Thursday, September 23, 2010

Happy Birthday, Dmitri Shostakovich!

One of my all-time favorite composers, Dmitri Shostakovich, was born 104 years ago this Saturday, on September 25, 1906.  To celebrate, I present two early recordings of his music, including one that might very well be the earliest.  This is of two excerpts from his 1929 ballet, "The Golden Age" - the Polka and Russian Dance.  It was recorded in the early 1930's for Pathé (issued by Columbia in the US and Britain) by the Orchestre Symphonique de Paris under Julius Ehrlich - the exact recording date is unknown.  The other contender for the title of "First Shostakovich Recording" would be Stokowski's November 1933 account of the First Symphony, with the Philadelphia Orchestra, which has been reissued on CD by Pearl.  Both recordings were reviewed in the September 1934 issue of Gramophone Magazine, which I would love to be able to link to, but, maddeningly, this review does not appear to have been scanned into Gramophone's archive, nor do PDF scans of the actual pages appear to be downloadable as in the past.  (Fortunately, about a year ago, I did get to download PDF scans of a number of Columbia ads from the magazine, including one that advertises this Ehrlich recording, and have included it in the ZIP file at the link below.)  The record of "Golden Age" excerpts was one of a pair designed to show how "far-out" the music from Bolshevik Russia had become.  The other record features orchestral music that graphically illustrates the noise made by machinery - Mossolov's "Steel Foundry" and Meytuss' "Dnieper Water Power Station."  The whole package was called, in its American release, "Strange Music of the Modern Russian School" - a hilarious title, I think!  Here are the links for this set:

"Modern Russian Music"
Orchestre Symphonique de Paris conducted by Julius Ehrlich
Columbia Masterworks set M-347, two 10-inch 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 27.12 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 12.81 MB)

The other Shostakovich recording I present is of the Ninth Symphony of 1945, for me one of the most delightful of his fifteen symphonies.  This is only the second recording made of it, by the New York Philharmonic (or, as it was called in those days, the "Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York") conducted by Russian-born Efrem Kurtz (1900-1995).  It's a fine one, marred only by the extremely slow tempo that he takes for the second movement, probably resulting from an incorrect metronome marking in the earliest scores of the symphony published in America.  It was released at the same time as the first recording, by Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony (currently available on a Biddulph CD).  I've also included, as a bonus, a transfer of a single record by Kurtz and the New York Philharmonic, of a Shostakovich Waltz and a Prokofiev March:

Shostakovich: Symphony No. 9, Op. 70; Waltz from "The Golden Mountains"
Prokofiev: March, Op. 99*
Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York conducted by Efrem Kurtz
Recorded April 8, 1947, and *April 20, 1946
Columbia Masterworks set MM-688, four 78-rpm records and
Columbia Masterworks 12881-D, one 78-rpm record
Link (FLAC files, 82.33 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 41.48 MB)

Below I reproduce the cover art for the 78-rpm album of the Shostakovich Ninth (thanks to Buster, Joe and others for the advice on how to do scans of large record covers!).  It's by the inimitable Alex Steinweiss, Columbia's art director during the 40s.  Note the stick figures in the background: there are nine of them, to match the fact that it's a "Symphony No. 9" - a typical Steinweissism.


  1. Hi Bryan - Can't wait to hear the Dnieper Water Power Station music. A Soviet-style Moldau, no doubt. Anyway, the trick to scanning bigger items is to use a program called Scan-n-Stitch Deluxe, which I recommend highly. You scan the item in pieces and the program assembles them for you.

  2. And I will say that Buster always does the most smashing job! He makes those old covers look new again. And ditto for Larry. Amazing what technology does. Don (Sacqueboutier) convinced me on the superiority of ClickRepair and by golly, he was right!

    And yes, Dnieper Water Power Station Music...that should be a cool listen down the Socialist Path!


  3. Hi Bryan, thanks for this very interesting post! Great, early recordings of Shostakovich, and of course I'm curious to hear the Steel Foundry & Water Power! And Buster, thanks for the information about scanning!

  4. Bryan,

    If you want freeware, You might have a look at a little app called autostitch which does a very nice job on LP covers. You should scan them in four passes, rotating CW or CCW on the scanner bed. The program will assemble the cover from the 4 pieces. I believe Bill Anderson uses it for his cover scans which look pretty nice.

    Click on the Download Windows Demo at the top of the page. The demo, a 1 mb download, does not expire and is free for noncommercial use.

  5. Thanks for the advice, guys - I've downloaded both Scan-n-Stitch and Autostitch and will play around with them when I have some free time.

  6. Amazing about that Efrem Kurtz DSCH 9: it's been issued in three formats: 78rpm, LP and CD!