Cello Concerto No. 2 (Shostakovich)

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Dmitri Shostakovich wrote his Cello Concerto No. 2, Op. 126, in 1966 in the Crimea. Like the first concerto, it was written for Mstislav Rostropovich, who gave the premiere in Moscow under Yevgeny Svetlanov on 25 September 1966 at the composer's 60th birthday concert. The concerto is sometimes listed as in the key of G, but the score gives no such indication.

Along with the Eleventh String Quartet, the Preface to the Complete Works, and the Seven Romances on Texts by Alexander Blok, the Second Cello Concerto signals the beginning of Shostakovich's late style.[1]


Like the Fourth Symphony and Ninth String Quartet before it and the Fifteenth Symphony after it, the Second Cello Concerto gave Shostakovich some compositional problems. The opening Largo was originally conceived as the start of a new symphony. But Shostakovich abandoned that idea, and reworked the movement into its present form. The finale also gave him trouble. He confessed to Rostropovich that he had a finale completely written out but decided it was weak, scrapped it, and replaced it with the one we know today. Shostakovich also allowed Rostropovich to make a few changes to the concerto's cadenzas.


The concerto is scored for solo cello, one piccolo, one flute, two oboes, two clarinets (each doubling B and A), two bassoons, contrabassoon (doubling 3rd bassoon), two horns, timpani, slapstick, wood block, tom-tom, tambourine, snare drum, bass drum, xylophone, two harps (always in unison as indicated on the score), and strings.

The concerto lasts around 35 minutes and has three movements:

  1. Largo
  2. Allegretto
  3. Allegretto


First movement[edit]

The first movement begins with solo cello, later joined by cellos and basses in octaves, interrupted by the cadenza before the opening theme returns. It then builds up with a series of interjections by the xylophone. The exchanges continue until the cello leads the orchestra into a climax, which gives way to a cadenza restating the opening material, punctuated by bass drum thumps. The movement ends softly.

Second movement[edit]

The second movement is based on a theme from an Odessa street song, Bubliki, kupitye, bubliki (Buy My Bread Rolls).[citation needed]

Third movement[edit]

The finale begins with French horn fanfares, followed by a cello cadenza accompanied only by tambourine. The Allegretto then moves through lyric, march, and dance sections. It builds in intensity, rising with an exchange of cello bursts countered by the snare drum, eventually developing into a climax; first restating the fanfare theme, then reverting to a grotesque variation of the Odessa theme. The whip is cracked twice during the climax, then ending the tutti. The cello then revisits the dancelike statement from earlier in the movement. In the coda the cello sustains a D over a percussion motif, concluding with a solo sforzando.

Although the piece has a rather irregular structure, the themes are evenly distributed and played in equal measure.[further explanation needed] This relative equality of mention is drastically different from the aggressive repetition of the DSCH motif in the First Cello Concerto, and this characteristic proves to be an important aspect of Shostakovich's later period.[citation needed]


Recordings of this work include the following:


  1. ^ Ivashkin, Alexander V. (2012). "'Shostakovich. Second Cello Concerto.' In D.D. Shostakovich, New Collected Works Critical Edition, vol. 49. Moscow: DSCH, 2012, 83–124". D.D. Shostakovich, New Collected Works Critical Edition, vol. 49. Moscow: DSCH, 2012, 83–124. 49: 89.