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Symphony No.

1 (Shostakovich)
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Shostakovich in 1925

The Symphony No. 1 in F minor (Opus 10) by Dmitri Shostakovich was written in 1924–1925,
and first performed in Leningrad[1] by the Leningrad Philharmonic under Nikolai 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.

 1 Structure
 2 Orchestration
 3 Overview
 4 Comparisons with Glazunov
 5 Influences
 6 Notable recordings
 7 References
 8 Bibliography
 9 External links

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

I. 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,
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.

II. 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.

III. Lento — Largo — Lento (attacca:)

The third movement begins with a dark oboe solo transferring to a cello 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.

IV. 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 Percussion
Piccolo (doubling 3rd Flute) Timpani
2 Flutes (with 2nd doubling 2nd Piccolo) Bass Drum
2 Oboes Snare drum
2 Clarinets Tam-tam
2 Bassoons Cymbals
Brass Triangle
4 Horns Glockenspiel
2 Trumpets Keyboard
Alto trumpet Piano
3 Trombones Strings
Tuba 1st Violins
2nd Violins
Double basses


The Ant and the Grasshopper, illustrated by Milo Winter in a 1919 Aesop anthology

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

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]
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

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.[citation needed] 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 realises large-scale structure, is as
impressive as his vigour and freshness of gesture.[7]

Comparisons with Glazunov[edit]

Because, like Glazunov, Shostakovich was still a teenager when he wrote his First Symphony, it
is only natural that some critics[who?] 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[clarification needed] being conveyed that stands out, not the formulative influences in his
style. Altogether, he shows an imagination and degree of compassion far beyond youthful

Vaslav Nijinsky in the role of Petrushka. The Stravinsky ballet may have influenced

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] with Stravinsky's compositions continuing to hold a considerable influence over
Shostakovich.[10] 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 behaviour and appealed directly to the
satirist in him.[9]

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 Schoenberg'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.[9] 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.[7]

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,[11] with Shostakovich
showing that for a teenage composer he has much to say, and much of astonishing depth.[7]

Notable recordings[edit]
Notable recordings of this symphony include:

Year of
Orchestra Conductor Record Company
NBC Symphony Orchestra Arturo Toscanini Urania 1944*
NBC Symphony Orchestra Arturo Toscanini RCA Victor Gold Seal 1951*
Philadelphia Orchestra Eugene Ormandy Sony Classical 1959
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra Karel Ancerl Supraphon 1964
BBC Symphony Orchestra Rudolf Kempe BBC Legends 1965*
Berlin Symphony Orchestra Kurt Sanderling Berlin Classics 1983
Royal Scottish National Orchestra Neeme Jarvi Chandos Records 1984
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Vladimir Ashkenazy Decca Records 1988
Chicago Symphony Orchestra Leonard Bernstein 1988
Schleswig-Holstein Festival Orchestra Leonard Bernstein Medici Arts/Euroarts 1988
National Symphony Orchestra Mstislav Rostropovich Teldec 1993
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra Mariss Jansons EMI Classics 1994
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Jesús López-Cobos Telarc 2000
London Philharmonic Orchestra Kurt Masur LPO 2004
Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe
Oleg Caetani Arts Music 2004
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra Sir Simon Rattle EMI Classics 2005
Philharmonia Orchestra Efrem Kurtz EMI Classics 1957
Hallé Orchestra Hallé
Prague Symphony Orchestra Maxim Shostakovich Supraphon
Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra Valery Gergiev Mariinsky
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra Vasily Petrenko Naxos Records
* = Mono recording
Source: arkivmusic.com (recommended recordings selected based on critics reviews)

1. ^ Jump up to: a b The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians
2. ^ live-en.shostakovich.ru: Life and creative work :: Chronicle ::1926. Archived version
here. Retrieved 23 December 2014
3. ^ Steinberg, 539.
4. ^ MacDonald, 22.
5. ^ Jump up to: a b MacDonald, 28.
6. ^ Volkov, Saint Petersburg, 355.
7. ^ Jump up to: a b c Steinberg, 540.
8. ^ Layton, 199-200.
9. ^ Jump up to: a b c MacDonald, 29.
10. ^ Volkov, St. Petersburg, 428.
11. ^ Macdonald, 29-30.

 Layton, Robert, ed. Robert Simpson, The Symphony, Volume Two: Mahler to the Present
Day (New York: Drake Publishers Inc., 1972).
 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.

External links[edit]
 Full orchestral score from the New York Philharmonic's archives