Viola Sonata (Shostakovich)

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The Sonata for Viola and Piano, Op. 147 is the last composition by Dmitri Shostakovich. Completed in July 1975, just weeks before his death, it is dedicated to Fyodor Druzhinin, violist in the Beethoven Quartet.[1] The work received its official premiere in October 1975 with the performing forces of violist Fyodor Druzhinin and pianist Mikhail Muntyan. Appearing at the end of the composer's compositional output, the Sonata for Viola and Piano effectively represents the bleak, mortality-obsessed late style composition of Shostakovich.

The work unfolds in three movements, following a relatively straightforward tempo scheme of slow-fast-slow. The first movement, Andante, begins with a sparse pizzicato figure in the viola, accompanied by an equally stark piano line, followed by an explosive and wrenching middle section, and closing with a remembrance of the movement’s opening. The second movement, Allegretto, is characterized by sharp contrasting of dry, pointed figures with smooth, connected passages; the primary material of the movement was borrowed directly from Shostakovich’s unfinished opera The Gamblers (1942), granting the movement a vocal and dramatic quality.

The final movement of the sonata carries a substantial portion of the work’s emotional weight. Shostakovich gave the Adagio movement an unofficial subtitle: Adagio in the memory of a great composer or Adagio in the memory of Beethoven. The most explicit connection to Beethoven is Shostakovich's quotation of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor, Op. 27, No. 2 (1801). Throughout the movement, glimpses of the Beethoven sonata appear (mostly as the famous rhythmic pattern of the ‘Moonlight’ sonata), juxtaposed with the reappearance of themes and motives presented earlier within the viola sonata. This method of quotation and allusion is a characteristic feature of Shostakovich’s late-style period (1969–1975). The finale of Mendelssohn's early Viola Sonata (1824) also quotes from the ‘Moonlight’ Sonata, indicating Shostakovich may have studied this work in preparation for his own.[2]

Shostakovich’s Sonata for Viola and Piano represents relatively little innovation in his compositional style. The sonata simply exists as a prime exemplar of his late-style period in its austere texture, usage of pre-existing material, and elegiac quality.

Critical reception

Worldwide reception of Shostakovich's sonata was swift with performances in the USA, UK, France, New Zealand, Sweden, and Switzerland only months after the premiere.[3] The first recording with Druzhinin and Muntyan appeared within two months. In the course of the work's first fifteen years, twenty-two recordings were released in thirteen countries, compared to only ten recordings of Shostakovich's Violin Sonata in two countries during that work's first fifteen years.[4] The work is now a staple of viola repertoire with more than sixty commercial recordings available.[5]

Transcription for cello

Cellist Daniel (Daniil) Shafran, with Shostakovich's advice and approval,[6] put together an arrangement of the sonata for cello and piano.[7] Daniel Shafran recorded his cello transcription in 1975 (released on the Melodiya label.) Cellists Viviane Spanoghe (Talent, 2009), Petr Prause (Calliope, 2002), Carlos Prieto (Urtext, 2006), de (Friedrich Kleinhapl) (Ars Produktion, 2004), Raphael Wallfisch (Black Box Classics, 2002), Ramon Jaffé (G&J Records, 1992), and Sharon Robinson (Koch International Classics, 2007) have also recorded the cello arrangement.


  1. Donald Maurice, "Schostakovich's Swansong," Journal of the American Viola Society 16, no. 1 (2000): 13.
  2. Mendelssohn, Felix. "Viola Sonata in C Minor (score)".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Viacheslav Dinerchtein, "Shostakovich's Viola Sonata: A Historical Survey" (DMA dissertation, Northwestern, 2008), 13.
  4. Derek Hulme, Dmitri Shostakovich: A Catalogue, Bibliography, and Discography, 3rd ed., (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2002), 442-443, 480-482.
  5. Viacheslav Dinerchtein, "Shostakovich's Viola Sonata: A Historical Survey" (DMA dissertation, Northwestern, 2008), 15.
  6. Leonard, James. "Review of CD "Shostakovich: Complete Works for Cello"". allmusic. Retrieved 30 January 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Barnard, Nick. "Recording of the month". MusicWeb International. MusicWeb International. Retrieved 30 January 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>