Symphony No. 4 (Shostakovich)

Dmitri Shostakovich composed his Symphony No. 4 in C minor, Op. 43, between September 1935 and May 1936, after abandoning some preliminary sketch material. In January 1936, halfway through this period, Pravda—under direct orders from Joseph Stalin[1]—published an orial "Muddle Instead of Music" that denounced the composer and targeted his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. Despite this attack and the political climate of the time, Shostakovich completed the symphony and planned its premiere for December 1936 in Leningrad. After rehearsals began, the orchestra's management cancelled the performance, offering a statement that Shostakovich had withdrawn the work. He may have agreed to withdraw it to relieve orchestra officials of responsibility. The symphony was premiered on 30 December 1961 by the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra led by Kirill Kondrashin.


Shostakovich uses a large orchestra requiring over one hundred musicians. It is scored for the following instruments:[2]


The symphony has three movements:

  1. Allegretto poco moderato – Presto
  2. Moderato con moto
  3. LargoAllegro

Most performances of the symphony last a little over an hour.

Historical overview[]


Shostakovich began the Fourth Symphony in September 1935. His second and third symphonies, completed in 1927 and 1929, had been patriotic works with choral finales, but the new score was different.[how?] Toward the end of 1935 he told an interviewer, "I am not afraid of difficulties. It is perhaps easier, and certainly safer, to follow a beaten path, but it is also dull, uninteresting and futile."[3]

Shostakovich abandoned sketches for the symphony some months earlier[when?] and began anew. On 28 January 1936, when he was about halfway through work on the symphony, Pravda printed an unsigned orial entitled "Muddle Instead of Music", which singled out his internationally successful opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk for condemnation. The fact that the orial was unsigned indicated that it represented the official Party position. Rumors circulated for a long time that Stalin had directly ordered this attack after he attended a performance of the opera and stormed out after the first act.[4]

Pravda published two more articles in the same vein in the next two and a half weeks. On 3 February, "Ballet Falsehood" assailed his ballet The Limpid Stream, and "Clear and Simple Language in Art" appeared on 13 February. Although this last article was technically an orial attacking Shostakovich for "formalism", it appeared in the "Press Review" section. Stalin, under cover of the Central Committee, may have singled out Shostakovich because the plot and music of Lady Macbeth infuriated him, the opera contradicted Stalin's intended social and cultural direction for the nation at that period, or he resented the recognition Shostakovich was receiving both in the Soviet Union and in the West.[5]

Despite these criticisms, Shostakovich continued work on the symphony—though he simultaneously refused to allow a concert performance of the last act of Lady Macbeth.[6] He explained to a friend, "The audience, of course, will applaud—it's considered bon ton to be in the opposition, and then there'll be another article with a headline like 'Incorrigible Formalist.'"[7]

Once he completed the score, Shostakovich was apparently uncertain how to proceed. His new symphony did not emulate the style of Nikolai Myaskovsky's socialist realist Sixteenth Symphony, The Aviators, or Vissarion Shebalin's song-symphony The Heroes of Perekop.[further explanation needed] Showing the new symphony to friends did not help. One asked what Shostakovich thought the reaction from Pravda would be. Shostakovich replied, "I don't write for Pravda, but for myself."[8]

Despite the increasingly repressive political atmosphere, Shostakovich continued to plan for the symphony's premiere, scheduled by the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra for 11 December 1936 under the orchestra's music director, Fritz Stiedry.[1] The composer also played the score on piano for Otto Klemperer, who responded enthusiastically and planned to conduct the symphony's first performance outside the USSR.[citation needed]


After a number of rehearsals that left both the conductor and musicians unenthusiastic,[citation needed] Shostakovich met with several officials of the Composers Union and the Communist Party, along with I.M. Renzin, the Philharmonic's director, in the latter's office. He was informed that the 11 December performance was being cancelled and that he was expected to make the announcement and provide an explanation. The composer's direct participation is unknown, but the newspaper Soviet Art (Sovetskoe iskusstvo) published a notice that Shostakovich had asked for the symphony's premiere to be cancelled "on the grounds that it in no way corresponds to his current creative convictions and represents for him a long-outdated creative phase", that it suffered from "grandiosomania" and he planned to revise it.[9]

Decades later, Isaak Glikman, who was Shostakovich's personal secretary in the 1930s and a close friend, provided a different account. He wrote that party officials exerted pressure on Renzin to cancel the scheduled performance, and Renzin, reluctant to take responsibility for the programming decision himself, instead privately persuaded Shostakovich to withdraw the symphony.[10]


The manuscript score for the Fourth Symphony was lost during World War II. Using the orchestral parts that survived from the 1936 rehearsals, Shostakovich had a two-piano version published in an ion of 300 copies in Moscow in 1946. Shostakovich began considering a performance only after Stalin's death in 1953 changed the cultural climate in the Soviet Union. He undertook no revisions. Conductor Kirill Kondrashin led the premiere of the orchestral version on 30 December 1961 with the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra.[11] The first performance outside the USSR took place at the 1962 Edinburgh Festival with the Philharmonia Orchestra under Gennady Rozhdestvensky on 7 September 1962.[12]

Soviet critics[which?] were excited at the prospect of finding a major missing link in Shostakovich's creative output, yet refrained from value-laden comparisons. They generally placed the Fourth Symphony firmly in its chronological context and explored its significance as a way-station on the road to the more conventional Fifth Symphony. Western critics were more overtly judgmental, especially since the Fourth was premiered just three days after the Twelfth Symphony in Edinburgh. The critical success of the Fourth juxtaposed with the critical disdain for the Twelfth led to speculation that Shostakovich's creative powers were on the wane.[13]

Influence of Mahler[]

The symphony is strongly influenced by Gustav Mahler, whose music Shostakovich had been closely studying with Ivan Sollertinsky during the preceding ten years. (Friends remembered seeing Mahler's Seventh Symphony on Shostakovich's piano at that time.) The duration, the size of the orchestra, the style and range of orchestration, and the recurrent use of "banal" melodic material juxtaposed with more high-minded, even "intellectual" material, all come from Mahler.[14][better source needed]

Aside from the entire second movement, one of the most Mahlerian moments[according to whom?] appears at the outset of the third movement—a funeral march reminiscent of many similar passages in the Austrian's output. Another such point occurs near the beginning of the deeply brooding coda that follows the last full-orchestra outburst, with the descending half-step idea in the woodwinds clearly pointing to the A major-to-A minor chord progression that characterizes much of Mahler's Sixth Symphony.[citation needed]


Orchestra Conductor Record company Year of recording Format
Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra Kirill Kondrashin Melodiya/Aulos (see ref. below)* CD
Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra Kirill Kondrashin Melodiya 1962[15] CD
Philharmonia Orchestra Gennady Rozhdestvensky BBC Legends 1962(1) CD
Philadelphia Orchestra Eugene Ormandy Columbia/Sony Classical 1963(4) LP (Columbia), CD (Sony)
Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra Kirill Kondrashin Melodiya 1966[16] CD
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Kirill Kondrashin RCO Live 1971 CD
Chicago Symphony Orchestra André Previn EMI Classics 1977 CD
BBC Symphony Orchestra Gennady Rozhdestvensky Medici Arts/Euroarts 1978 DVD
London Philharmonic Orchestra Bernard Haitink Decca Records 1979 CD
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra Ladislav Slovák Naxos Records 1988 CD
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Vladimir Ashkenazy Decca Records 1989 CD
Scottish National Orchestra Neeme Jarvi Chandos 1989 CD
St. Louis Symphony Orchestra Leonard Slatkin RCA Victor Red Seal 1989 CD
National Symphony Orchestra Mstislav Rostropovich Teldec 1992(2) CD
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra Sir Simon Rattle EMI Classics 1994 CD
Philadelphia Orchestra Myung-Whun Chung Deutsche Grammophon 1994 CD
Prague Symphony Orchestra Maxim Shostakovich Supraphon 1998(3) CD
London Symphony Orchestra Mstislav Rostropovich Andante 1998(2) CD
BBC Philharmonic Vassily Sinaisky BBC Music Magazine 2000 CD
Kirov Orchestra Valery Gergiev Philips Classics 2001 CD|-
Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra Rudolf Barshai Brilliant Classics 2001 CD
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra Mariss Jansons EMI Classics 2004 CD
Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi Oleg Caetani ARTS music 2004 CD
NHK Symphony Orchestra Vladimir Ashkenazy Decca Records 2006 CD
WDR Symphony Orchestra, Cologne Semyon Bychkov Avie CD
Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra Andrey Boreyko Hänssler Classic 2006 CD
Chicago Symphony Orchestra Bernard Haitink CSO Resound 2008 CD
Beethoven Orchester Bonn Roman Kofman MDG 2008 CD
Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra Mark Wigglesworth BIS Records 2009 CD
National Symphony Orchestra (Taiwan) Lu Shao-chia NSO Live 2011 CD
Philharmonisches Staatsorchester Mainz/Staatsorchester Rheinische Philharmonie Daniel Raiskin Avi-Music 2011 CD
Los Angeles Philharmonic Esa-Pekka Salonen Deutsche Grammophon 2012 CD
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra Vasily Petrenko Naxos Records 2013 CD
Mariinsky Orchestra Valery Gergiev Mariinsky 2014 CD
Bulgarian National Radio Symphony Orchestra Emil Tabakov Gega 2015 CD
Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra Yannick Nézet-Séguin Deutsche Grammophon 2016 CD
Russian National Orchestra Mikhail Pletnev PentaTone Classics 2018 CD
Boston Symphony Orchestra Andris Nelsons Deutsche Grammophon 2018 CD
Two-piano version Maki Namekawa [de] and Dennis Russell Davies Supertrain Records 2019 CD
London Symphony Orchestra Gianandrea Noseda LSO Live 2019 CD

* = the first recording, made by the performers who gave the premiere
(1) = aircheck of the western premiere, 1962 Edinburgh Festival
(2) = the first and second of two recordings made by the composer's close friend and colleague
(3) = the only recording made by the composer's son
(4) = the first Western studio recording
Source: (recommended recordings selected based on critics reviews)

The 1998 recording by the LPO and Rostropovich, and the 2004 recording conducted by Caetano include performances of the surviving original sketches of the Fourth Symphony's first movement.[17]


  1. ^ a b Steinberg, 541.
  2. ^ Shostakovich, Dmitri. Symphony No. 4 in C Minor, Op. 43. New York: Kalmus.
  3. ^ Freed, 3.
  4. ^ Schwarz, pp. ??[page needed]
  5. ^ Volkov, 110.
  6. ^ Volkov, 121.
  7. ^ Muzykal'naia akademiia, 4 (1997), 72.[author missing]
  8. ^ Muzykal'naia akademiia, 4 (1997), 74.[author missing]
  9. ^ Robinson, Harlow. "Dmitri Shostakovich, Symphony No. 4 in C minor, Opus 43" (PDF). Boston Symphony Orchestra. Retrieved 9 October 2012.
  10. ^ Glikman, xxii–xxiv: "a mythology has grown up around the withdrawal of the Fourth Symphony, a mythology to which writings about Shostakovich have unfortunately lent quasi-scriptural status."
  11. ^ MacDonald, 108, 108n1[incomplete short citation]
  12. ^ Edinburgh International Festival, 1926, in DSCH Journal No 37
  13. ^ Fay, 226.
  14. ^ Volkov, 136.
  15. ^ Kondrashin 1962
  16. ^ Kondrashin 1966 complete symphonies
  17. ^ Rostropovich conducts Shostakovich, London Symphony Orchestra – Shostakovich Festival 1998


Further reading[]