Composers Datebook®

Mozart, Stalin and Yudina

Composers Datebook - March 5, 2024


What’s your favorite recording of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23?

It is said that Joseph Stalin’s was one with Russian pianist Maria Yudina, and that recording was spinning on his turntable when the dictator was found dead on today’s date in 1953. In 1944, Stalin had heard Yudina perform this concerto on the radio and called the Soviet broadcaster and asked for the recording. Now, no one dared say “no” to Stalin, so, even though the performance had been live and had not been recorded, the performers were hastily called back to the studio, and by morning a private recording was ready for delivery.

Stalin was so pleased, that — again, according to the stories — he sent Yudina 20,000 rubles. In defiance of state-imposed Soviet atheism, the pianist was a devout Orthodox Christian who always wore a cross while performing and considered her music an expression of faith. Stalin really must have liked her playing, since he did nothing — so the story goes — when she sent him a thank-you note letting him know that she gave all the money to her church and that she would pray for him and ask God to forgive all his great sins against his own people.

Music Played in Today's Program

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791): 2nd Movement from Piano Concerto No. 23

Marina Yudina, piano; USSR Radio Symphony; Alexander Gauk, cond. Melodiya MELCO0377

On This Day


  • 1853 - American composer Arthur Foote, in Salem, Mass.;

  • 1887 - Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos, in Rio de Janeiro;


  • 1778 - British composer Thomas Arne, 67, in London;

  • 1947 - Italian composer Alfredo Casella, 63, in Rome;

  • 1953 - Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev, 61, in Moscow (the same day that Joseph Stalin died);


  • 1735 - Handel: Organ Concertos Op. 4, nos. 2-3, in London as intermission features during a revival performance of Handel's oratorio Esther at the Covent Garden Theater (Gregorian date: March 16);

  • 1818 - Rossini: opera Mosè in Egitto (Moses in Egypt) (first version in Italian), in Naples at the Teatro San Carlo;

  • 1868 - Boito: opera Mefistofele, at the Teatro della Scala in Milan;

  • 1889 - MacDowell: Piano Concerto No. 2, with the composer as soloist, in New York City;

  • 1892 - Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 1 (Gregorian date: March 17);

  • 1904 - Liadov: symphonic poem Baba Yaga (Gregorian date: March 18);

  • 1904 - Ravel: String Quartet, in Paris, by the Heymann Quartet;

  • 1905 - Frederick S. Converse: The Mystic Trumpeter by the Philadelphia Orchestra, Fritz Scheel conducting;

  • 1933 - Barber: Dover Beach for medium voice and string quartet, at the French Institute in New York City, by mezzo-soprano Rose Bampton and the New York Art Quartet;

  • 1933 - Malipiero: Violin Concerto No. 1, by the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orcherstra with Pierre Monteux conducting and Viola Mitchell the soloist;

  • 1940 - Copland: John Henry, on a CBS School of the Air radio broadcast, by the Columbia Broadcasting Symphony conducted by Howard Barlow;

  • 1942 - Cage: The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs (text by James Joyce) for voice and piano, in New York;

  • 1942 - Shostakovich: Symphony No. 7 (Leningrad) by the Bolshoi Theater Orchestra, conducted by Samuel Abramovitch Samosud, in Kuibyshev (the temporary Soviet capital where the orchestra and Shostakovich had been evacuated);

  • 1944 - Piston: Symphony No. 2, in Washington, D.C., by the National Symphony, Hans Kindler conducting;

  • 1965 - Piston: Symphony No. 6, by the Boston Symphony;

  • 1990 - David Ward-Steinman: Intersections II: Borobudur, for percussion and "fortified" piano, at the Canberra Institute of the Arts in Australia, by percussionist Daryl Pratt and the composer at the piano;

  • 2003 - Bright Sheng: Tone Poem for Pipa, Sheng, Cello, Piano, and Orchestra (Song and Dance of Tears) with Wu Man (pipa, Wu Tong (sheng), Yo-Yo Ma (cello) and Emanuel Ax (piano), with the New York Philharmonic, David Zinman conducting.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

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