Shostakovich’s Impromptu for Viola and Piano: Paul Neubauer and Wu Han

In 2017, a previously unknown work by Dmitri Shostakovich was discovered in Moscow’s Central Archives among the documents of Vadim Borisovsky (the longtime violist of the Beethoven Quartet). It was a brief, unassuming piece entitled, Impromptu for Viola and Piano, Op. 33. The autograph on the title page was dated, May 2, 1931, and was dedicated to “Alexander Mikhailovich…in memory of our meeting.” It is assumed that this was actually Alexander Ryvkin, the violist of the Glazanov Quartet. (Ryvkin and the Quartet are pictured above in 1940, with Shostakovich at the piano).

About the same time the Impromptu was composed, the 24-year-old Shostakovich wrote the title music for the Soviet dramatic film, Counterplan. Interestingly, this music was given the same opus number of 33. The Impromptu’s haunting and lamenting melody unfolds over a hypnotic piano accompaniment. Its progress is redirected by a particularly wrenching harmonic surprise. Shostakovich’s only other known solo work for the instrument is the Viola Sonata, which was written years later in the final days of the composer’s life.

The violist Paul Neubauer and pianist Wu Han gave the American premiere at Lincoln Center in 2018. This performance was recorded a few months later at Music at Menlo:

The Song of the Counterplan

Shostakovich was both high artist, writing for posterity, and utilitarian craftsman. As a skilled craftsman, he provided music for some of Stalin’s propaganda films, one of which was the 1932 drama, Counterplan, the plot of which centered around an effort to apprehend counter-revolutionary saboteurs in a Soviet factory. The Song of the Counterplan, also designated Op. 33, echoes the distinctly Russian vocabularies of composers such as Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov:


  • Shostakovich: Impromptu for Viola and Piano, Op. 33, Paul Neubauer, Wu Han Amazon
  • Shostakovich: The Song of Counterplan, Op. 33 Riccardo Chailly, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amazon

Featured Image: Shostakovich performing with the Glazanov Quartet in 1940

About Timothy Judd

A native of Upstate New York, Timothy Judd has been a member of the Richmond Symphony violin section since 2001. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music where he earned the degrees Bachelor of Music and Master of Music, studying with world renowned Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa.

The son of public school music educators, Timothy Judd began violin lessons at the age of four through Eastman’s Community Education Division. He was a student of Anastasia Jempelis, one of the earliest champions of the Suzuki method in the United States.

A passionate teacher, Mr. Judd has maintained a private violin studio in the Richmond area since 2002 and has been active coaching chamber music and numerous youth orchestra sectionals.

In his free time, Timothy Judd enjoys working out with Richmond’s popular SEAL Team Physical Training program.

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