Theme with Variations
The Grand Hall of the Leningrad Philharmonic
D. Shostakovich, Collected Works, Vol. 10, Moscow, 1984
Russian State Archive for Literature and Art (Stack 2048, Inv. 1, Item 16; Inv. 2, Item 3)
Dedication: "To the blessed memory of Nikolai Aleksandrovich Sokolov"
"He was an excellent musician and teacher. I was able to acquire invaluable and lasting knowledge from him"
"The variations were written entirely under the influence of Glazunov. In one of them (the 8th) there were some subconscious attempts to move away from that influence. There were also some interesting rhythmic combinations.
All in all I regard the Variations and the Suite for two pianos as works that are completely unsuccessful. They were virtual copies of Glazunov (Variations) and partly copies of Glazunov and Tchaikovsky (Suite for Two Pianos)."
In New Collected Works the piano version of Theme and Variations is designated by an additional number, 3a
Nikolay Sokolov taught this class. “He was a magnificent musician and teacher,” recalled Shostakovich. “He often missed lessons, although he lived close to the conservatory. But I found a solution and ‘got the better’ of him by going to see him at home. This enabled me to acquire excellent and strong skills.” Studies were interrupted due to the teacher’s premature death on 27 March 1922.
The conservatory students were supposed not only to learn the theory of music forms, but also to gain practical skills by writing pieces in various forms, including variations. By the time the form class began, the students had already acquired some experience in orchestration, and Theme and Variations was possibly written as an orchestral composition.
The compositional process was not reflected in any documents, apart from the manuscripts. However, it can be presumed that the first version of the variations was written for piano, and then Shostakovich orchestrated it, modifying the notation as he went along. He was already familiar with this approach when composing Scherzo, Op. 1, which he had recently finished. Later, when he was much older, he used it in other orchestral compositions. It is also likely that when creating the final piano version, he took into account both sources—the full score and the rough piano draft.
It was the piano version of Variations that Shostakovich presented at the exam for the form class on 19 June 1922. The piece was highly appraised by Aleksandr Glazunov. Shostakovich frequently performed it at later times. The work’s première took place on 22 May 1922 during a “Music History Monday” soirée of the Circle of Composers at the Russian Institute of Art History. The Variations were also performed on 27 January 1923 in the Small Hall of the Conservatory, at a concert of students, and on 8 November 1923 in the former Schroeder Hall during a concert of the Circle of Friends of Chamber Music.
Shostakovich included the Variations in his piano programmes under different titles. In the hand-written announcement about the concert of the Circle of Composers (on 22 May 1922), the work features as “Theme and Variations”, the concert programme in the Small Hall of the Conservatory (on 27 January 1923) mentioned “Variations for Orchestra in Piano Arrangement”, and in other cases the piano version of the work was simply called “Variations”.
Variations for Symphony Orchestra was first performed under the baton of Rozhdestvensky in the Grand Hall of the Leningrad Philharmonic on 11 February 1981. A recording of the work in the Dmitri Shostakovich: From Manuscripts of Different Years series (Melodiya, 1983) was done with the same performers. The score was published in 1984 by Muzyka Publishers in Shostakovich’s Collected Works (Vol. 10).