Composers Datebook®

with host John Zech

Friday, May 12

Shostakovich gets on first

Synopsis

On this date in 1926, a 19-year old composer and sometime silent film piano accompanist named Dimitri Shostakovich saw his First Symphony performed in style by the Leningrad Philharmonic.

It must have been a heady experience for the young composer, who for the past two years had earned a living of sorts accompanying silent films at various Leningrad cinemas.

One evening, while accompanying a film titled "Swamp and Water Birds of Sweden," the young composer was so carried away by his own improvisations of bird song that he assumed the catcalls and noisy expressions of disapproval from the audience were directed at the film, not at him. Only afterwards was he told the audience had assumed he must have been drunk. In later years, Shostakovich would tell this story with some pride—at least they had noticed his music!

The Leningrad Philharmonic's performance of his Symphony, the first of his orchestral works to be performed in public, was a triumph and established Shostakovich as a major new talent. Shostakovich's teacher, Maximillian Steinberg wrote that at rehearsals, Shostakovich was: "in such indescribable raptures from hearing his own music that I found it hard to restrain him from an unbridled display of his feelings."

May 12th was a date Shostakovich would commemorate till the end of his life—if for no other reason than he would never again have to improvise piano accompaniment to cinematic masterworks like "Swamp and Water Birds of Sweden."

Music Played in Today's Program

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906 - 1975) Symphony No. 1, Op. 10 Cracow Philharmonic; Gilbert Levine, cond. Arabesque 6610

Additional Information

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