Happy Birthday, Shostakovich-Style

As far as we know Dmitri Shostakovich never recorded his own arrangement of “Good Morning to All” (1893)/”Happy Birthday to You” (1912), but Trio Telepatico’s Martijn Dendievel, who works with Shostakovich’s material on a regular basis, has recorded an impressive—and mildly unsettling—reimagining of the melody in honor of the great Russian composer’s style, arranged for a traditional string quartet.

The finished product sounds less like a joyful celebration of your life and more like a bleak and mournful meditation on mortality. “It is fitting that you blow out a candle to celebrate the passing year,” the melody seems to say, “just as time extinguishes all human hopes.” (Remember to make a wish!)

The great Danish comic pianist Victor Borge pioneered the tradition of reimagining “Happy Birthday to You” in the style of various classical composers in the 1950s, and the idea has, if anything, become only more entertaining over time. Last year we wrote about Nicole Pesce’s clever piano versions of “Happy Birthday to You” in the style of Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart, and Dendievel’s homage to Shostakovich is a good counterpart to them. And as the original “Happy Birthday to You” melody is slated to officially enter the public domain in the European Union next year (and may enter the public domain in the United States even sooner, depending on the outcome of pending litigation), the English language’s most widely-recognized melody will no doubt remain widely-recognized, in any composer’s style, for many years to come.