A Romance Gives Birth to Dmitry’s First Trio

Can you see it? © Charles Thibo

Shostakovich in love! Young Dmitry – he is 17 – spends the summer of 1924 on the Crimean peninsula and falls in love with Tatyana Glivenko, the daughter of an eminent Moscow philology professor. There’s nothing than love to cure a tuberculosis. He has traveled south with his sister Mariya for health reasons. Mariya is not amused by this romance and when she reports home, Shostakovich’s mother is quick to warn the young man about the pitfalls of love. Shostakovich however has his own ideas, in line with the ideology of the day. “Of course the best thing imaginable would be the total abolition of the institution of marriage, with all its fetters and constraits on love.” It would be a long and tormenting affair, they would see each other on and off, but Dmitry would not commit.

However the romance prompted the young composer to write his very first trio: Piano Trio in C Minor, op. 8. He reworked material from a discarded piano sonata he had composed three years earlier, as Shostakovich’s biographer Laurel E. Fay writes, and there it is: a nice, little piece of some 12 minutes. At the time he studied composition at the Leningrad Conservatory with Maximilian Steinberg, a former pupil of Sergei Taneyev. The trio was not published during Shostakovich’s lifetime and, apparently, its current published form was assembled from multiple manuscript sources with the final missing bars of the piano part completed by the composer Boris Tishchenko.

Steinberg was appalled by what Shostakovich had brought home from his health cure and took offence with the grotesque elements that Shostakovich had used to break the harmonic flow of his otherwise traditional composition, an extension of the Romantic style of the 19th century. The Conservatory director Alexander Glazunov said about this particular student: “I find his music horrible. For the first time I do not hear the music when I read the score. But that is not important. The future isn’t mine, it belongs to this boy.”

And when I listen to this trio I see Shostakovich in the Crimea, his feet dangling in the warm waters of the Black Sea. He is lonely, but happy. He feels self-confident about what he feels and writes, despite all maternal warnings and the awareness that his musical innovations will not go down well with his teachers in Leningrad. But Shostakovich was 17, in love and the world was his. The trio has been recorded by the Beaux Arts Trio.

© Charles Thibo

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