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THE FALL OF BERLIN – Dmitri Shostakovich

November 21, 2022 Leave a comment Go to comments


Original Review by Craig Lysy

The Fall of Berlin was conceived by director Michail Chiaureli as a two-part documentary that would offer a propagandist cult of personality homage to the Supreme Leader Josef Stalin as a 70th birthday present. A pamphlet distributed with the film’s release reveals its intent, stating: “It is a moving picture in which great feelings of patriotism are assembled in an epic of the people’s common struggle for freedom, independence, and for happiness… through realistic and faithful pictures in which the Soviet man is shown in his unfailing union with the Great Leader of the People”. Chiaureli and Pyotyr Andreyevitch Pavlenko collaborated on the writing the screenplay, and secured approval from the Ministry of Cinema. Mosfilm would manage production and a fine cast was assembled, including; Miheil Gelovani as Josef Stalin, Boris Andreyev as Alexsei Ivanov, Yury Tymoshenko as Kostya Zaichenko, Marina Kovalyova and as Nayasha Rumyantseva.

The Part 1 story is set in the U.S.S.R. with the onset of the battle of Moscow in September 1941. The narrative follows Stalin as the Great General leading the defense of the motherland, with a sub plot that featured a more intimate story of two lovers Alexsei and Natasha. Part 2 offers the final triumph over the Nazi regime reveals Stalin arriving in Berlin and giving a rousing patriotic speech to wild applause, a historical fabrication as Stalin never traveled to Berlin. The film was a commercial success, and the state controlled critical reception was of course laudatory. However, three years later following the death of Stalin, the film was purged from theaters as part of the De-Stalinization program.

The assignment of Dmitri Shostakovich to the project came as a surprise as he had been accused of “Formalism” and fallen into disfavor. His success with this film score and later propagandist films most likely saved him from the Gulag. Upon viewing the film Shostakovich had no illusions as to what he needed to compose – a rousing, patriotic and exhalatory homage for the Supreme Leader. He also understood that a delicate balancing act was needed in supporting the love story between Alyosha and Natasha. He was already faced with likely exile to the Siberian gulag for his embracing of formalism, an understood that any use of overt romanticism was incompatible with Soviet Realism. In hindsight Shostakovich was able with subtlety and nuance to eloquently speak to the love of Alyosha and Natasha, as well as the pathos of war. Critics however were very harsh and declared his effusive exaltation of Stalin, especially in the finale as grossly bombastic.

For his soundscape Shostakovich provides three primary themes; the Heroic Theme captures the emotional core of the film. The horn laden theme, has an AABC construct in its complete form heard in the Main Title Part 1, with the A Phrase most often used to propel the action. A bold and resounding twenty-one note declaration by trombones orogliosi joined by a horn chorus offers its core heroic statement. The B Phrase is borne by forthright and celebratory strings nobile, which transition to horns solenne and drums for a more pronounced iteration. The concluding C Phrase offers the theme’s most heartfelt expression with lyrical violins. The Patriot Theme offers an ABA construct, which speaks to the long suffering and iron determination of the Russian people to defeat the German invaders. It’s A Phrase offers heavy weighted strings resoluti empowered by timpani, which speak to the aforementioned qualities. From this arises its B Phrase, a proud and celebratory marcia inarrestabile, which drives relentless ever forward. The final Attack Theme is not original, as Shostakovich interpolates the relentless marcia militare from the first movement of his Symphony No. 7 in C Major, Opus 60 (1942). He uses it to empower and propel kinetically a number of battle action scenes. The remainder of the score offers scene specific set pieces and Russian classical piano and vocal folk ballads.

Cues coded (*) contain music not found on the album. (*) “Studio Logo” reveals the iconic statuesque Mosfilm studio logo display supported by a grand horn chorale fanfare from the Heroic Theme. “Main Title Part 1” offers a rousing score highlight where Shostakovich captures the emotional core of the film. He introduces his horn laden Heroic Theme, presented in AABC form, which support the display of the opening credits. A bold and resounding twenty-one note declaration by trombones orogliosi immediately establish the tone of the film, joined by a horn chorus at 0:12 for a heroic statement. The statement reprises with stirring effect and launches at 0:45 the B Phrase born by forthright and celebratory strings nobile. At 1:24 the melodic line shifts to horns solenne and drums for a more pronounced iteration. At 1:46 the heartfelt lyrical violins pronounce the C Phrase and conclude the credits. We flow into the film proper at 2:07 with a diminuendo of calm voiced by woodwinds ternero. A panorama of billowy cloud filled skies atop endless fields of orange flowers fills the screen. We flow seamlessly into a score highlight “Beautiful Day”, a song by Shostakovich with lyrics by Yevgeny Dolmatovsky, which offers a gorgeous pastorale. It ushers in at 0:41 a children’s chorus singing a joyous song, which celebrates spring as we see them running happily across the fields.

(*) “Alyosha’s Award” reveals the steel factory foreman Alyosha Ivanov being awarded the ‘Order of Lenin’ award for outstanding service to the motherland. Shostakovich supports with a festive, parade-like ‘Um pah pah’ as his boss and fellow workers celebrate. Later, Natalia gives a rousing speech at the town hall commending Alyosha and praising Stalin. Afterwards he walks her home and she asks him to join her at a concert tomorrow night, which he accepts. (*) “Concert” offers a pianist playing Scriabin’s Etude Opus 2 No. 1. Afterwards the pianist becomes infatuated with Natalia and takes the open seat next to her while Alyosha was taking a cigarette break. For the next act, a tenor sings Tchaikovsky’s song “Night”, Opus 60 No. 9. Alyosha frets at seeing them together and leaves the concert hall for a walk by the river, whose waters reflect the sunset auras in “Alyosha by the River”, a score highlight. Shostakovich offers a beautiful nocturne delicato borne by shimmering strings, replete with metallic twinkling accents and flute pastorale. “Stalin’s Garden” reveals the Stalin enjoying the tending of his garden. Bird song joins with a soothing wordless mixed chorus as his servant advises that Alyosha Ivanov has arrived for his appointment. The subtle choral ambiance supports the meeting, with Alyosha clearly awed by the experience.

“Alyosha and Natalia in the Fields” reveals a film-album variance. In the film Alyosha and Natalia’s romantic stroll through golden wheat fields in supported by a festive accordion Russian folk song tune, which ushers in a lush rendering of the Heroic Theme by strings romantico as he confesses his love for her. On the album, the accordion tune is omitted and replaced with a wonderful full extended exposition of the Heroic Theme by strings romantico for one of its finest iterations. At 1:52 we segue into “Attack” with harsh, violent dissonance as German bombers fly overhead and begin bombing the town and fields. Strident horns militare and martial drums of war propel a relentless marcia dall’inferno onslaught as Alyosha carries Natalia, who has fainted, back to the village, which has been decimated and is on fire. (*) “German Occupation” reveals the German army occupying the village and instituting a brutal subjugation of its populace. Shostakovich interpolates the relentless marcia militare from the first movement of his Symphony No. 7 in C Major, Opus 60 (1942) to propel the German soldiers.

“Hitler’s Reception” reveals an imperious Hitler entering the Chancellery great hall to greet fawning emissaries from his allies. Shostakovich propels the scene dramatically with a grand marcia pomposa. A diatribe supporting German Christians over Slavs and communism follows, supported by energetic salutes and applause. (*) “Hitler’s Fury” reveals Hitler’s fury when he is informed that Moscow has not fallen, and that Stalin is holding a parade celebrating Russian defiance. Hitler orders one thousand bombers be sent to destroy Moscow, which Shostakovich again supports by interpolating the relentless marcia militare from the first movement of his Symphony No. 7, which is contested by a proud Heroic Theme as Russian fighter planes swarm and attack the German bombers. Not a single German bomber reaches Moscow and Hitler rages against his general staff.

(*) “Stalingrad” reveals General Chuikov awarding Sergeant Alyosha Ivanov the Order of the Red Banner for gallantry. They have surrounded the German army and will soon annihilate it, which will change the course of the war. Shostakovich supports energetically with a proud and confident marcia della vittoria. “In the Devastated Village” reveals Russian troops retaking Stalingrad, which lays devastated and destroyed. Shostakovich offers a grieving pathos by strings affanato for one of the score’s most emotional moments. At 1:53 a crescendo appassianato swells a Alyosha weeps for the lives lost in the carnage, promising to drive westward. In “Forward!” a defiant captured German commander raises the ire of soldiers who spoil to kill him, yet they are deterred by Alyosha who foretells of the day when Hitler and Berlin fall, pointing to the sky filled with Russian bombers flying west to bomb Berlin. Shostakovich supports with a celebratory crescendo that unleashes a fortissimo statement of the Heroic Theme, which culminates in a flourish.

(*) “Studio Logo” reveals the iconic statuesque Mosfilm studio logo display supported grimly by the strings resoluti of the Patriot Theme. “Main Title Part 2” offers a rousing score highlight, Shostakovich showcases his second primary theme, the Patriot Theme to launch and empower the second act of the film. It is rendered with an AABA construct, which speaks to the long suffering and iron determination of the Russian people to defeat the German invaders. It’s repeated A Phrase offers heavy weighted strings resoluti empowered by timpani, which speak to the aforementioned qualities. From this arises at 0:51 its B Phrase, a proud and celebratory marcia inarrestabile, which drives relentless ever forward, ultimately entwining with the A Phrase to finish in a grand flourish.

“The Roll Call” offers a powerful score action highlight. It reveals a massive Russian army poised to unleash a decisive attack that will break German resistance and open the road to capture Berlin. Shostakovich supports with a low register, solemn passage empowered by horns grave as roll call is performed. Slowly the Patriot Theme builds as their commander exhorts their Soviet pride to crush the Germans. The impassioned ascent finally crescendo’s at 1:19 to support the unleashing of a massive artillery barrage empowered by horns bravura. At 1:45 we segue “Attack at Night” atop a horn driven tempest, which drives forth as we see hundreds of tanks aggressively launching a night attack. The rousing, drum empowered and horn declared attack intensifies as Alyosha leads his battalion’s charge, culminating in a grand paean of victory flourish as Alyosha and his men slay the Germans in hand-to-hand combat.

“Storming Seelov Heights (Zielona Gora)” It reveals Alyosha leading his men in a charge against the German line at Seelov Heights empowered by a grave rendering of the Patriot Theme A Phrase, which intensifies with an accelerando that crescendos powerfully. At 1:36 a heroic B Phrase swells with pride to support an undaunted Alyosha’s brave command to attack. Shostakovich whips his orchestra into patriotic fervor, a raging tempest as the ferocious battle unfolds with churning tanks, artillery barrages, and fierce hand to hand combat. Throughout the battle the Russian musical themes are ascendent, dominating, and unstoppable. This magnificent cue, which is I believe the finest action cue in Shostakovich’s canon, concludes gloriously with a grand flourish. (*) “Victory!” reveals that the Russians have annihilated German resistance and we see hundreds of tanks churning across the fields, while above hundreds of bombers fill the sky. Shostakovich propels the dynamic scene with the patriotic fervor of the Patriot Theme B Phrase.

(*) “Camp Liberation” reveals a concentration camp where the Germans round up the prisoners during an aerial bombardment. We see Natalia is alive as the commander orders them gunned down just as Alyosha arrives. Many are killed, and Alyosha orders a tank to crash the gate, which stops the massacre and causes the Germans flee. The survivors begin singing a patriotic song in celebration of their liberation. (*) “On to Berlin!” returns to the battlefield, where we see the Russian mechanized onslaught rolls on, unstoppable, supported by the Heroic Theme, which resounds as an anthem. An unscored interlude reveals a delusional and raving Hitler claiming victory is at hand as he flees to his bunker. Returning to the battlefield we see once more the Russian mechanized onslaught rolling on supported by the patriotic B Phrase. Tanks from two Russian pincers meet and complete the surrounding of Berlin as German troops surrender in droves, which Shostakovich jubilantly supports with a paean of celebration. In “The Flooding of the Underground Station” the Russians are 200 meters away from the bunker and Hitler orders the metro tunnels to be flooded to save himself, even though thousands of Germans are hiding in them for safety. Shostakovich scores the scene dynamically with swirling strings, thundering timpani and an orchestral maelstrom.

(*) “Hitler’s Marriage” reveals Hitler marrying Eva Braum supported by Mendelssohn’s Wedding March in C Major (1842) as a fighting rage above the bunker. “The Final Battle for the Reichstag” opens solemnly atop strings reverenti as Alyosha is ordered to proceed to the Reichstag and hoist the red banner of victory. This musical narrative carries his approach on a slow building crescendo, which erupts at 1:02 on celebratory horns and unleash a paean of joy as they overcome initial German resistance and prepare to enter the seat of German power. At 1:23 we flow into a celebratory marcia trionfante as the men climb the Reichstag stairs until 2:07, when we segue tragically atop dying horns into “Kostya’s Death” as he is gunned down from behind. A noble lamentation unfolds as Yussuf comforts his dying comrade. He accepts his personal red flag and promises to also raise it atop the Reichstag in his memory. Kosstya dies in his arms and Yussuf kisses him farewell. At 3:17 surging strings unleash a proud rendering of the Patriot Theme B Phrase as Yussuf climbs the Reichstag stairs.

“Yussuf’s Death” reveals him climbing the Reichstag dome to hoist Kostya’s red flag carried by ascending horns bravura. At 0:28 he is gunned down by German fire and the horns, weaken and descend in death. Alyosha carries him down, shows him a captured Berlin, grieves for his fallen comrade, and kisses him goodbye. Shostakovich supports the two friends with an aching threnody by strings affanato, horns solenne and muted drums. At 2:01 we segue into “The Red Banner” atop surging strings of determination with horns patriottici as the red banner of victory is carried aloft, while Alyosha fights German soldiers hand to hand below. At 2:11 the banner is affixed atop the Reichstag and a proud anthem of victory is declared by horns trinonfante as Russian soldiers cheer. (*) “Celebration” reveals Russian troops in the streets dancing in celebration supported by an accordion playing a festive Russian folk song.

“Stalin at Berlin Airport” offers a glorious score highlight. It reveals Stalin flying overhead in a bomber escorted by a squadron of fighters as crowds look up and cheer. Shostakovich supports his flight and arrival at the airport with a celebratory choral anthem glorifying their Supreme Leader sung by mixed chorus. Crowds race to the airport and greet Stalin as we see both Alyosha and Natalia at the event. As Stalin deplanes at 1:42 to fanatical cheering, proud horns patriottici launch an extended exposition of the Heroic and Patriot Themes, which join in magnificent interplay. The mixed chorus then resumes to render the song’s second stanza, which culminates in a grand and glorious flourish!

The final two cues offer magnificent score highlights, where Shostakovich’s music achieves a refulgent apogee. “Finale: Stalin’s Speech” reveals Stalin giving a speech where he states that great sacrifices have been made, and that we must not forget. Shostakovich opens with horns solenne declaring with reverence, the Patriot Theme, empowered with mixed chorus. We then flow at 0:46 into another iteration of the Stalin Anthem, now rendered with God-like reverence. At 1:16 we segue into “Alyosha and Natasha Reunited”, which reveals Natalia seeing Alyosha, and running into is arms where they embrace and kiss; the song continues for an inspired iteration. We conclude the film with a magnificent paean, which swells gloriously as Shostakovich musically empowers Stalin’s Apotheosis, concluding with a choral-orchestral flourish for the ages.

I would like to thank Betta Inc. for this magnificent recording of Shostakovich’s masterpiece, The Fall of Berlin. The audio quality is excellent and the performance of the Moscow Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Adriano, and the Moscow Capella & Youth Chorus under Chorus Master Sergey Krivobokov were, superb. This film score saved Shostakovich from exile to the Siberian gulag as he had fallen in disfavor, accused of Formalism, and not embracing Socialist Realism. His musical homage to Stalin during this film profoundly moved the supreme leader and restored him to good graces with Andrein Zhdanov, head of the Ministry of Culture. Shostakovich fully understood that “The Fall of Berlin” was a Soviet propaganda film, and that his music would have to ennoble and empower the courage and accomplishments of the Soviet army, as well as to extol and glorify Stalin’s astute leadership role as the architect of the victory over fascism. Two original primary themes empowered the musical narrative offering heroism, patriotism, courage and dogged determination. These rousing themes propelled the battles and inspired the hearts and minds of the audience watching their comrades fight to defend the motherland. The interpolation of his martial music from the first movement of his Symphony No. 7 in C Major, as well as other Soviet marches also supported the unstoppable onslaught of the Soviet juggernaut. However, it is his musical homage to Stalin where the score achieves its zenith. Shostakovich knew that the film really was for an audience of one, Stalin, and that he would have to make him larger than life. To that end he combines in the final three cues a glorious musical paean of such power and magnificence that Stalin achieves an Apotheosis. Shostakovich was later criticized during the de-Stalinization era for his shameless and bombastic musical homage, yet I believe this is harsh and unjust. His handiwork succeeded in its very clear mission and thankfully saved his career. Folks, I believe “The Fall of Berlin” to be an epic masterpiece, abounding with martial power and glorious patriotism. I believe it to be the grandest of Shostakovich’s film score canon, a Golden Age gem, and highly recommend this recording for your collection.

For those of you unfamiliar with the score, I have embedded a YouTube link to the Finale; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XyDGbeGMS60&list=OLAK5uy_nVgK5k7zswwCrsO5WRm-4PSNdLCFlzn6Q&index=16

Buy the Fall of Berlin soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Main Title Part 1 (2:44)
  • Beautiful Day (2:15)
  • Alyosha by the River (1:39)
  • Stalin’s Garden (2:02)
  • Alyosha and Natalia in the Fields—Attack (3:53)
  • Hitler’s Reception (1:32)
  • In the Devastated Village (2:40)
  • Forward! (0:58)
  • Main Title Part 2 (2:06)
  • The Roll Call—Attack at Night (3:01)
  • Storming Seelov Heights (Zielona Gora) (6:26)
  • The Flooding of the Underground Station (1:11)
  • The Final Battle for the Reichstag—Kostya’s Death (4:06)
  • Yussuf’s Death—The Red Banner (3:41)
  • Stalin at Berlin Airport (4:28)
  • Finale: Stalin’s Speech—Alyosha and Natasha Reunited (2:44)

Running Time: 45 minutes 34 minutes

Naxos Film Music Classics 8.570238 (1950/2006)

Music composed by Dmitri Shostakovich. Conducted by Adriano Baumann. Performed by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra and the Moscow Capella & Youth Chorus. Original orchestrations by Dmitri Shostakovich. Recorded and mixed by Edvard Shaknazarian and Vitaly Ivanov. Score produced by Dmitri Shostakovich. Album produced by Betta Inc.

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