Student work, or mature masterpiece? Well, neither exactly. True, this was the thesis work for graduation from the St. Petersburg Conservatory, and Shostakovich was a mere 19 years old. True also that this is a remarkably mature work, one that has remained in the active orchestral repertoire since its premiere in 1925. While giving many indications of the greatness to come, and of the musical temperament of the man, this symphony lacks the depth and craftsmanship of the mature composer. This is not to take anything away from this remarkable, energetic work. Few pieces can match the youthful excitement, the impetuous nature, and the unbridled rush to the climax. These elements, along with unity of thematic material and tone, charm and sophistication, naiveté and humor, all make this a worthy masterpiece.
One of the hallmarks of Shostakovich's style is an intensity of tone. This intensity is felt not only in loud passages, but most profoundly in the quite, calm moments. The most bombastic, forceful passage is followed by the most serene, introspective music that has such power in its calmness as to be positively unnerving. We see passages of this nature in this symphony, although on a smaller scale than in his later works. (This symphony, after all, is barely more than 30 minutes, the length of some single movements of his later symphonies.) Another characteristic is the use of woodwinds in their highest registers, producing a penetrating, intense, pungent tone. Unusual for this work is the prominent piano part in the second and fourth movements.
The first movement is downright quirky. It opens with solo trumpet and bassoon, and before the introduction is complete, nearly every member of the orchestra has a solo moment. Introduced by the clarinet, the first theme skips around breathlessly and excitedly. The second theme is a perverted waltz, missing the "um" in the "um-pah-pah" accompaniment. The second movement is a scherzo, and contains very demanding writing for strings, woodwinds, and piano. The trio section is an odd little "Gregorian chant" type melody. The third movement, I believe, is most similar to Shostakovich's later style. The warmly human melody intoned by the oboe over oscillating strings is a beautiful moment. The movement also features solos by the first violin, cello, and trumpet. The finale is very energetic, with two slower interludes. The coda features the brass and percussion, and ends with a bang.