My October Symphony

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 1990
Original album - Behaviour
Producer - Harold Faltermeyer, Pet Shop Boys
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - (none)

Indulging his interest in Russian history, Neil read Ian MacDonald's acclaimed 1989 book The New Shostakovich about the great Soviet composer and the challenges that he and other artists faced under a repressive regime that considered the arts merely tools for sociopolitical ends. This inspired Neil to adopt the role of a Russian composer who has dedicated his life and work to the ideals of the Revolution but now feels confused and betrayed in the wake of the recent collapse of communism. His "October Symphony" had been dedicated to the Soviet Union's October Revolution of 1917, but now he wistfully wonders whether he should "rewrite or revise" it, or "change the dedication from revolution to revelation." Hence, the song concerns the plight that confronts any artist—or, for that matter, any person—when nearly everything that gave meaning to his or her life and work has suddenly changed. To put it another way, it's about a personal existential crisis: "Who am I? What am I?"

Cropping up in passing are other references that reveal Neil's familiarity with Russian history and culture. For instance, when he sings, "Shall we remember December instead?" he's probably citing the Decembrist Revolt of 1825, suppressed by Tsar Nicholas I. And the next line, "Or worry about February?" likely points to the February Revolution of 1917, which overthrew Nicholas II. (It wasn't until the October Revolution later that same year that the communists took control.) Even the words "from revolution to revelation" may suggest a return to Russian Orthodox Christian tradition.

The strings in this track were performed by the Balanescu String Quartet. The coda was written, at the Boys' request, "vaguely in the style of Shostakovich" by its leader, Alexander Balanescu.


List cross-references