Symphony No. 1 in F minor, Op. 10 (1923-25)
The first symphony by Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975), which he dedicated to his friend Mikhail Kvadri. Shostakovich completed the work at age 19 as his graduation assignment for the Petrograd (formerly St. Petersburg, later Leningrad) Conservatory, which was directed at the time by Alexander Glazunov. Shostakovich’s main composition teacher Maximilian Steinberg oversaw the project. The composer initially wished to use his Scherzo, Op. 7 (1923-24) as the second movement of the symphony, but Steinberg was appalled by its grotesque character and suggested that Shostakovich compose a different movement. He followed his teacher’s advice in composing a new movement, but it was ever more steeped in grotesquerie than the earlier scherzo, and the same brash, brittle character pervades much of the symphony; as Shostakovich wrote to his friend Lev Oborin, “It would be more fitting to call this work the ‘Symphony-Grotesque’.” Although the symphony is vintage Shostakovich, it also bears the influence of earlier Russian masters – from the piquant harmonies of Stravinsky’s Petrushka and the sharp wit of the young Prokofiev to the lush colours and chromaticism of Scriabin and the long-drawn lyricism of Tchaikovsky.
The symphony’s premiere on May 12, 1926 in the Great Hall of the Leningrad Philharmonic (conducted by Nikolai Malko) was a resounding success. Shostakovich’s mother recalled the performance: “All went more than brilliantly – a splendid orchestra and magnificent execution … At the end, Mitya was called to the stage over and over again. When our handsome young composer appeared, looking almost like a little boy, the enthusiasm turned into one long thunderous ovation.”