Works Instrumental Sonatas

Sonata for Cello and Piano

Opus 39a Opus SO

Opus 40
1934 year

Sonata for Cello and Piano
Sonata for Cello and Piano. Op. 40. Moderato for Cello and Piano. Sans op.


Leningrad. Small Hall of the Conservatoire. V. Kubatsky and D. Shostakovich.

first publication:

1935, "Triton" Publishers, Leningrad.


The hand-written manuscript is kept in the archive of V. Kubatsky's family. Another copy is in the Russian State Archive for Literature and Art (Stack 2048, Inv.1, Item 25)

for Cello and Piano
Op. 40

     At the beginning of the 1930s, Shostakovich often spoke of the need to update the Soviet instrumental repertoire. In particular, in an article in Krasnaya gazeta of 25 January 1934, he wrote: ‘A diverse array of instruments must be added to the repertoire—this is imperative…’ and in Leningradskaya pravda of 28 December of the same year, he took this idea further: ‘The Second All-Union Competition of Performers is coming up. Violinists, trumpeters, cellists and trombonists will be taking the stage to demonstrate their skills. I want, at least to some extent, to satisfy the requirements of the competition participants…’
     In the time that passed between these two statements, more exactly during August and September 1934, the composer wrote his only sonata for cello and piano (Cello Sonata). Though not the earliest cello sonata written by a Soviet composer, it was certainly the first of the ensemble sonatas for these instruments in Soviet music incorporated into the pantheon of world chamber classics.
     The Sonata appeared after the composer shared some productive time with the cellist Viktor Kubatsky.
     The rough and fair notations give two different dates for when work began on the composition. Shostakovich wrote the date ‘15 VIII 1934’ on the first page of the rough draft of the score, while the fair manu- script, which was written for the premiere and then given to Kubatsky, includes dates for both the beginning and the end of work on the opus—‘Begun on 14 VIII in Moscow. Finished on 19 IX 1934 in Leningrad’.
     The Cello Sonata in D minor, Op. 40, consists of four movements, which were initially designated as follows: I. Moderato-Largo, D minor, 4/4; II. Moderato con moto, A minor, 3/4; III. Largo, B minor, 4/4; IV. Allegretto, D minor, 2/4.
     It is worth noting the predominance of the minor mode in all the movements of the opus, which is extremely rare in the history of the 19th and 20th century music. The tempo contrast of the movements is also noteworthy: the first and third movements are moderate or slow, while the second and fourth are lively or quick. The harmony is for the most part simple and austere, the texture is predominantly linear. The acoustic density is distributed in such a way that the instruments rarely play at the same time in the same register; on the contrary, here the instruments are pulled apart from each other in terms of register, whereby the more intense and energetic the movement, the greater the distance. The texture is made transparent by means of empty sonorities—octaves, fifths, chords with missing thirds and multiple repetitions of the same note. The statements of themes are strongly emphasised; in the finale, the most thematically significant sections begin with a solo by one of the partners.
     The first performance of the Cello Sonata was held on 25 December 1934 in the Small Hall of the Leningrad Conservatory at a concert of the Union of Composers; the cello part was performed by Kubatsky, and the piano part by the author.
     Maximilian Steinberg gave the following review of this concert: ‘…I liked Bruhns’ quartet and parts of Shostakovich’s Cello Sonata, although much of it seemed contrived, for example, the music in the style of Fauré in the first movement and the finale, which is reminiscent of Prokofiev.’
     Shostakovich himself spoke in the press about his composition as follows: ‘With respect to ‘purity of language’, I think the cello sonata is somewhat of an achievement. We must draw the line between simplicity and simplification. We must confess that simplicity and simplification are often confused. Musical language acquires clarity and expressiveness not only due to an exceptionally ‘nice’ harmony, but primarily because the author clearly and deeply sets himself ideological and emotional tasks.’
     On 7 April 1935, the new work was presented in Moscow in the Small Hall of the Conservatory, where Sergey Shirinsky performed the cello part and Petr Romanovsky the piano part.
     Shostakovich and Kubatsky chose the Sonata for the tour to Arkhangelsk held in January-February 1936. The cellist informed Mariya Kubatskaya about the performance on 31 January in a telegram on 1 February: ‘The concert was extremely successful’.
     As early as October 1935, the Cello Sonata was heard abroad. It was performed by Peggy Sampson and Erik Chisholm in Stevenson Hall in Glasgow (Great Britain), and on 12 November 1935 in Prague, in a concert of Soviet music organised by the Society of Cultural Relations with the Soviet Union (the piano part was played by B. Švardová, the name of the cellist is unknown).
     Several reviews mentioning the Sonata immediately appeared in the Czech press. All of them were negative: ‘Shostakovich’s Cello Sonata in D minor is unstable in texture and devoid of originality. It has destroyed all the illusions Shostakovich created with his earlier works, primarily his Symphony (the newspaper České slovo); ‘Shostakovich, who charmed us several years ago with his symphony, was extremely disappointing. His Cello Sonata in the baroque style is devoid of unity of line, while the Third ‘First of May’ Symphony has intensified the impression of formal fragmentation even more’ (the newspaper Lidové noviny); ‘…the 1934 Cello Sonata throws a strange light on the composer’s revolutionary nature. This sonata is extremely simple as regards its expressive means and is written in the almost salon spirit of bygone times’ (the newspaper Venkov).
     However, Shostakovich’s biographer Krzysztof Meyer was right when he wrote: ‘The sonata was Shostakovich’s first big chamber work that quickly made its way to the world’s concert stages. Grigory Pyatigorsky (Gregor Piatigorsky) and Pierre Fournier were among its first performers in the West. The four-movement Sonata in D minor no longer has anything in common stylistically with the experimental The Nose and the ‘bloodthirsty’ piano works of former years.’ After disappointing its first Western critics with its insufficient avant-guard-ness, the composition nevertheless won the hearts of musicians and listeners in a short time, including abroad.
     The Cello Sonata became a permanent part of Shostakovich’s own repertoire. The composer performed the work with Arnold Ferkelman38 at the end of the 1930s: twice in the Small Hall of the Leningrad Conservatory (on 18 April 1938 and 30 October 1939) and once in the Small Hall of the Moscow Conservatory (on 18 April 1939), as well as at his recital of chamber works broadcast on Leningrad radio (26 January 1939).
     Later Shostakovich continued to perform the Sonata with different cellists: Vladimir Matkovsky (on 22 December 1940 in Kuibyshev), Daniil Shafran (on 2 December 1946 in Moscow), several times with Svyatoslav Knushevitsky (on 24 April 1952, 25 January 1953 and 15 June 1957 in Leningrad; 3 May 1952 in Moscow and 24 May 1952 in Kiev), Mstislav Rostropovich (on 8 January 1954 and 15 September 1956 in Moscow; in April 1955 in Riga, Minsk, Vilnius and Kaunas); and Yevgeny Altman (on 17-26 December 1957 in Lvov, Kishinev and Odessa).
     Throughout the 1930s-1940s, the Sonata in the USSR was mainly performed with the author’s participation. An exception was the Leningrad instrumental duet performed by Aleksandr and Anna Shtrimer, who included it in their permanent repertoire. Furthermore, no later than the turn of the 1930s-1940s, the Sonata was also played by pupils of a Leningrad ten-grade music school (now a secondary special eleven-grade school), which composer Dmitri Tolstoy later recalled.
     None of the performances of the Sonata were recorded in the 1930s. The earliest is the recording done at Columbia Studio by Gregor Piatigorsky and Valentin Pavlovsky on 18 January 1940 and issued in 1944.
     On 21 March 1947, another recording by Piatigorsky appeared, with pianist Reginald Stewart. In 1947, the Sonata was published twice abroad by Leeds Music and Anglo-Soviet Music Press (No. 50) with the cello part in Gregor Piatigorsky’s edition.
     In June 1953, the Sonata was first performed by Emanuel Brabec and Franz Holetschek. A gramophone record of their performance came out four years later.
     On 8 November 1954, Shostakovich and Mstislav Rostropovich performed the Sonata for the first time in the Small Hall of the Moscow Conservatory. On 15 December 1957, their first recording was made, about the details of which the cellist related not long before his death: ‘Each time we played the sonata, we performed it differently; however, we had never played it as fast as we did in this recording. I think that this was because Dmitri Dmitriyevich was in a dreadful hurry to get away to see some relatives, who were all invited to his sister’s dacha outside Moscow. He certainly did not have the feeling that this recording was supposed to be a document for posterity. Rather it was: ‘Come on Slava, let’s get it done quickly, I need to leave soon. No doubt because he was in such a hurry, Dmitri Dmitriyevich kept missing the four chords that precede the cello triplet passage in the finale. He splashed them every time! I suggested to Dmitri Dmitriyevich that we ignore that place for the time being, instead keeping going and finishing recording the rest of the movement. After that we sat down together at the piano and quickly recorded the chords in question using four hands… I played the left-hand part and he the right-hand part, both of us using two hands! This solved the problem of these two bars very nicely!’
     Compared with the Shostakovich-Shafran recording (1946), the tempos here really are much faster, which can be seen in particular when comparing the playing time of the separate movements of the Sonata.
     Attention should also be paid to Rostropovich’s interpretational find, which other musicians later applied to the reading of this work: the first phrase of the main theme of the first movement in the recapitulation is played by the cellist in ‘white’ tone (without vibration).
     On the whole, the genre sources of the forms and themes, as well as the suite-like nature of the cycle, are emphasised more in the Shostakovich-Shafran interpretation: what is customarily called the dramatic culmination is missing, the movements are more or less equal in their weight, leaving the impression of harmonious poise. The Shostakovich-Rostropovich interpretation gives a sense of striving to introduce some deeper subtexts into this relatively ‘safe’, partly decorative narrative, to amplify ‘the elements of automaticity and convey the toccata as an expression of positive element, vibrant energy and vitality into the toccata, symbolising destruction and the irreversibility of the inevitable evil; a striving for reticence in the expression of lyrical feelings and, on the whole, for more tragedy in the Sonata’s content.’
     From the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s, many Russian instrumentalists joined the ranks of performers of the Sonata: Daniil Shafran-Nina Musinian, Svyatoslav Knushevitsky-Lev Oborin, Daniil Shafran-Frida Bauer, Mikhail Khomitser-Grigori Zinger, Anatoli Nikitin-Felitsia Fondaminskaya, Mstislav Rostropovich-Aleksandr Dedyukhin, Nataliya Shakhovskaya-Aza Amintayeva, Nataliya Gutman-Svetlana Velichko, Aleksey Lazko- Felitsia Fondaminskaya, Mstislav Rostropovich-Pavel Serebryakov, Nataliya Gutman-Anatoli Vedernikov, Mstislav Rostropovich-Viktoriya Bogdashevskaya, Mikhail Maysky-Igor Taimanov, Karine Georgian-Aza Amintayeva, Daniil Shafran-Mikhail Muntian, Nataliya Gutman-Aleksey Nasedkin, Fedor Luzanov-Aleksey Nasedkin, Daniil Shafran-Isaak Izachik, Nataliya Gutman-Yelizaveta
Leonskaya, Boris Pergamenshchikov- Anatoli Ugorsky, Daniil Shafran-Anton Ginzburg and Mikhail Khomitser-Anatoli Ugorsky.
     Сompared with the first edition,the composer made significant changes to the second, done in the Soviet Union 25 years later (Gosmuzizdat, Moscow, 1960). Manashir Iakubov said: ‘This editing principle is often found in the creative practice of the composer, who was able in a few strokes not only to change certain details, but also to transform the meaning of large works in general, for example, the First Quartet and the opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District. The new tempo and metronome markings in all four movements make major changes to the Cello Sonata… The tempos of the first, second and fourth movements are quickened, while the tempo of the third is slowed down. This makes a perceptible change to the overall tempo structure of the cycle, the contrast between the lively movements and Largo is intensified.’
     The differences in the first and second versions are noted in Shostakovich’s comments entitled Comments on the Performance by Fedor Luzanov and Aleksey Nasedkin80 of My Cello Sonata.
     The copy of Shostakovich’s Comments…, which he dated 3 May 1973, is four pages of hand-written text. The author’s essential demands relate to retaining the unity of tempo throughout each movement without any slowdowns, accelerations and other changes in agogics, which are not marked in the score. There can be no doubt that the composer clearly gave preference at that time to the second version of the Sonata, set forth in its second (1960) and third (1964) editions.
     Throughout the 1960s, the Cello Sonata was published in the West by International Music (No. 2087, 1962, edited by Leonard Rose84), Peters (No. 4748, 1962) and Hans Sikorski (No. 2157, 1969).
     At the end of 1967, the editorial board of Muzyka Publishers asked Kubatsky and Dobrokhotov to write an article about the Sonata’s compositional history for the collection Problems of Musical Performing Art edited by Georgy Edelman. The article was not written. Nevertheless, after returning to the Sonata’s music text, Kubatsky decided to edit it once more, removing from it all the extraneous elements added by other editors and performers since the work’s first publication.
     The date in the manuscript of the second movement of the cello part done in the copyist’s hand shows that in February 1968, Kubatsky did more editing at the dacha in Serebryany Bor. The edition was finished by the end of the year, and on 12 December, the cellist wrote to Shostakovich asking him to take a look at the corrections he had made. In particular, the cellist informed the composer of the following: ‘…1. All changes in coloured pencil are slips of the pen, additions, clarifications, deciphering of verbal dynamic signs and transcribing them to graphic; all are done by me according to your manuscripts, as well as on the basis of our last conversation, 2. Those corrections written in lead pencil are my suggestions. If you are against them, please cross out or erase these places. Whatever is not erased will go into the printed music.’
     Kubatsky went on to list the ‘additions and deciphering’, primarily those aimed at clarifying Shostakovich’s written and unwritten (verbal) instructions, at simplifying the study of the Sonata by introducing ossia fragments, as well as at excluding the performance ad-libs. Shostakovich approved of all the changes in a reply of 24 December 1968.
     Thus, the fourth edition of the Sonata appeared (Muzyka Publishers, Moscow, 1971), in which the following is written on the second page for the first time in the history of its Russian publications: ‘Edited by Viktor Kubatsky’. In addition to the changes in tempos of the slow sections and certain articulation marks in the cello
part, as well as dynamic signs, Kubatsky decided to include the arrangement ofthe cello part for viola.
     The fifth Russian edition ofthe Sonata (Muzyka Publishers, Moscow, 1982) was done within the framework of Shostakovich’s Collected Works and based on the 1971 edition. The sixth edition (DSCH, Moscow, 1996) became the first printed source that included some details of Rostropovich’s interference. In this publication, its editor Manashir Iakubov decided to unite the two performance points of view of the cello part as much as possible: ‘…Parallel to Kubatsky’s editing, the articulation and fingering that Mstislav Rostropovich recommended to the students of his class at the Moscow Conservatory are given in a separate cello part. The articulation marks according to Dmitri Shostakovich’s manuscript are reproduced at the bottom of the cello part in the piano score.’
     At one time, when replying to a letter from Dobrokhotov asking, ‘How should I approach performing the Sonata, what should I take as the basis—the notation of the author’s manuscript or the numerous additions found in the work’s editions?’, Shostakovich wrote: ‘Life during these years has moved on, there are many interpretations, but I think it can be played by precisely following the notation of my manuscript. For the manuscript appeared at the time the Sonata was composed, when its music rang very clearly in my inner ear. I think this is the only place to find the truth…’