The Quintet for piano and strings in G minor, Op. 57, by Dmitry Shostakovich, was composed in 1940. The work was written in response to an enthusiastic request from the members of the Beethoven String Quartet, one of the former Soviet bloc's most respected chamber ensembles of the period. The group had recently programmed Shostakovich's first string quartet, and had been so impressed by the piece that the players decided unanimously to seek a new piece from the composer, which would also involve a pianist.
The new work took shape quickly, and Shostakovich completed it on September 14, 1940. Again at the request of the four quartet members, he took the difficult piano part himself at the first performance, given in November 1940 at the Moscow Conservatory. It proved an immediate popular and critical success, and many commentators agreed that the quintet was among Shostakovich's finest creations up until that point. Even the normally frosty Moscow newspapers were unstinting in their praises, with the Literaturnaya Gazeta describing the work in glowing terms as "a portrait of our age...the rich-toned, perfect voice of the present." During 1941, Shostakovich's Piano Quintet received the inaugural Stalin Prize. In addition to the honor and artistic prestige that accompanied the award, the composer also received the coveted cash prize of 100,000 rubles, all of which Shostakovich handed over immediately for the benefit of impoverished Muscovites.
The quintet is made (somewhat unusually for this chamber genre) of five movements, each of which is in readily accessible populist style, and characterized by clearly etched and powerful melodies. The most substantial section, a fugue, follows a prelude in which the generally public mood of the work begins to be established. After the fugal second movement, there follows a brief, pithy scherzo, and an intermezzo which takes the place of the conventional slow movement, before the work ends with a brilliant finale. Virtuoso scoring and a particularly testing and soloistic piano part continue to make the piano quintet Shostakovich's most frequently played chamber work, perhaps overtaken in popularity only by his String Quartet No. 8.