Dmitri Shostakovich's Moscow premiere

20 March 1925

'I am practising the piano and have learned Schumann's Fantasiestücke, op. 12....I am very glad that my works are being accepted for publication and that in Moscow I will make some kind of name for myself with my concerts.'1

Dmitri Shostakovich

In a letter to his mother, 08.03.25

When Shostakovich arrived in Moscow in early March 1925, he was fully active in two possible careers.

A month earlier on 14 February 1925–probably an unacknowledged Valentine's Day at the time–Shostakovich played an all-Liszt recital in the Glazunov Hall of the Leningrad Conservatory.

Ballade no. 2

Liebestraum no. 3

Spanish Rhapsody

Funérailles

Gnomenreigen

Venezia e Napoli

The poster concludes with the tantalising 'and so on'. Fortunately we have a review of this recital by Valerian Bogdanov-Berezovsky (1903-1971), a friend of Shostakovich's who also studied in Leningrad and to whom the composer dedicated the second piece of his now lost op. 9.

The young pianist's recital was devoted entirely to the works of Liszt. Liszt the wanderer and lyricist (Années de pèlerinage), Liszt the visionary (Gnomenreigen), Liszt the mystic, Liszt the virtuoso – all these faces of Liszt were vividly expressed by the pianist. Shostakovich's pianism is not superficially virtuosic, but deeply artistic. In the background is his technique, while in the foreground are the composer's own ideas. Nevertheless, the technique is perfectly executed. There has been a significant evolution since his June concert at the Circle of Friends of Chamber Music. The program included pieces from his old repertoire, for example, Funérailles, performed with powerful, albeit cold pathos, and Gnomenreigen. The latter is well in keeping with Shostakovich's talents as a performer. The carving of rhythmic details, the impetuosity of tempo, and the fantastic nature of the musical content were grippingly conveyed.2

– Valerian Bogdanov-Berezovsky

Still only 18 years old, perhaps he arrived in Moscow that March with the memory of his audition in the Moscow Conservatory at the front of his mind. The year before he'd played his own Piano Trio no. 1 in front of a panel of professors including Nikolai Myaskovsky. Despite describing the playing of his partners as appalling, he was accepted into both Myaskovsky's and Konstantin Igumnov's classes. In the end though, he stayed in Leningrad.

A year on and he was now returning to the city to give the official Moscow premiere of that work and three others.

The concert programme of 20 March 1925 - Shostakovich's premiere in Moscow.

In a shared concert with his friend Vissarion Shebalin in the Small Hall of the Moscow Conservatory on 20 March 1925, Shostakovich played three of the four of his works in the second half of the concert.

Two silhouettes of young Dmitri Shostakovich and young Vissarion Shebalin

Silhouettes of young Dmitri Shostakovich and Vissarion Shebalin

The first on his part of the programme was Piano Trio no. 1, op. 8, played by Nikolai Fyodorov (violin), Anatoly Egorov (cello), and his friend Lev Oborin. This apparently was the Moscow premiere as he had played it in the then Petrograd Conservatory in December 1923. Just a few months earlier he had started to compose it in Crimea while recovering from an operation for tuberculosis of the lymph nodes earlier that year. I'm not sure how many of Shostakovich's works can be attributed to the immediacy of being in love, but this one was and was written for Tatiana Glivenko, a sixteen year old of his age to whom he dedicated the work. Giving his own opinion of his works in 1927, he wrote, 'The trio is the most successful of my "unpublished" pieces.'

In the concert he followed this with the premiere of a work which has been lost – 3 pieces for cello and piano, op. 9. Again with Anatoly Egorov, though this time Shostakovich accompanied him. A recording from 1996 claims that this Romance is the first of the three pieces, which was dedicated to Shostakovich's sister Zoya. However I can't confirm the validity of this. I don't think the open manner of this work sounds like him when compared to the relative sophistication of op. 8.

Shostakovich had written to his mother that his works were being accepted for publication. The next piece, 3 Fantastic Dances for piano, op. 5, would in 1926 become Shostakovich's very first published work (originally given op. 1). He played the premiere himself and dedicated the work to his classmate Josef Shvarts.

Again we can turn to his friend Valerian Bogdanov-Berezovsky to get an impression of the effect young Shostakovich's performances of his own works had on his contemporaries –

For just this reason, Shostakovich's recitals of his own music were the brightest of all, having nothing remotely similar in the realm of piano art. Whether he was playing his Suite for Two Pianos with his older sister Maria at a student concert in the Conservatory's Small Hall during his third year, or demonstrating his Preludes and Fantastic Dances in the Green Hall of the Institute of Arts History...acquainting his friends and fellow students with his songs based on Krylov's fables, or trying out the two-piano arrangement of his then not yet completed First Syphony with one of his friends – an integral and undivided impression of the music itself and his interpretation of it always remained.3

– Valerian Bogdanov-Berezovsky

The last work on the programme was his Suite for Two Pianos, op. 6. Shostakovich composed this in March 1922 after his father–to whom he dedicated it–passed away on 24 February from pneumonia.

A photo of Dmitri Boleslavovich Shostakovich, Shostakovich's father.

Dmitri Boleslavovich Shostakovich (1875-1922)

The sombre and relentless mood of parts is unmistakable. That a 15 year old boy composed this is beyond remarkable. Also I feel it's hard to avoid the impression that a certain sound or theme within this work carried on throughout his compositional output.

He played this official premiere with his friend Lev Oborin. From what I've read, the work wasn't published until 1983. However I don't know why that was.

Played by Nikolai Petrov and Viktoria Postnikova

The concert overall was more of a success for Shebalin than Shostakovich. The latter wrote bitterly but defiantly about it. More importantly though – he carried on composing.

The major positive outcome of this concert for Shostakovich was his introduction to musicologist Boleslav Yavorsky (1877-1942). Yavorsky was well-educated, erudite and well-connected. He became something of a mentor for Shostakovich, corresponding with him, offering various forms of support, and motivating him to complete his Symphony no. 1, which was premiered the following year in Leningrad.

To put a slight spin on a popular expression – the rest is legendary.

  • ADGO 21.03.21

  1. Sofia Moshevich, Dmitri Shostakovich, Pianist, 35.

  2. Ibid., 32.

  3. Ibid., 34.