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Shostakovich and his Cello Concerto No.1


Royal Northern Sinfonia and cellist Anastasia Kobekina will perform Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No.1 at Opening Night on Saturday 18 September. Ahead of the performance, we’ve been researching this great 20th century composer and this iconic piece. Here are some of our favourite discoveries…

Cello Concerto No.1

  • He wrote the concerto in 1959 for cellist (and his friend) Mstislav Rostropovich, who played it from memory just four days after receiving the music! The first recording was made just two days later.
  • It is considered one of the most difficult pieces in the cello repertoire, making Rostropovich’s achievement even more notable.
  • Concertos generally only have three movements, but this piece has four. There is no pause in performance from Movement 2 to Movement 4, with the cello cadenza [extended solo passage] acting as a third movement linking the two.
  • Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No.1 includes reference to Suliko, a love poem-turned Soviet song favoured by Stalin – albeit in a distorted form.
  • Also featured is a motif [recurring theme] based on the notes D, Eb, C and B. In German these are labelled DSCH, which make the composer’s initials.
  • This theme forms the basis of the first movement, but it is continually distorted. It is only in the second movement where this theme doesn’t appear.

Dmitri Shostakovich

Shostakovich (1906 – 1975) was one of the most prolific composers of the 20th century, having written 15 symphonies, six concerti, more than 20 chamber works, countless pieces for solo piano, as well as operas, song cycles, ballets, and film music.

His style was eclectic, and he was willing to risk sanction from the Soviet authorities to remain true to his art. Indeed, he was reprimanded twice for not sticking to the Soviet ideology. That said, he had a complex relationship with the Soviet government. He was reprimanded, but he also received awards from the state, including the Order of Friendship of Peoples (1972), People’s Artist of the USSR (1954), the Lenin Prize (1958) and the Stalin Prize in Arts.

Here are some facts about Shostakovich that we love…

  • He originally planned to be a pianist rather than a composer.
  • He received an honorary Doctorate of Music from the University of Oxford.
  • As well as music, he loved football! He was a qualified referee and supported Zenit Leningrad.
  • Thankfully, 300 pages of his music were recovered in 2004 that had been salvaged during his lifetime, when a maid delivered the contests of his bin to a friend instead of throwing it away.

Hear Royal Northern Sinfonia and Anastasia Kobekina perform Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No.1 on Saturday 18 September, 7.30pm.