Dmitri Shostakovich

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About Dmitri Shostakovich

Something of a Russian wunderkind, Shostakovich in maturity was both an establishment figure and an artist who effectively became the conscience of Soviet music. Born to musical parents in 1906, he showed talent from an early age, impressing the director of the Petrograd Conservatory, Glazunov, to be admitted at age 13. In the fraught years immediately after the Revolution, Shostakovich supplemented his family’s income by working as a pianist accompanying silent films; the vivid vignettes and jump cuts of that medium are reflected in his early works, such as Symphony No. 1 (1925), which he completed at 19 and was quickly taken up by orchestras around the world. Shostakovich’s success continued until the government issued a denunciation in 1936, which greeted his previously successful opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk (1932). The implicit threat this carried—at a time when thousands were being arrested and executed without trial—changed Shostakovich. His Symphony No. 5 (1937) and subsequent works express a fury and despair that he could not voice in public, although these works were often leavened with moments of sarcasm, irony, and cheeky allusions to his own private life. Occasionally he directly challenged Soviet authorities, as in Symphony No. 13, “Babi Yar" (1962), which sets poems by Yevtushenko that commemorate the Jews massacred in the eponymous Ukrainian ravine and attack the Soviet system for its cynical abuse of its citizens. Nonetheless, when Shostakovich died in 1975, he was honored as a “great Soviet artist.”

St. Petersburg, Russia
September 25, 1906

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