Works Chamber Compositions for Voice and Songs

“From Jewish Folk-Poetry”. Song Cycle

Opus 78 Opus 79a

Opus 79
1948 year

Shostakovich’s Vocal Cycles of the 1940s-1960s.


1955 January 15. Small Hall of the Leningrad Philharmonia. Soloists: N. Dorliak, Z. Dolukhanova, A. Maslennikov and the composer at the piano.

first publication:

1961, "Sovietskii kompozitor" Publishers.


Hand-written piano score and drafts in the Russian State Archive for Literature and Art (Stack 2048, Inv. 1, Items 50 and 51).

Written between August 1 and October 24, 1948.
Traditional words

  1. Lament for a Dead Infant
  2. The Loving Mother and Aunt
  3. Lullaby
  4. Before a Long Separation
  5. Warning
  6. The Abandoned Father
  7. Song of Misery
  8. Winter
  9. The Good Life
  10. Song of the young Girl
  11. Happiness

Duration:  23’

"Sometimes you have the urge to write music when you come across a literary source that moves you. The cycle 'From Jewish Folk-Poetry' probably would not have been written, if I had not come across a book of folk poetry..."

“From Jewish Folk-Poetry” 
Song Cycle for Soprano, Contralto and Tenor
with Piano Accompaniment

    Shostakovich composed the vocal cycle From Jewish Folk Poetry in two stages. The first eight songs were written in August 1948 in Kellomyaki (now the village of Repino). The dates and place they were composed are given in the author’s fair manuscript of the piano score of the cycle: “Lament for a Dead Infant”, “The Loving Mother and Aunt”, “Lullaby”, “Before a Long Separation”, “Warning”, “The Abandoned Father” , “Song of Misery”, and “Winter” .1 When he had completed the last item, Shostakovich wrote in his diary: “The Jewish cycle is finished.” 2 In September, the composer decided to add another three items that contrasted dramaturgically to a certain extent with the previous songs: “The Good Life”, “Song of the Young Girl” and “Happiness”. The songs were notated immediately in the score of the cycle, work on which the composer finished on 1 October, as indicated in the manuscript.
   After he had finished the cycle, Shostakovich was unsure about the wisdom of performing it publicly, evidently recalling the recent events (the February Resolution of the Central Committee of 1948). He wrote about this, in particular, to Kara Karayev (“I have still not shown my Jewish songs”). Shostakovich nevertheless presented the composition on several occasions to a narrow circle of friends and colleagues, which Yevgeni Makarov16 and Isaak Glikman testify to in their reminiscences. Apparently, there were also plans to perform the cycle at the Union of Composers, which follows from an entry in Shostakovich’s diary on 20 December 1948: “At 17:00 Jewish songs at UC.” Since he subsequently crossed out this phrase, the mentioned hearing obviously did not take place.
   Shostakovich began preparing for the cycle’s performance long before its official premiere. In the autumn of 1948, he performed the cycle for Nina Dorliac, which is shown by the repeated mention of her name in his diary: “At 20:00 to Dorliac’s” (23 September), “In the evening Nina Dorliac” (7 October), “At 21:00 to Dorliac’s” (10 October), and so on. According to the singer’s reminiscences, the composer played his new composition for her and Svyatoslav Richter, asking them to perform the songs and also look for a tenor and mezzo-soprano. The rehearsals began, first of the vocal trio comprised of Nina Dorliac, Tamara Yanko and Nikolai Belugin, and then with the participation of Shostakovich.
   The Jewish songs were performed with the same singers on Shostakovich’s birthday, 25 September1950, at which Samuil Marshak and Isaak Glikman were also present. According to the latter’s recollections, the cycle was the highlight of the evening: “Although the vocalists did not have time to polish their parts, the impression was grandiose. Samuil Marshak told me with tears in his eyes that this cycle was ona par with Shakespeare and that he had not been right to complain about the translators, since the music was elating and raised the verses to a supreme height.” 23 After this home concert, Shostakovich did not return to the idea of performing the cycle publicly for a long time and, according to Nina Dorliac, came back to it only in 1954.
  The cycle was first performed at Shostakovich’s recital in the Small Hall of the Leningrad Philharmonic on 15 January 1955 along with his Quintet and Concertino for two pianos. As Isaak Glikman recalls, “Shostakovich, looking very handsome in evening dress, performed the piano part, while Nina Dorliac, Zara Dolukhanova and Alexei Maslennikov sang. The success was immense. The ‘Winter’ trio, ‘Lullaby’, and the concluding trio were all encored three times.”
   In Moscow, the cycle was first heard at Shostakovich’s recital on 20 January 1955, at which his Quintet, Concertino for two pianos, selected romances from Op. 62 and songs from the film Meeting on the Elbe were also performed. On 22 January, the composer told Glikman about the cycle’s success in Moscow. “Even illwishers, according to Shostakovich, flocked backstage and ‘squeezed’ him in their ‘embrace’.”
   During 1955, the cycle of Jewish songs was performed for the first time in several other Soviet cities: on 5 April in Riga (Nina Dorliac, Tamara Yanko, Alexei Maslennikov and the composer), on 6 and 7 April in Minsk, on 9 April in Kaunas and on 21 and 22 October in Gorky, now Nizhny Novgorod (with the same performers).Israel Gusman reported on the Gorky concerts as follows: “The hall of the philharmonic was not entirely full, but the reception was enthusiastic.”
   In the 1950s-1960s, several premieres of the cycle were held abroad.


  • Shostakovich D.D. , Dolukhanova Z.A., Dorliak N.L., Maslennikov A.D. 1956 // RUSSIAN DISC RD CD 15 015, 1994