Symphony No. 10 (Shostakovich)

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The Symphony No. 10 in E minor, Op. 93, by Dmitri Shostakovich was premiered by the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra under Yevgeny Mravinsky on 17 December 1953. It is not clear when it was written. According to the composer, the symphony was composed between July and October 1953, but Tatiana Nikolayeva stated that it was completed in 1951. Sketches for some of the material date from 1946.[1]


The symphony is scored for three flutes (first flute with B foot extension, second and third flutes doubling piccolo), three oboes (third doubling cor anglais), three clarinets (third doubling E-flat clarinet), three bassoons (third doubling contrabassoon), four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, snare drum, triangle, cymbals, tambourine, tam-tam, xylophone, and strings.[2]


The symphony has four movements and a duration of approximately 50-60 minutes:

  1. Moderato
  2. Allegro
  3. Allegretto – Largo –Più mosso
  4. Andante – Allegro – L'istesso tempo

I. Moderato[edit]

The first and longest movement is a slow movement in rough sonata form. As in his Fifth Symphony, Shostakovich quotes from one of his settings of Pushkin: in the first movement, from the second of his Op. 91: Four Monologues on Verses by Pushkin for bass and piano (1952), entitled "What is in My Name?". This theme of personal identity is picked up again in the third and fourth movements.[citation needed]

II. Allegro[edit]

The second movement is a short and loud scherzo with syncopated rhythms and semiquaver (sixteenth note) passages. The book Testimony said:

I did depict Stalin in my next symphony, the Tenth. I wrote it right after Stalin's death and no one has yet guessed what the symphony is about. It's about Stalin and the Stalin years. The second part, the scherzo, is a musical portrait of Stalin, roughly speaking. Of course, there are many other things in it, but that's the basis.[3]

Shostakovich biographer Laurel Fay wrote, "I have found no corroboration that such a specific program was either intended or perceived at the time of composition and first performance."[4] Musicologist Richard Taruskin called the proposition a "dubious revelation, which no one had previously suspected either in Russia or in the West".[5] Elizabeth Wilson adds: "The Tenth Symphony is often read as the composer’s commentary on the recent Stalinist era. But as so often in Shostakovich’s art, the exposition of external events is counter-opposed to the private world of his innermost feelings."[6]

III. Allegretto[edit]

The third movement is a moderate dance-like suite of Mahlerian Nachtmusik – or nocturne, which is what Shostakovich called it.[citation needed] It is built around two musical codes: the DSCH theme representing Shostakovich, and the Elmira theme (listen ):

\relative c'' { 
  \set Staff.midiInstrument = #"french horn"
  \key c \major
  \time 3/4
  b2. (b2.) e2. b2. (b4) a2 e'2. (e2. e8) r8 r4 r4

At concert pitch one fifth lower, the notes spell out "E La Mi Re A" in a combination of French and German notation. This motif, called out twelve times on the horn, represents Elmira Nazirova, a student of the composer with whom he fell in love. The motif is of ambiguous tonality, giving it an air of uncertainty or hollowness.[7]

In a letter to Nazirova, Shostakovich himself noted the similarity of the motif to the ape call in the first movement of Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde, a work which he had been listening to around that time:[8] (listen )

\relative c'' { 
  \set Staff.midiInstrument = #"french horn"
  \key c \major
  \time 3/4
  \partial8 b8 e2. b4. \autoBeamOff a8 \autoBeamOn b e b2.

The same notes are used in both motifs, and both are repeatedly played by the horn. In the Chinese poem set by Mahler, the ape is a representation of death, while the Elmira motif itself occurs together with the "funeral knell" of a tam tam.[9] There is also more than a passing resemblance of this motif to the slow fanfare theme in the finale of Sibelius's Fifth Symphony; similar instrumentation (horns, woodwinds) is used for the Elmira motif here as in the Sibelius work.[citation needed] Over the course of the movement, the DSCH and Elmira themes alternate and gradually draw closer.

IV. Andante[edit]

In the fourth and final movement, a slow "Andante" introduction segues abruptly into an "Allegro" wherein the DSCH theme is employed again. The coda effects a transition to E Major and, at in the final measures, several instruments glissando from an E to the next E.

The DSCH-motif is anticipated throughout the first movement of the 10th Symphony: In the 7th bar of the start of the symphony the violins doubled by the violas play a D for 5 bars which is then directly followed by an E; 9 bars before rehearsal mark 29 the violins play the motif in an inverted order D-C-H-S (or D-C-B-E). The first time the motif is heard in its correct order in the whole symphony is in the 3rd movement, right after a short canon on the beginning melody starting from the 3rd beat of the 5th bar after rehearsal mark 104 (Fig. 11) where it is played in unison by the piccolo, the 1st flute and the 1st oboe (compassing a range of three octaves).[citation needed]

Notable recordings[edit]

Recordings of this symphony include:

Orchestra Conductor Record Company Year of Recording Format
New York Philharmonic Orchestra Dmitri Mitropoulos CBS 1954[10] LP
Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra Yevgeny Mravinsky Naxos 1954 (live recording) CD
Czech Philharmonic Karel Ančerl DG 1955 LP
USSR Symphony Orchestra Yevgeny Svetlanov Melodiya 1966 LP
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra Herbert von Karajan DG 1966[11] LP
Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra Kirill Kondrashin Melodiya 1973 LP
Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra Yevgeny Mravinsky Melodiya 1976 (live recording) LP
London Philharmonic Orchestra Bernard Haitink Decca 1977 LP
Berliner Sinfonie-Orchester Kurt Sanderling Berlin Classics 1977 LP
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra Herbert von Karajan DG 1981[12] LP
London Philharmonic Orchestra Bernard Haitink LPO 1986 (live recording)[13] CD[14]
Cleveland Orchestra Christoph von Dohnányi Decca 1992 CD
Philadelphia Orchestra Mariss Jansons EMI Classics 1994 CD
Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela Gustavo Dudamel 2007 (live recording) CD
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Vasily Petrenko Naxos 2009 CD
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Vladimir Ashkenazy Decca 2011 CD
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Mariss Jansons RCO Live 2013 (live recording) CD
Boston Symphony Orchestra Andris Nelsons DG 2015 (live recording) CD
London Symphony Orchestra Gianandrea Noseda LSO Live 2021 CD
Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra Jaap van Zweden Naxos 2022 CD


  1. ^ Wilson, Elizabeth (1994) p. 262. Shostakovich: A Life Remembered. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-04465-1.
  2. ^ "Dmitri Shostakovich – Symphony No.10 in E minor". Retrieved 30 September 2021.
  3. ^ Volkov, Solomon (2004). Testimony: The Memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich. p. 141. ISBN 978-0-87910-998-1. Retrieved 26 May 2014.
  4. ^ Fay, Laurel E. (2000). Shostakovich: A Life. p. 327 note 14. ISBN 978-0-19-513438-4. Retrieved 26 May 2014.
  5. ^ Taruskin, Richard (2 December 2008). On Russian Music. p. 327. ISBN 978-0-520-94280-6. Retrieved 26 May 2014.
  6. ^ Shostakovich: A Life Remembered, Elizabeth Wilson, p. 305
  7. ^ Nelly Kravetz, New Insight into the Tenth Symphony, p. 162. In Bartlett, R. (ed) Shostakovich in Context.
  8. ^ Kravetz p. 163.
  9. ^ Kravetz p. 162.
  10. ^ "Shostakovich*, Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra Of New York*, Dimitri Mitropoulos – Symphony No. 10 In E Minor, Op. 93". Discogs. Retrieved 2016-06-02.
  11. ^ "SHOSTAKOVICH 10. Symphonie / Karajan 1966 – 1 LP". Retrieved 28 December 2020.
  12. ^ "SHOSTAKOVICH 10. Symphonie / Karajan 1981 – CD reissue 2006 / Download – Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft". Retrieved 28 December 2020.
  13. ^ "Prom 43 – Prom 43". Retrieved 25 October 2016.
  14. ^ "Classical CDs of the week reviews: Shostakovich, Schubert and more..." The Daily Telegraph. 23 August 2016. Retrieved 25 October 2016.

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