• Bryan Kim

The Gadfly Suite

Dmitri Shostakovich composed the score to The Gadfly, a Soviet film tells the tragic story of a flamboyant freedom fighter in 19th century Risorgimento, who is ultimately executed by a firing squad. The Italian setting gave Shostakovich a unique opportunity to play around with the pseudo-Neapolitan style, Mediterranean rhythmical patterns, and Italian folk-tunes — musical ideas, motifs, and harmonies he had never incorporated in any of his previous compositions. Furthermore, many segments in the Gadfly Suite are noticeably in the style of his Italian composer counterparts, Bellini and Verdi, given the historical context of the film. The light-hearted Galop and bittersweet Romanze were a stark contrast to Shostakovich’s traditional grotesque and raw music, which proved to be especially popular to non-classical listeners. The Gadfly Suite would be often shown many times in TV shows, advertisements, and so forth because of its light-hearted nature.

The Gadfly Suite was written two years after Stalin, Shostakovich’s lifelong nemesis, died. Instead of feeling elated, however, Shostakovich was at one of the lowest points of his life. The death of his beloved wife, Nina, in 1954 had already traumatized him. When news of his mother’s terminal illness (and consequent death) reached Shostakovich, he entered a rough battle of depression and PTSD. And to make matters worse, although he was, and still is, regarded as one of the greatest Soviet composers of his time, he was actually the second choice to compose the film’s score, only receiving commission after Aram Khatchaturian was forced to drop out due to a sudden medical complication — something that drove a stake into Shostakovich’s pride as a composer forever. Shostakovich’s raw artistic impulsiveness to create beautiful things out of tragedy was what led to the composition of the Gadfly Suite. Written by a disgraced man on the verge of suicide, the Gadfly Suite was fated from the beginning to become one of his most beautiful, yet tragic works he had ever written.