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Composed: 1959

Length: c. 30 minutes

Orchestration: 2 flutes (2nd = piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons (2nd = contrabassoon), horn, timpani, strings, and solo cello

First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: November 26, 1959, with soloist Mstislav Rostropovich, Arturo Basile conducting

About this Piece

In 1959, with his days as the chief target of government attacks on "formalism" long behind him, Shostakovich was again the dominant figure in Soviet music, and the press often interviewed him about his latest projects. He told Sovetskaya Kultura that he was working on a cello concerto that he thought would have three movements, the first of which was an "allegretto in the nature of a scherzo-like march," but he didn't want to say more, because he often found that "in the process of writing, the form, the expressive media, and even the very genre of a work undergo a marked change." Indeed, they did. The finished first movement is as he described it, but there follows a sequence of three linked movements: one of the ghostly floating slow movements that are a Shostakovich specialty gives way to a cadenza that makes up an entire third movement, which leads into a concluding allegro. Both the cadenza and the allegro recall the four-note theme of the first movement.

Shostakovich uses a small orchestra, with no brass except a single horn, which is given prominent solos. Many extended sections of the Concerto, particularly in the slow movement, are, in effect, chamber music, with the cello partnering horn, clarinet, or celesta.

- Howard Posner