Suite on Verses of Michelangelo Buonarroti for Bass and Piano
December 23, 1974. Small Hall of the Leningrad Philharmonia. Performers: Y. Nesterenko and Y. Shenderovich.
1975. Score, “Muzyka” Publishers, Moscow.
Dedication: “To Irina Antonovna Shostakovich”
“March saw the 500th anniversary of Michelangelo’s birth <...> I was shaken by the beauty of his verse, by the depth of his thought, by the clarity and genius of everything to which this great son of the human race turned his hand....
Eight sonnets and three poems by Michelangelo form the core of my suite for bass and piano. They contain lyric moments, tragedy, drama and two rapturous panegyrics in honour of Dante. I took the liberty of providing my own titles for all the songs and romances - the author had not given them names but they stem from the content of the poems.”
“In his last years Shostakovich created a number of great works: a viola sonata, a suite on verses by Michelangelo, his Fifteenth Quartet...He already knew he was dying and he wrote them aloof, as it were, from the petty cares of everyday life.
When Shostakovich was writing his suite on verses by Michelangelo he invited me once to his dacha to listen to it and then he asked for my impressions. <...> I said that the last part stood out from the style of the rest of the work, because the whole piece is atonal, while the last part is tonal. Shostakovich looked at me slyly and said: “Since you have guessed right, I shall tell you that when I was nine years old I composed a piece for piano, the theme of which I somehow remembered. I beg you not to tell this to anybody for as long as I’m alive, otherwise people will think that since childhood I was dreaming of greatness”.
Suite on Verses by Michelangelo Buonarroti
for Bass and Piano. Translation by A. Efros. Op. 145
Judging from the year it was written (1974), as well as from Shostakovich’s own admissions, he conceived this Suite on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the birth of the great Italian sculptor, painter and poet.
The rough drafts of the composition kept in Dmitri Shostakovich’s Archive indicate the dates it was written: the version with piano (Op. 145) on 12-31 July 1974 and the version with symphony orchestra (Op. 145a) on 5 November 1974. The author’s dedication appears on the first page: ‘Irina Antonovna Shostakovich’. Some important facts are found in a letter Shostakovich wrote to Glikman almost a month later: the composer told his friend that he had written ‘11 sonnets on the verses of Michelangelo’, mentioning as the initial source a book about Michelangelo of 1964 that included translations of his poetry by Abram Efros. In the same letter Shostakovich also gave the numbering of the sonnets with a reference to the page they appeared in this book and the order in which they were included in the Suite.
The Suite was first performed by Evgeny Nesterenko and Evgeny Shenderovich on 23 December 1974 in the Small Hall of the Leningrad Philharmonic. On 31 January 1975 the composition was heard in the rendition of the same performers in Moscow in the Small Hall of the Moscow Conservatory. The orchestral version of the Suite was performed in the Grand Hall of the Moscow Conservatory by Nesterenko and the All-Union Radio and Television Grand Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Maxim Shostakovich after the composer’s death, on 12 October 1975.
Baritone John Shirley-Quirk was one of the first performers of Shostakovich’s Suite in the West, who performed this cycle as early as September 1976 with pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy in London.
The extensive discography of Shostakovich’s opus with the participation of world-renowned stars began with the recordings featuring Evgeny Nesterenko. In the cycle’s version with piano his partner is Evgeny Shenderovich, while in the orchestral version he is accompanied by the All-Union Radio and Television Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Maxim Shostakovich. Among the other recordings worth noting are the performances of Hermann-Christian Polster and the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra (conductor Thomas Sanderling), Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Aribert Reimann (piano), the same performer and the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra (conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy), Sergei Leiferkus and the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra (conductor Neeme Järvi), Anatoli Kotscherga and the Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra (conductor Mikhail Yurovsky), and Ildar Abdrazakov and the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra (conductor Gianandrea Noseda).
The Music Foundation (Muzfond) of the Soviet Union put out the first collotype publications of the Suite on Verses by Michelangelo Buonarroti: in 1974 for bass and piano, Op. 145, and in 1975, the orchestral version, Op. 145a. In 1975, Op. 145 was published by Muzyka Publishers. Later its piano and orchestral versions were included in Vols. 31 and 33 of the composer’s Collected Works (Muzyka Publishers, Moscow, 1982 and 1984).
- R. Novák, C. Klimeš 1976 // Panton 11 0604 H, 1976