The teenage Shostakovich made his international reputation with his First Symphony, written while he was still a student between 1923 and 1925; few composers in history can have pulled off such an auspicious opening to their career. Astonishing brilliance and quicksilver fluency of orchestral writing are matched by dark undertones of mockery and tragic foreboding. This work is at once unique in the composer’s output and yet filled with premonitions of all to come.
At first hearing, this symphony’s four movements have an almost playfully neo-classical surface, but the music is constantly unpredictable, full of strange twists and turns, sometimes hilariously funny, sometimes startlingly moving and personal. From its sinewy sinister opening for solo trumpet and bassoon, through its helter-skelter piano-dominated scherzo and sombrely thoughtful slow movement right to its strident blast of trumpets and trombones at the very end, this piece – composed eighty years ago - still keeps audiences amazed and on the edge of their seats.
Note by Gerard McBurney