Critical Notes Series: Shostakovich's Cello Sonata

Shostakovich's Cello Sonata, Op. 40 turned 86 years old this year. This work is a staple of most professionals' and advanced students' repertoires. This position is well-deserved. The cello sonata very much reflects the style of Shostakovich's Symphonies Nos. 4 and 5, even sharing several themes and motives. Shostakovich uses classical/romantic-era forms for the movements: the sonata-arch form, ABA, ABA/developing variations hybrid, and rondo, respectively. Many of us grew up playing this sonata from the IMC/Peters editions. These days it's popular to use the DSCH edition in some circles.

DSCH is the new kid on the block, and promotes itself as the "Urtext edition." But how true is that? Did you know that there are actually 3 "types" of editions of this work? The first edition (Triton, 1935) grew out of the composer's manuscript. This is the edition Shostakovich recorded with Daniil Shafran. This edition led to the Leeds Music publication by Gregor Piatigorsky. The second edition (1960) is the one that Shostakovich settled on, recording it with Mstislav Rostropovich. This is the same edition that is used by Rostropovich's students in all the recordings we know and love. The second edition was the basis of the IMC, Peters, and Sikorski editions. Undoubtedly, this edition influenced us all, growing up in the 1970s-2000s, and continues to influence us. 

These days "Urtext" is all the rage. We have major publishers fighting for the title of best "Urtext." But is "Urtext best? "At one time, when replying to a letter from Dobrokhotov asking, ‘How should I approach performing the Sonata, what should I take as the basis—the notation of the author’s manuscript or the numerous additions found in the work’s editions?’, Shostakovich wrote: ‘Life during these years has moved on, there are many interpretations, but I think it can be played by precisely following the notation of my manuscript. For the manuscript appeared at the time the Sonata was composed when its music rang very clearly in my inner ear. I think this is the only place to find the truth…’" (from an article on That seems to settle the debate. Look back at the manuscript!

The DSCH edition of the Cello Sonata came on the scene in 1996. This edition was based on the complete works edition (1982), which was in turn based on the 1971 edition edited by Victor Kubatsky, the dedicatee of the work. Although Shostakovich did OK Kubatky's changes for publication, this was the first Russian edition to carry Kubatsky's name on it. The short version of the story is that Shostakovich did not initiate the production of this edition. This edition (1971) has existed all during the time of Gutman, Geringas, Georgian, and other major recording artists who recorded this piece (many of them Rostropovich students). Yet all of them recorded the second edition, the one that Rostropovich played, and Shostakovich preferred.

I would like to urge my readers not to throw out their IMC, Peters, and old Sikorski editions for the DSCH. Of course, by all means, consult the DSCH, to see what changes Kubatsky made 37 years after the work's conception. But please hear Shostakovich's voice in that the truth will be found in his own manuscript.

If you have the IMC, Peters, or the old SIkorski editions, I would like to offer you some alternative readings of passages based on the first edition below.

Movement 1:

m. 1 - tempo: Moderato q=116 in MS and first edition; Allegro non troppo q=138 in second edition
m. 31, beat 3 - piano has a in MS and first edition
m. 54 - tempo: q=100
mm. 68-70 - cello plays G-Bb-C#-F# with the piano left hand; G is missing from the piano in the MS and first edition
m. 103, beat 2 - dim. hairpin missing on the cello line of the piano score in the second edition
mm. 123-125 - cello plays the pizz. notes staccato with the bow in the MS.
m. 145 - piano has a dim. after in the MS and first edition
m. 158 - piano has a dim. in the MS and first edition
m. 161 - poco rit. in the MS and first edition
m. 164 - a tempo in the MS and first edition
m. 170 - rit. in the MS and first edition
m. 172 - a tempo in the MS and first edition
mm. 184-186 - cello plays F#-A-D with the piano left hand; F# is missing from the piano in the MS and first edition

Movement 2:

m. 1 - tempo: Moderato con moto q=152 in MS and first edition; Allegro q=176 in second edition
m. 80 - piano plays ppp in MS and first edition
mm. 123-140 - cello is marked sul ponticello in the MS

Movement 3:

The MS has this entire movement played con sord. for the cello.
mm. 98-101 - cello plays those notes as artificial harmonics on the G string

Movement 4:

m. 1 - tempo: Allegretto q=152 in MS and first edition; Allegro q=176 in second edition
m. 97 - accel. in MS and first edition (very obvious in the Shafran recording)
m. 103 - Più mosso q=160 in MS and first edition
m. 151 - rit. poco a poco in MS and first edition
mm. 153-154 - cello is staccato on one bow, as in mm. 151-152
m. 172 - cello has an 8th note B with a staccato mark in the MS
m. 181 - q=184 in MS and first edition
mm. 223-227 - cello The does not have the lower octave in MS
m. 223, beat 2 - cello has a ff in the MS (add treble clef in IMC cello part before beat 2)
m. 227, beat 2 - cello has a fff in the MS
m. 256 - senza rit. in MS and first edition
m. 278, beat 2 - cresc. missing on the cello line of the piano score in the second edition

Here is a list of a few peculiarities in 1971/1982/DSCH I would like my readers to be aware of. I will use the DSCH bar numbering for the first movement (it's different from the other editions). 

Movement 1 

m. 39 - slur on beat 1
m. 64, beats 2 and 3 - half note instead of 2 quarters
m. 102-103 - all downs 
m. 121 - 5th note F instead of G 
m. 167 - split and accented A 
m. 225 - faster tempo - Shafran and Rostropovich do pick up the tempo to a quarter note in the 90s

Movement 2

m. 72/194 - no octave on 2nd note 
m. 73/195 - octave on 1st note (why?) 
mm. 76-87/112-118 - 2 bows per bar instead of 1 
mm. 102-103 - downward arpeggio with a resolution instead of m. 100 repeated
mm. 205 - arco on second beat instead of pizz. 

Movement 4

mm. 65-68 detache 
m. 222 2 quarters instead of 4 8ths 
mm. 223-235 - no trills 
m. 331 - arco instead of pizz.

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