Symphony No. 1 (Shostakovich)

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Shostakovich in 1925

The Symphony No. 1 in F minor, Op. 10, by Dmitri Shostakovich was written in 1924–1925, and first performed in Leningrad[1] by the Leningrad Philharmonic under Nicolai Malko on 12 May 1926.[2] Shostakovich wrote the work as his graduation piece at the Petrograd Conservatory,[1] completing it at the age of 19.


The work has four movements (the last two being played without interruption) and is approximately half an hour in length.

  1. AllegrettoAllegro non troppo
    The work begins with an introductory Allegretto section, which is developed from a duet between solo trumpet and bassoon. This leads into the first subject proper, a lively march-like Allegro reminiscent of the vaudeville and theatre music Shostakovich would have encountered during his time as a cinema pianist. The second subject is ostensibly a waltz, with the flute melody finding its way around several sections of the orchestra. The development section features a return to mock-comic grotesqueries, although the sonata-form structure of this movement is entirely conventional.
  2. Allegro — Meno mosso — Allegro — Meno mosso
    In the second movement we are presented with a 'false start' in the cellos and basses before a frantic scherzo begins with the clarinet. The piano features for the first time with rapid scalic runs before a more sombre mood develops in the Meno mosso section. Here Shostakovich writes a triple-time passage in two, with melodies being passed through the flutes, clarinets, strings, oboes, piccolos, and the clarinets again, while the strings and triangle play in the background. The bassoon brings us back to the Allegro of the opening. The climax occurs with a combination of the two melodies presented earlier in the movement followed by a coda which is announced by widely spaced chords from the piano and violin harmonics.
  3. LentoLargo — Lento (attacca:)
    The third movement begins with a dark oboe solo transferring to a cello solo, and proceeds to develop into a crescendo.
  4. Allegro moltoLentoAllegro molto — Meno mosso — Allegro molto — Molto meno mosso — Adagio
    There is a drum roll attacca from the third movement into the fourth. After another sombre passage, the music suddenly enters the Allegro molto section with a very fast melody on the clarinet and strings. This reaches a furious climax, after which calm descends. The following Allegro section culminates in a fortissimo timpani solo, a rhythmic motif which featured in the third movement. A passage for solo cello and muted strings cleverly uses this motif along with several other elements, leading into a coda section which ends the work with rousing fanfare-like figures from the brass.


The work is written for:


While Shostakovich wrote this piece as his graduation exercise from Maximilian Steinberg's composition class, some of the material may have dated from considerably earlier. When the composer's aunt, Nadezhda Galli-Shohat, first heard the work at its American premiere by Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra, she recognised in it many fragments she had heard young Mitya play as a child. Some of these fragments were associated with La Fontaine's retelling of Aesop's fable of The Ant and the Grasshopper and Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid.[3]

The immediate parallel to the 19-year-old composer presenting his first symphony was Alexander Glazunov, himself a child prodigy who had his First Symphony performed at an even younger age. Glazunov may have recognised in Shostakovich an echo of his younger self. As director of the Petrograd Conservatory, Glazunov had followed Shostakovich's progress since his entrance at age 13.[4] He also arranged for the premiere of Shostakovich's symphony,[5] which took place 44 years after Glazunov's First Symphony had first been presented in the same hall.[6]

This symphony was a tremendous success from its premiere, and is still considered today as one of Shostakovich's finest works.[citation needed] It displays an interesting and characteristic combination of liveliness and wit on the one hand, and drama and tragedy on the other. In some ways it is reminiscent of the works of Igor Stravinsky and Sergei Prokofiev.[7] The transparent and chamber-like orchestration of the First Symphony is in quite a contrast to the Mahlerian orchestrations found in many of his later symphonies, and the assurance with which the composer imagines, then realises large-scale structure, is as impressive as his vigour and freshness of gesture.[8]


Because of the traditionalist mindset of the Conservatory, Shostakovich did not discover the music of Igor Stravinsky until his late teens. The effect of hearing this music was instant and radical,[9][better source needed] with Stravinsky's compositions continuing to hold a considerable influence over Shostakovich.[10] Some critics[which?] have suggested the First Symphony was influenced by Stravinsky's Petrushka, not just due to the prominence of the piano part in its orchestration but also due to the overall tone of satire in the first half of the symphony. Because the plot in Stravinsky's ballet chronicled the doomed antics of an animated puppet, it would have reflected his observations on the mechanical aspects of human behaviour and appealed directly to the satirist in him.[9][better source needed]

Still another musical influence, suggested by the opening clarinet phrase which becomes used considerably in the course of the symphony, is Richard Strauss's tone poem Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks.[8]

Notable recordings[edit]

Notable recordings[according to whom?] of this symphony include:

Orchestra Conductor Record company Year of recording Format
NBC Symphony Orchestra Arturo Toscanini Urania 1944* CD
NBC Symphony Orchestra Arturo Toscanini RCA Victor Gold Seal 1951* CD
Philadelphia Orchestra Eugene Ormandy Sony Classical 1959 CD
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra Karel Ančerl Supraphon 1964 CD
BBC Symphony Orchestra Rudolf Kempe BBC Legends 1965* CD
London Philharmonic Orchestra Bernard Haitink Decca 1981 LP
Berlin Symphony Orchestra Kurt Sanderling Berlin Classics 1983 CD
Royal Scottish National Orchestra Neeme Järvi Chandos Records 1984 CD
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Vladimir Ashkenazy Decca Records 1988 CD
Chicago Symphony Orchestra Leonard Bernstein Deutsche Grammophon 1988 CD
Schleswig-Holstein Festival Orchestra Leonard Bernstein Medici Arts/Euroarts 1988 DVD
Concertgebouw Orchestra Georg Solti Decca 1992 CD
National Symphony Orchestra Mstislav Rostropovich Teldec 1993 CD
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra Mariss Jansons EMI Classics 1994 CD
WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne Rudolf Barshai Brilliant Classics 1994 CD
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Jesús López Cobos Telarc 2000 CD
London Philharmonic Orchestra Kurt Masur LPO 2004 CD
Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi Oleg Caetani Arts Music 2004 CD
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra Sir Simon Rattle EMI Classics 2005 CD
Philharmonia Orchestra Efrem Kurtz EMI Classics 1957 CD
Hallé Orchestra Stanisław Skrowaczewski Hallé 2004 SACD
Prague Symphony Orchestra Maxim Shostakovich Supraphon 2006 CD
Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra Valery Gergiev Mariinsky 2009 CD
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra Vasily Petrenko Naxos Records 2009 CD
Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra Andrey Boreyko Hanssler 2013 CD
Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra Mark Wigglesworth BIS 2021 CD

* = Mono recording
Source: (recommended recordings selected based on critics reviews)[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians
  2. ^ Life and creative work :: Chronicle ::1926. Archived version here. Retrieved 23 December 2014
  3. ^ Steinberg, 539.
  4. ^ MacDonald, 22.
  5. ^ MacDonald, 28.
  6. ^ Volkov, Saint Petersburg, 355.
  7. ^ Steinberg, Michael (October 2017). "Shostakovich: Symphony No. 1 in F minor". SF Symphony. Retrieved April 21, 2020.
  8. ^ a b Steinberg, 540.
  9. ^ a b MacDonald, 29.
  10. ^ Volkov, St. Petersburg, 428.


External links[edit]