The Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Op. 47, by Dmitri Shostakovich is a work for orchestra composed between April and July 1937. Its first performance was on November 21, 1937, in Leningrad by the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra under Yevgeny Mravinsky. The premiere was a huge success, and received an ovation that lasted well over half an hour.
The symphony is approximately 45 minutes in length and has four movements:
- The symphony opens with a strenuous string figure in canon, initially leaping and falling in minor sixths then narrowing to minor thirds. The sharply dotted rhythm of this figure remains to accompany a broadly lyric melody played by the first violins. Variants of this theme return throughout the 3rd and 4th movements. The second theme is built out of octaves and sevenths. Whereas the first theme is based on a sharp dotted rhythm, the second relies on a static long-short-short pattern. With that is found all the musical material for this movement—one that is tremendously varied, its climax harsh. The coda, with the gentle friction of minor in strings against chromatic scales in celesta, ends on a note of haunting ambiguity.
- The opening motif in this waltz-like scherzo is a variation of the first theme in the first movement; other variations can be detected throughout the movement. The music remains witty, satirical, raucous while also nervous.
- After the assertive trumpets of the first movement and the raucous horns of the second, this movement uses no brass at all. The strings are divided throughout the entire movement (3 groups of violins, violas in 2, cellos in 2; basses in 2). Shostakovich fills this movement with beautiful, long melodies—one of them again based on the first theme of the first movement—punctuating them with intermezzi of solo woodwinds. Harp and celesta play prominent roles here as well. The music is emotive and even elegiac in tone; it returns to the sober mood which the scherzo has interrupted.
- Allegro non troppo
- This movement, in an abbreviated sonata-allegro form, picks up the march music from the climax of the opening movement, at least in manner if not in specific material. A tense conclusion leads to the quieter section of the piece. This section ends and the short snare drum and timpani solo introduces a brief militaristic introduction to the finale of the movement—an extended and obsessive reiteration of the D major tonality.