Symphony No. 3. “The First of May”
Moscow-Narva House of Culture, Leningrad; Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra and Academy Capella Choir, Aleksandr Gauk.
Score Moscow, Muzgiz, Piano Score; DSCH Publishers - score, Moscow 2003
RSALA, rec. gr. 2048, inv. 1, f. 3; rec. gr. 653, inv. 1, f. 2266.
Original Title "May Symphony"
Premieres: January 21, 1930. Leningrad. Moscow-Narva House of Culture. Symphony Orchestra of the Leningrad State Philharmonia and the choir of the Leningrad State Academic Capella. January 22, 1930. The Great Hall of the Leningrad State Philharmonia.
Premiere abroad: December 14, 1932. Philadelphia. Philadelphia Orchestra. Conductor L. Stokowski.
"This work is of a kind completely different from 'October'. While in 'October' the dominant theme was that of struggle, the 'May Symphony', if one can express it in this way, is one of festive mood, of peace-time construction. At the end, in order to heighten the impact on the listener, I introduced a chorus using words by the poet Kirsanov."
"The only piece which can, in my opinion, claim to 'occupy a place' in the development of Soviet musical culture is the symphony 'The First of May', inspite of a number of flaws".
Symphony No. 3. “The First of May”
For full orchestra and S.A.T.B.
A Single-Movement Composition with a Choral Finale Setting of a Poem by Semyon Kirsanov.
The Third Symphony (“The First of May”) was composed in 1929 while Shostakovich was taking a postgraduate course in composition at the Leningrad Conservatory. In his report for 1929, Shostakovich wrote: “I presented ‘The May Symphony’ as my thesis (upon completion of the postgraduate course).
The author’s manuscripts of the score and piano score of the symphony are dated 1929 without any clarification. In the annotation to the execution of the symphony, the composer wrote that it “was composed in the summer of 1929”.
By the beginning of July, Shostakovich still did not have the text he needed to complete the symphony. Eventually, he used the poetry of Semyon Kirsanov, which was most likely written specially for this composition (we were unable to find this poem in any publication of S.I. Kirsanov’s works, in the first edition of the score (Moscow, 1932), the author’s name is replaced with asterisks).
Originally, the composer called his new composition “The May Symphony”, which is retained in the author’s manuscript of the piano score, in the postgraduate report, and in some other documents. In several cases, he also used the title “The First of May Symphony”.10 In the final version, the work was given the name “Symphony No. 3 (‘The First of May’) in E flat major, Op. 20.”
On the surface, the Third Symphony, a single-movement composition with a choral finale, repeated Shostakovich’s previous work in this genre. The author’s annotation directly indicated the similarity and succession of ideas of the two compositions. “The First of May Symphony,” wrote Shostakovich, “is part of a cycle of symphonic works dedicated to the revolutionary Red calendar. The first part of this cycle is the symphonic dedication to ‘October’, the second part is ‘The First of May Symphony’.” Neither “To October”, nor “The First of May Symphony” are strictly programme works. The author wanted to convey the general spirit of these celebrations.
The premiere of the Third Symphony was held in Leningrad at the Moscow-Narva House of Culture on 21 January 1930, performed by the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra and the Academic Kapelle choir, and conducted by A.V. Gauk. The performance was timed to the so-called “Lenin Days”, that is, it took place during the anniversary celebration of the death of “the leader of the international proletariat”. The next day, the symphony was performed again in the Grand Hall of the Philharmonic in a special concert for Komsomol members and young people of the city.
The Third Symphony was most likely arranged for voice and piano immediately after completion of the score, but this arrangement was not printed during the composer’s lifetime.
- Symphony Orchestra of the Leningrad Philharmonic. Choir of the Leningrad State Institute of Culture named after N.K. Krupskaya. Conductor I. Blazhkov. Choirmaster I. Poltavtsev. 1964 // Melody D-017953-4
- Moscow Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra, State Academic Republican Russian Choir Chapel conducted by A.A. Yurlov. Conductor K. Kondrashin. 1972 // Melody SM 04237-8. (1974)
- Academic Symphony Orchestra of the Moscow State Philharmonic Society State Academic Republican Choir. Artistic Director A. Yurlov. Conductor: Kondrashin K.P. 1972 // LE CHANT DU MONDE LDC 278 1001/02, 1988
- Milan Symphony Orchestra and Giuseppe Verdi Choir. Conductor: Cayetani O. 2006 // ARTS 47723-8 SACD, 2006