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Shostakovich began working on his Fifth Symphony on 18 April 1937 in Crimea, completing it on 20 July in Leningrad. In the meantime, his brother-in-law had been arrested and his sister deported to Siberia; these conditions explain Shostakovich’s statement that his Fifth was “the creative answer of a Soviet artist to just criticism,” and the furious, overstated jubilation of the finale convinced the functionaries. Apparently, the work received over a half an hour of thunderous applause at its premiere on 21 November 1937 under Yevgeny Mravinsky.
The writing is markedly reduced in comparison to the foregoing symphonies, falling back on late Romantic gestus; yet the quasi enforced change in style is cryptically turned about in a positive manner – the debate continues as to whether the ending was really intended that way.