Symphony No. 1 (Shostakovich)

Symphony No. 1 (Shostakovich)

The Symphony No. 1 in F minor (Opus 10) by Dmitri Shostakovich was written between 1924 and 1925, and first performed in Saint Petersburg by the Leningrad Philharmonic under Nikolai Malko on 12 May 1926. He wrote the work as his graduation piece at the Leningrad Conservatory, 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.

# Allegretto - Allegro 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, but is in fact written in double-time, the flute melody finding its way round several sections of the orchestra. The development section features a return to mock-comic grotesqueries, although it must be noted that the sonata-form structure of this movement is entirely conventional.
# 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. Once again 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, followed by a coda which is announced by widely-spaced chords from the piano and violin harmonics.
# Lento - Largo - Lento (attacca:)
#:The third movement begins with a dark oboe solo, and proceeds to develop into a crescendo, featuring a quotation from Wagner's Siegfried. There is also a pianissimo passage for the strings which anticipates the passacaglia from the Eighth Symphony.
# Allegro molto - Lento - Allegro 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 and we hear another Wagner quotation. 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:

;Woodwinds::Piccolo:2 Flutes:2 Oboes:2 Clarinets:2 Bassoons

;Brass::4 French horns:2 Trumpets:Alto trumpet:3 Trombones:Tuba

;percussion::Timpani:Bass Drum:Snare drum:Tam-tam:cymbals:Triangle:Bells


;Strings::1st Violins:2nd Violins:Violas:Violoncelli:Double basses


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 recognized 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 Anderson's "The Little Mermaid". [Steinberg, 539.]

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 recognized in Shostakovich an echo of his younger self. As director of the Peterograd Conservatory, Glazunov had followed Shostakovich's progress since his entrance at age 13. [MacDonald, 22.] He also arranged for the premiere of Shostakovich's symphony,MacDonald, 28.] which took place 44 years after Glazunov's First Symphony had first been presented in the same hall. [Volkov, "Saint Petersburg", 355.] In another instance of "déjà vu" with Glazunov's early life, the symphony caused almost as much of a sensation as the appearance of the young Shostakovich on the stage awkwardly taking his bow.MacDonald, 28.]

This symphony was a tremendous success from its premiere, and is still considered today as one of Shostakovich's finest works. 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. The transparent and chamber-like orchestration of the First Symphony is in quite a contrast to the complex and sophisticated Mahlerian orchestrations found in many of his later symphonies, and the assurance with which the composer imagines, then realizes large-scale structure, is as impressive as his vigor and freshness of gesture.Steinberg, 540.]

Comparisons with Glazunov

Because, like Glazunov, Shostakovich was still a teenager when he wrote his First Symphony, it is only natural that some critics compare it with Glazunov's First Symphony. Just a comparison of both slow movements brings to light the full nature of Shostakovich's achievement. The 15-year-old Glazunov was immensely musical and articulate. However, while Shostakovich shows a considerable amount of inner resource, Glazunov falls back on the musical procedures of the Nationalists, such as Borodin and Rimsky-Korsakov. While Shostakovich reveals a large debt to the Russian symphonic tradition, it is the vital spiritual experience being conveyed that stands out, not the formulative influences in his style. Altogether, he shows an imagination and degree of compassion far beyond youthful insight. [Layton, 199-200.]


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,MacDonald, 29.] with Stravinsky's compositions continuing to hold a considerable influence over Shostakovich.Volkov, "St. Petersburg", 428.] Some critics 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 behavior and appealed directly to the satirist in him.MacDonald, 29.]

"Petrushka" would not have been his only influence in this vein. The idea of human beings as machines or marionettes, with their free wills bound by biology and behaviorism, was a theme very much in vogue. Musical examples included Arnold Schonberg's "Pierrot Lunaire" and Alban Berg's "Wozzeck"—both works that Shostakovich admired. Even his fondness for Charlie Chaplin, some argue, might have fallen into this category.MacDonald, 29.] 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".Steinberg, 540.]

At the end of the second movement, Shostakovich unveils his biggest surprise by turning the tone of the symphony, suddenly and without warning, from pathos and satire to tragedy. The influence likewise changes from Stravinsky to Tchaikovsky and Mahler, [Macdonald, 29-30.] with Shostakovich showing that for a teenage composer he much to say, and much of astonishing depth.Steinberg, 540.]


* Layton, Robert, ed. Robert Simpson, "The Symphony, Volume Two: Mahler to the Present Day" (New York: Drake Publishers Inc., 1972). ISBN 87749-245-X.
* MacDonald, Ian, "The New Shostakovich" (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1990). ISBN 1-55553-089-3.
* Steinberg, Michael, "The Symphony" (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1995). ISBN 0-19-506177-2.
* Volkov, Solomon, tr. Bouis, Antonina W., "Saint Petersburg: A Cultural History" (New York: Harper & Row, 1979). ISBN 0-06-014476-9.


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