Two Pieces for String Octet
Stanislavsky Art Theatre Mozart Hall, Moscow. Glière and Stradivari Quartets (Y. and A. Targonsky, A. Babich, K. Blok; B. Simsky, B. Vitkin, G. Gamburg, V. Kubatsky).
Moscow: Muzgiz; Wien: Universal Edition
RSALA, rec. gr. 2048, inv. 1, f. 23; rec. gr. 653, inv. 1, f. 2261
For String Octet, op. 11
Dedication: To the memory of Vladimir Ivanovich Kurchavov
1. Prelude in D minor—Adagio
2. Scherzo in G minor—Allegro molto—Moderato—Allegro
Shostakovich wrote the Prelude and Scherzo for String Octet, Op. 11, when he was graduating from the Leningrad Conservatory and working on the First Symphony. According to the date the author wrote on the first sheet of both fair manuscripts, the Prelude was finished in Leningrad in December 1924 and the Scherzo in July 1925 in Oranienbaum. Both pieces are dedicated to the memory of the composer’s friend, poet and musician Vladimir Kurchavov.
According to the composer, work on this cycle did not come easy (indeed, after he finished it there was a long break in his oeuvre). He admitted that after completing the conservatory composition theory course he “felt unable to do any free and spontaneous composing; I had to ‘force myself to write [several compositions]’ (summer 1925: symphony, two movements of the string octet…)”. In so doing, Shostakovich noted that when working on the pieces, he made one of many attempts to rebel against the canons and rules. He would not allow his professor, Maximilian Steinberg, to make corrections to the composition, but asked him to leave everything according to his original intention.
According to Steinberg’s diary entries, the first public performance of the cycle was held during a class exam on 3 June 1926. Steinberg mentions in particular that Aleksandr Glazunov, one of the Leningrad Conservatory professors, was present at the performance and notes that young Shostakovich’s composition made a good impression on the commission.
In the same year 1926, the composer did a piano arrangement of the pieces.
The premiere of the two pieces for octet was not held until eighteen months after they were finished within a cycle of 16 concerts planned in Moscow by the Stradivari State Quartet. On 9 January 1927, they were performed in a combined effort by the Stradivari State Quartet (Boris Simsky, Boris Vitkin, Grigori Gamburg and Viktor Kubatsky) and the Glière Quartet (Yakov Targonsky, Abram Targonsky, Aleksandr Babich and Konon Blok) in the Stanislavsky Art Theatre Mozart Hall. The composition waited for more than two years to be published. The score and parts was published by Muzgiz and Vienna’s Universal Edition only in 1928.
The further fate of this composition unfolded dramatically. It was not performed very often, probably mainly due to the composer’s exacting demands of the musicians.
The foreign premiere of the cycle was held on 28 March 1936, when it was performed by a string octet in the Pleyel Hall in a concert at the Festival of Soviet Music and Song organised by the Paris Society of Friends of the Soviet Union. During the war, it was performed again on 23 October 1943 in the October Hall of the House of Unions in the first concert cycle called “Exhibition of Soviet Music” dedicated to the oeuvre of Shostakovich and Prokofiev, as well as on 9 March of the same year on the radio.
However, in February 1948, on the order of the Main Administration for Control over Performances and Repertoire, this cycle, along with other works by Shostakovich, was prohibited and removed from the repertoire. Despite the fact that a year later this order was cancelled as “illegal” on the personal instructions of Joseph Stalin, the Prelude and Scherzo for string octet disappeared from the programmes of the leading concert collectives for a long time under the momentum of the previous prohibition.
It was not until the beginning of the 1960s that the composition took up a tenable position in the philharmonic repertoire once more.
- Borodin and Prokofiev Quartets (Rostislav Dubinsky, Yaroslav Aleksandrov, Dmitri Shebalin, Valentin Berlinsky / Ella Brakker, Nadezhda Baikova, Galina Odinets, Kira Tsvetkova). 1964 // Melodiya C01459-60 (1967)
- Beethoven Quartet (Dmitri Tsyganov, Nikolai Zabavnikov, Fyodor Druzhinin, Sergei Shirinsky) and Komitas Quartet (Avet Gabrielyan, Rafael Davidyan, Genrikh Talalyan, Armen Georgian). 1969 // Melodiya C01769-70 (1971)