Back to Concert Info
Printer Friendly Version
Shostakovich: Cello Concerto No. 1
Dmitri Shostakovich was born in St. Petersburg, Russia on September 25, 1906 and died in Moscow, Russia on August 9, 1975. He composed his Cello Concerto No. 1 in 1959. It runs approximately 28 minutes in performance and is scored for solo cello, piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, horn, timpani, piano, and orchestral strings.
With the death of Josef Stalin in 1953 came a gradual easing of censorship in the Soviet Union, and Shostakovich began to release works that he had been forced to hold back from performance under Stalinist rule. Suddenly free to cultivate his personal style, he wrote some of his best compositions, including the Tenth Symphony (1953), the String Quartet No. 8 (1960), and his Cello Concerto No. 1 (1959).
The great Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, a longtime friend and colleague of Shostakovich, wanted the composer to write a concerto for him but did not have the courage to request it. When Rostropovich asked the composer's wife what he should do, she replied, "The only recipe I can give you is this: Never ask him or talk to him about it." Apparently, this was sound advice, for in July 1959, Shostakovich dedicated his First Cello Concerto to Rostropovich. Rostropovich drove up to see the composer as soon as he learned of the dedication. He memorized the entire piece in only three days. The Leningrad State Philharmonic premièred the concerto on October 4, 1959; Rostropovich, of course, was the soloist.
Shostakovich's Cello Concerto No. 1 begins with a march-like theme played by the soloist, a four-note motive that returns throughout the work. The cello soloist introduces the second theme, and is soon joined by a solo French horn. The second movement, a swinging, triple-time moderato, begins with a quiet chorale for strings, soon joined by another French horn solo. The movement's second theme, a folk lullaby, begins in the solo cello, then is picked up by solo clarinet with the cello in counterpoint.
The centrepiece of the work is the third movement, a virtuosic cadenza for the cello soloist. Here, the instrument recalls and elaborates on both themes of the second movement. This impressive solo recitation flows into a rather brief fourth movement. Oboes and clarinets begin with a strange, oriental-flavoured chromatic theme. Shostakovich closes the concerto with a full-scale re-exposition of the main theme in the first movement, with the woodwinds sounding their final appearance.
Programme Note by Stephen Satory
© Copyright 2013 Toronto Symphony Orchestra