Orchestra are broadcast, it is still often announced as the Second Jazz Suite (quite wrongly), leading almost inevitably to a humorous grumble from the presenter that the style hasn’t anything much to do with jazz. This is of course a totally unfair criticism of Shostakovich as he never called it jazz in the first place.

The piano score of the original Jazz Suite No.2 was rediscovered by musicologist Manashir Yakubov in the late 1990s, revealing a suite of three movements: Scherzo, Berceuse and Serenade. These were orchestrated by Gerard McBurney and the result was premiered at the Last Night of the BBC Proms in 2000:

Suite for Jazz Orchestra No. 2 – Dmitri Shostakovich – YouTube

Oddly, this very appealing piece seems to have dropped out of sight and there is only one commercial recording that I am aware of, here.

As I fully realise, none of the above is of any importance whatsoever.


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