Music Rarities: Dmitri Shostakovich’s Compositions for Two Pianos
Editor-in-chief Victor Ekimovsky. Edited by Victor Ekimovsky, Manashir Iakubov.
Explanatory Articles by Olesya Bobrik, Manashir Iakubov.
Dmitri Shostakovich’s compositions for two pianos
The compositions for two pianos published in this volume have one quality in common: they are related to Dmitri Shostakovich’s family life and were intended for playing by himself and his family members.
All these compositions are not very well known, with the exception of the relatively popular Concertino. Shostakovich wrote this work for his son Maksim, who was studying at the time at the Central Music School attached to the Moscow Conservatory.
We do not know the exact time the composer worked on the Concertino. The fair manuscript and rough sketch of the composition3 are not dated. In all the reference editions, including in Yefim Sadovnikov’s Guide, which was published twice during the composer’s lifetime and reviewed by him, the Concertino was dated as 1953 with no other details.
The Concertino was first performed in the Small Hall of the Moscow Conservatory on 20 January 1954. The performers were students of the Central Music School at the Moscow Conservatory, Maksim Shostakovich and Alla Maloletkova. The premiere of the Concertino in Leningrad was held on 15 January 1955 in the Small Hall of the Leningrad Philharmonic (performed by the same duet).
In 1956, the composer recorded the Concertino in an ensemble with his son.
As early as the 1950s, this composition was widely featured in the instructional and concert repertoire, and it remained one of the most popular compositions of this genre throughout the 20th century.
In 1980, the ballet Celebration was staged to the music of the Concertino in the USA (Chicago, the Auditorium Theatre). The ballet master was Gerald Arpino, it was performed by a troupe from the Joffrey Ballet, and the premiere was held on 15 May.
The Suite for two pianos, Op. 6, was written in 19226 and dedicated “in loving memory” of the composer’s father, Dmitri Boleslavovich Shostakovich, who died on 24 February 1922.
The Suite is a grand-scale composition—the largest of all the works Shostakovich composed before the First Symphony, Op. 10 (1924-1925).
On 15 January 1923, the Suite was performed by the author and his sister Mariya Shostakovich at the Russian Institute of Art History during one of the “Monday concerts” of the Music History Section organised by the St. Petersburg Circle of Composers.
The Moscow premiere of the Suite for two pianos, Op. 6, was held on 20 March 1925 in the Small Hall of the Conservatory at a soirée with works by Vissarion Shebalin and Dmitri Shostakovich. This was Shostakovich’s Moscow debut as a composer. The Suite, performed by Shostakovich and Oborin, was heard at the end of the programme.
After the Moscow performance of the Suite, the author removed it entirely from his concert repertoire. Shostakovich explained why he refused to perform the Suite and had decided to leave it in manuscript form in a short review of his oeuvre in 1927. He described this composition as “entirely unsuccessful”.
Other compositions in this volume—“Merry March”, “Tarantella” and the arrangement for two pianos of the Prelude No. 15 in D flat major, Op. 87—were written at the end of the 1940s-beginning of 1950s. In contrast to the earlier Suite, they are all miniatures. Shostakovich composed them in order to enrich the repertoire of his son Maksim, who was studying piano at the Central Music School attached to the Moscow Conservatory.
The “Merry March” in D major appeared in May 1949.45 It is dedicated to Maksim Shostakovich. The cover of the manuscript is designed like a children’s book.
The “Tarantella” in G major was composed around 1954 and was performed for the first time on 8 November of the same year in the Small Hall of the Moscow Conservatory. The piece is the author’s arrangement of the music to the film Unforgettable 1919 (1951).
The Prelude for two pianos (Op. 87a)—the author’s arrangement of the Prelude No. 15 in D flat major, Op. 87—was performed for the first time at the same concert as the “Tarantella”. In contrast to all the pieces mentioned above, the parts of the two performers are not equal here—the first piano draws the solo line, while the second piano accompanies it in low and medium registers.
The “Tarantella” and the Prelude No. 15 in D flat major in its arrangement for two pianos were published in 1963. The editor was Yelena Petrovna Khoven—Aleksandr Goldenweiser’s student, a professor at the Central Music School attached to the Moscow Conservatory, who taught piano to Shostakovich’s children.
Contemporary performers show an interest in Shostakovich’s compositions for two pianos. This is confirmed, in particular, by the disc by Piotr Laul and Alexander Sandler that came out in St. Petersburg in 2006, which is a collection of most of Shostakovich’s two-piano compositions.