Upon finishing his Third Symphony, Dmitri Shostakovich wrote: “The First of May Symphony was written in the summer of 1929. The symphony is a part of a cycle of symphonic works. [...] The first part of the conceived cycle is the symphonic dedication “To October”, and the second part is “First of May Symphony”. Both “To October" and “First of May Symphony” are not purely programme works. The author wanted to convey the general character of these festive days. “To October” reflects the revolutionary struggle, while “First of May Symphony” shows the peaceful construction ...”
The symphony is a one-movement work, with a chorus at the finale set on the text of Semyon Kirsanov, which was dedicated to the First of May – Labour Day and International Workers’ Solidarity Day.
Symphony No. 3 “First of May” was first performed on 21 January 1930 in Leningrad, by the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra and the Academic Chapel Choir under the baton of Aleksandr Gauk.
Symphony No. 14 was composed 40 years after Symphony No. 3. Written in the last years of his life, it is natural that it dwells on the subject of life and death. Having gone through many personal and creative defeats, triumph and glory, bans and praises, Shostakovich composed a work that is a kind of creative response to Mussorgsky’s cycle “Songs and Dances of Death”. In this connection, the composer says: “I was amazed to see such wisdom and artistic power in treating the “eternal topics” of love, life, death, although I have my own approach to them in the new symphony ...” Shostakovich includes in his symphony 11 poems by Federico Garcia Lorca, Guillaume Apollinaire, Rainer Maria Rilke and Wilhelm Küchelbecker. The parts and scores are for chamber orchestra, soprano and bass. In an interview for Pravda newspaper on April 25, 1969, the author said: “My wish is that the listeners, after listening to the symphony, should leave with the thought: life is wonderful!”