Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) ranks among the most important Russian composers of the 20th century. His life and creative output were inseparable from the censorially volatile ebb and flow of his native country's politics.
Although a child prodigy on the piano, someone of Shostakovich's permeable sensibilities was better suited to composition. He began producing noteworthy work while still in his teens; his Symphony no 1, which was composed as his graduation piece from Petrograd Conservatory, facilitated his breakthrough as the 'first artistic child of the Revolution.' It was an unexpected success, reaching performance halls in Europe and even far-flung America, and led to the government commission for his Symphony no 2.
1936, the year of the 'Great Terror' (during which many of his friends and family were imprisoned or killed), marked Shostakovich's first fall from grace with Stalin's communist Russia. Beginning with the attack on his opera "Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk", which premiered that year, the composer's career and reputation suffered. He withdrew the Symphony no 4 and entered a conservative phase in his composing, making a full political and artistic recovery with the premiere of the Symphony no 5 the following year.
World War II saw Shostakovich's fame increase despite the concomitant turmoil. Denied entry into the Red Army three times for poor eyesight, the composer appeared on the cover of TIME magazine and debuted the widely acclaimed Symphony no 7 "Leningrad" on American radio (Leningrad was then under seige and thus inhospitable for a premiere) with Toscanini conducting the NBC Symphony Orchestra for millions of listeners.
Shostakovich again fell under censure following the war, as he was denounced via the Zhdanov decree in 1948. He spent the next few years composing rehabilitative works and film music, concealing his 'serious' output. Stalin's death in 1953 marked the easing of governmental restrictions placed upon him and heralded the beginning of his official rehabilitation with the premieres of many of the aforementioned hidden works.
Influenced by Stravinsky and Mahler, Bach and Berg, Shostakovich's work is predominantly late Romantic in style, with some tone row experimentation in the higher opus numbers. He is best known for his 15 Symphonies (especially nos 1, 5, 9 and 10) and his 15 String Quartets.
This biography was most recently edited by...