Opus 1: Scherzo in F-sharp Minor (1919)

Scherzo in F-sharp Minor, Op. 1 (1919)
CD:  “Dmitri Shostakovich: Orchestral Works”, USSR Ministry of Culture Symphony Orchestra, Gennady Rozhdestvensky, 1982 (BMG/Melodiya 74321 59058 2)

For a few years I mistakenly thought that Dmitri Shostakovich’s Opus 1 is his first symphony, probably because the idea seemed satisfying:  The composer’s first serious work, or anyway the first one worth putting a number on, would be the piece that launched his international reputation, the first entry in his substantial line of symphonies, and a composition that already points toward his characteristic, mature style.  But artists don’t emerge into the world that fully formed, and from Shostakovich’s thoroughly examined body of work several earlier, student efforts have been published and commercially recorded.

The actual Opus 1, a five-minute scherzo for orchestra, is pretty but unremarkable, except that it was written by an eventually major composer at the age of thirteen.  Its tunefulness and bright orchestral colors are very much in a Romantic, Russian style most familiar to me from Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov — Shostakovich produced the scherzo at the Petrograd Conservatory, which under Rimsky-Korsakov’s onetime pupil Alexander Glazunov was the institutional torch-bearer for his musical style — and though it shows off an early talent for both melody and orchestration, neither bears the signature style that Shostakovich would begin to develop within the next few years.  After a soft woodwind passage opens up into a short introductory passage, the work introduces a romantic, slightly woozy second theme:

This develops for a bit and then builds up into a loud, rather aimless final minute.  It feels like an unfair impression to have (why pick on a precocious thirteen-year-old?) but if anything reminds me of his mature work it’s that orchestral bombast, which the adult Shostakovich produced, seemingly effortlessly, to fill out any number of occassional pieces.  Other than the completist urge to start listening at the very beginning, the value of the scherzo lies in hearing an example of the stylistic context in which Shostakovich’s studies began, which he grew restless and broke with before graduating from the conservatory.  Unless you’re a fanatical Shostakovich listener it’s not necessary to seek it out.

The scherzo and recording are both brand new to me, from the above-mentioned CD reissue of various obscure Shostakovich works drawn from Gennady Rozhdestvensky’s Melodiya recordings of the 1980s.  Rozhdestvensky was responsible for unearthing, premiering, and recording much of the composer’s previously unknown output over the course of a few decades, and I know from the preliminary list of recorded works that I’ve put together that I’ll be reviewing his work regularly over the course of this project.

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4 Responses to “Opus 1: Scherzo in F-sharp Minor (1919)”

  1. Ciaran Parker Says:

    I would consider myself something of an afficionado of Shostakovich’s music and I have collected well over one hundred opus numbers. One piece always eluded me: the opus 1. Rozhdestvensky’s recording is hard to come by. On hearing it for the first time I was delighted. Yes, it is rather “slight” and gives few premonitions of his mature style, but then he was only thirteen when he composed it. The orchestration is superb for one so young. I see it as a piece which may not warrant much on its own, but rather as the pediment upon which all the work was constructed.
    Also, Shostakovich used the first theme again a quarter of a century later in the suite of pieces for piano written for his daughter Galina (opus 69). It is to be found at no. 6, under the title “Kukli”.

  2. Barbara L. Wollman Says:

    Please tell me what else is on that CD — it comes with no information other than title of Op. 1 and orchestra/conductor.

  3. Ciaran Parker Says:

    As far as I know, the recording also contains interpretations of ops. 3 and 7. There may be other pieces of Shostakovich. I have never been able to procure this for anything less than a king’s ransom.

  4. Ciaran Parker Says:

    Now there is the recently released recording of the op 1 Scherzo and the other orchestral works of the composer’s teens. This features the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg conducted by Gustavo Gimeno. This has been issued on the PentaTone label. The Scherzi and Theme and Variations are sandwiched between the much recorded First Symphony and the lesser known Five Fragments which anticipate the music language of the Fourth Symphony but suffered a related long silence.

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