Cello Concerto № 1
Leningrad. Great Hall of the Philharmonia. Conductor Y. Mravinsky. Soloist M. Rostropovich. Premiere in Moscow. October 9, 1959. Great Hall of the Conservatoire. Conductor A. Gauk.
1961. Score, “Muzgiz” Publishers, Moscow.
Manuscript: In the archive of M. Rostropovich.
Dedication: “To Mstislav Leopoldovich Rostropovich”.
Premieres: October 4, 1959. Leningrad. Great Hall of the Philharmonia. Conductor Y. Mravinsky. Soloist M. Rostropovich.
Premiere in Moscow. October 9, 1959. Great Hall of the Conservatoire. Conductor A. Gauk.
“My next major work is going to be a concerto for cello and orchestra. The first part - an Allegretto in the spirit of a merry march - is already complete. <...> ...this concerto has been planned for quite a long time. The initial impetus for writing it was coming across Sergei Prokofiev’s Sinfonia Concertante for cello and orchestra. This work aroused my lively interest and made me keen to turn to this genre”.
Cello Concerto № 1
Dmitri Shostakovich began composing his First Cello Concerto on 1 May 1959, which is shown by his note in the margin of the author’s manuscript. The entire Concerto was finished on 20 July of the same year at the House of Composers in Komarovo.
Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto, like only a few instrumental concertos, was written in the form of a four-movement cycle. In so doing, the composer followed the structure of his First Violin Concerto published ten years earlier. A four-movement cycle is rather unusual for an instrumental concerto and more characteristic of a symphony. Of the many romantic cello concertos, only Elgar’s Cello Concerto (1919) and, of the 20th century concertos, only Britten’s Cello Symphony (Symphony for Cello with Orchestra, 1963) have four movements; the latter, like Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto, was composed for Mstislav Rostropovich and performed for the first time by him in Moscow in 1964. Shostakovich’s decision to compose a four-movement cycle was prompted by his desire to make the cadenza a separate movement. He did not reach this decision immediately; there was no cadenza in the original version, and the Concerto consisted of three movements.
When composing the First Cello Concerto, the composer was considerably inspired by Prokofiev’s Symphony-Concerto, a composition written just a few years earlier for Mstislav Rostropovich, to whom Shostakovich dedicated his Concerto. But the extensive cadenza in the second movement of Prokofiev’s Symphony-Concerto did not take the form of a separate movement. Nor was the cadenza in Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto a separate movement of the cycle—it seems to continue the Passacaglia, the third movement of the Concerto. In Britten’s Symphony for Cello with Orchestra composed under the influence of Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto, the soloist’s cadenza unites the last two movements (Adagio and Passacaglia), but it is still not an independent movement. It is interesting to note that both cadenzas, in Britten and in Shostakovich, are preceded by timpani.
The innovative structure of the cycle with the cadenza as a movement in its own right is unique. Shostakovich’s interpretation of the cadenza as a separate movement went on to have an influence on the creation of independent compositions called “Cadenza”—such as Cadenza for Cello Solo by Viktor Ekimovsky (1970) and Cadenza for Alto Solo by Krzysztof Penderecki (1984).
Despite its four movements typical of symphonic cycles, Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto is not a symphony-concerto in the sense that the orchestra and soloist have equal roles. It can more rightly be called a concerto piece (after the German, Konzertstück), where the soloist dominates almost everywhere. The Concerto was orchestrated for a relatively small, almost chamber orchestra, with a double set of woodwinds and only one French horn (which sort of ‘doubles’ for the soloist, particularly in the first movement). The orchestration is distinguished by great economy, tutti is not often encountered. Shostakovich prefers to make use of the different sounds of the instrumental groups—woodwinds, strings, percussion.
In its strict symmetry, the First Cello Concerto also has certain classical features: Shostakovich justifiably considered Saint-Saëns’ First Cello Concerto the best cello concerto in terms of structure, duration, and orchestral balance, which he spoke to Rostropovich about.8 A vibrant, if not the best, example of a 20th century cello concerto, Shostakovich’s First Concerto is one of the most popular and frequently performed and recorded compositions of the cello concerto repertoire.
In contrast to Prokofiev, who actively consulted with Rostropovich when writing his Symphony-Concerto, Shostakovich did not ask the performer to be the judge until the composition was entirely finished. This is the way it was with the First and with the Second Cello Concerto. Rostropovich, for whom the First Concerto was written and to whom it was dedicated, did not find out about it until he read the newspaper in which the interview with Shostakovich cited above was published. At the end of July, Rostropovich receiveda postcard from Shostakovich with an offer to play the cello concerto he had just finished. Rostropovich came to Leningrad on 2 August and the same evening heard the music of the Concerto for the first time in the apartment of Shostakovich’s sister, Maria Dmitriyevna, where the composer played it for him on the piano. Rostropovich learned the Concerto by heart in four days.10 On 6 August, he and pianist Alexander Dedyukhin were playing the Concerto from memory for Shostakovich at his dacha in Komarovo near Leningrad.
The premiere of the Cello Concerto took place in the Grand Hall of the Leningrad Philharmonic on 21 September 1959 (soloist Mstislav Rostropovich, Symphony Orchestra of the Leningrad Philharmonic under the baton of Evgeny Mravinsky). The Concerto was performed on 9 October 1959 in Moscow by Rostropovich with the USSR State Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Alexander Gauk. The American premiere was held on 6 November 1959 in Philadelphia (Rostropovich, the Philadelphia Orchestra, conductor Eugene Ormandy), and the British premiere took place at the Edinburgh Festival on 8 September 1960.
The composer himself did the piano score of the Concerto. The whereabouts of the author's manuscript is unknown.
The piano score was published for the first time by Muzgiz Publishers in 1960 (in the 1975 edition, an alto part was also added to the cello part in V. Borisovsky’s arrangement and rendition).
- English Chamber Orchestra Soloist: R. Wallfish Conductor: D. Simon 1982 // Chandos ABRD 1085, 1983
- Jalapa Symphony Orchestra (Mexico). Soloist: C. Prieto Conductor: L. de la Fuente 1985 // EMI SAM-35087,
- Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra. Soloist: M. Rostropovich Conductor: E. Ormandy 1959 // CBS BRG 72081, 1960
- Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra. Soloist: M. Rostropovich. Conductor: E. Ormandy 1959 // Philips Realites C 29, 1960
- Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. Soloist: M. Sadlo Conductor: C. Ancherl 1968 // Supraphon 0 10 0604 (mono), 1 10 0604 (stereo), 1970
- The Big Symphony Orchestra of the All-Union Radio and Television. Soloist: M. Khomitser Conductor: G. Rozhdestvensky 1968 // Melodia Eurodisc 78045 KK,
- Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra. Soloist: Y. Ma. Conductor: E. Ormandy 1982 // MDK CBS 44903, 1989
- Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra. Soloist: M. Rostropovich. Conductor: E. Ormandy. 1959 // CBS Masterworks 60284, 1984
- The Big Symphony Orchestra of the All-Union Radio and Television. Soloist: M. Khomitser. Conductor: G. Rozhdestvensky. 1968 // Melodia D 023831-2, 1968
- The Big Symphony Orchestra of the All-Union Radio and Television. Soloist: M. Khomitser. Conductor: G. Rozhdestvensky. 1968 // Angel Melodiya SR 40099, 1969