Shostakovich, Dmitri

views updated May 09 2018


Composer. Nationality: Russian. Born: Dmitri Dimitriyevich Shostakovich in St. Petersburg, 25 September 1906. Education: Studied under Nikolayev, Steinberg, and Glazunov at the Leningrad Conservatory, 1919–25. Career: Important compositions performed in mid-1920s; 1929—first film score, for The New Babylon; composer of orchestra and stage works. Died: In Moscow, 9 August 1975.

Films as Composer:


Novyi Vavilon (The New Babylon) (Kozintsev and Trauberg)


Odna (Alone) (Kozintsev and Trauberg); Zlaty gori (Golden Hills) (Yutkevich)


Vstrechnyi (Counterplan) (Yutkevich and Ermler)


Yunost Maxima (The Youth of Maxim) (Kozintsev and Trauberg); Podrugi (Girl Friends) (Arnstam)


Vozvrashcheniye Maxima (The Return of Maxim) (Kozintsev and Trauberg); Volochayevskiye dni (The Days of Volotchayev) (G. and S. Vasiliev)


Chelovek s ruzhyom (The Man with a Gun) (Yutkevich)


Velikii grazhdanin (A Great Citizen) (Ermler—2 parts)


Vyborgskaya storona (New Horizons; The Vyborg Side) (Kozintsev and Trauberg)


Zoya (Arnstam)


Molodaya gvardiya (Young Guard) (Gerasimov); Pirogov (Kozintsev)


Michurin (Dovzhenko)


Vstrecha na Elbe (Encounter at the Elbe) (Alexandrov); Padeniye Berlina (The Fall of Berlin) (Chiaureli)


Nezabyvayemyi 1919-god (The Unforgettable Year 1919) (Chiaureli)


Belinsky (Kozintsev)


Das Lied der Ströme (Songs of the Rivers) (Ivens)


Ovod (The Gadfly) (Fainzimmer)


Prostiye lyudi (Simple People) (Kozintsev and Trauberg—produced 1945); Pervye eshelon (The First Echelon) (Kalatazov)


Khovanshchina (Stroyeva)


Pyat dney—pyat nochey (Five Days—Five Nights) (Arnstam)


I sequestrati di Altona (The Condemned of Altona) (De Sica)


Cheryomushki (Song over Moscow) (Rappaport); Hamlet (Kozintsev)


Katerina Izmailova (Shapiro) (+ sc); Oktiabr (October) (Eisenstein) (new version); Sofiya Perovskaya (Arnstam)


Korol Lir (King Lear) (Kozintsev)



The Power of Music, New York, 1968.

Testimony: The Memoirs of Shostakovich, edited by Solomon Volkov, New York, 1979.

Dimitry Shostakovich: About Himself and His Times, edited by L. Grigoryev and Yakov Platek, Moscow, 1981.

Pisma k drugu: Dimitrii Shostakovich [Correspondence. Selections], with commentary by I. D. Glikmana, Moscow, DSCH, 1993.


Seroff, Victor, Dimitry Shostakovich, New York, 1943, revised edition 1970.

Rabinovich, D., Dimitry Shostakovich, Composer, London, 1959.

Kay, Norman, Shostakovich, London, 1971.

Roseberry, Eric, Shostakovich, London, 1981.

Hulma, Derek C., Dimitry Shostakovich: Catalogue, Bibliography, and Discography, Muir of Ord, Scotland, 1982.

Norris, Christopher, Shostakovich, London, 1982.

Martynov, Ivan I., Dimitri Shostakovich: The Man & His Work: Music Book Index, Temecula, 1993.

Meyer, Krzysztof, Dimitri Chostakovitch, Paris, Fayard, 1994.

Wilson, Elizabeth, Shostakovich: A Life Remembered, Princeton, NJ, University Press, 1994.

Shostakovich Studies, edited by David Fanning, New York, Cambridge University Press, 1995.

On SHOSTAKOVICH: articles—

Soviet Film (Moscow), May 1964.

Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), July 1967.

Soviet Film (Moscow), August 1967.

Soviet Film (Moscow), September 1976.

Filmcritica (Rome), May-June 1980.

Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), December 1981.

Cineforum, vol. 31, no. 308, 1991.

DSCH Journal, no. 1, Summer 1994.

Atlantic Monthly, vol. 275, February 1995

Commentary, vol. 99, February, 1995.

Index on Censorship, November-December 1998.

Commentary, vo1. 107, June 1999.

Commentary, vol. 108, October 1999.

Mosaic (Winnipeg), December 1999.

Forbes, 20 March 2000.

* * *

No other major composer devoted more of his career to film music than Dmitri Shostakovich. Altogether he composed scores for 36 films, from The New Babylon in 1929 to King Lear in 1971. (He also started work on a further project, The Envoys of Eternity, but the film was never realised.) Movies provided an invaluable source of income for Shostakovich at those times when he fell into official disfavour, but he also had a genuine love of cinema. One of his earliest jobs was providing piano accompaniment in a movie house; he was sacked for laughing so much at a Hollywood comedy that he forgot to play.

Since he was sensitive to the specific demands of the medium, Shostakovich's film music tends to be written in a more accessible idiom than most of his orchestral or chamber works. But there was never anything careless or slipshod about it. He brought to the task unfailingly scrupulous craftsmanship, and once when asked about the subject quoted a remark of Gogol's about writing for children: "The same as for adults, only better." And in his film scores, no less than in the symphonies and string quartets, can be seen every aspect of his complex and often paradoxical musical personality.

His first score, to accompany Kozintsev and Trauberg's silent New Babylon, is full of the parodistic, nose-thumbing humour that characterises so much of his early work. Scenes of the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War are accompanied, not by the expected martial rhythms, but by oompah circus tunes and pratfalls from the percussion. Irreverent quotation figures strongly, with Offenbach's Orpheus can-can at one point interwoven with the Marseillaise. Shostakovich's approach perfectly matched the film's sardonic expressionism, but the score aroused widespread hostility and many cinemas refused to use it.

Undeterred, he followed similar principles in his first sound film, Alone, also for Kozintsev and Trauberg. Shostakovich established a lifelong rapport with Kozintsev, scoring all his sound films except Don Quixote. The two were in complete agreement on the essential function of film music: not to illustrate the action but to add an entirely new dimension, often running in counterpoint to the visuals or even undercutting them.

Shostakovich's keen dramatic sense, and his mercurial skill in juxtaposing frivolity with despair—often using one to suggest the other—served him particularly well in his film music. To say that much of it is trivial is no condemnation: he valued trivial music, granting it a legitimate role in even his most serious symphonic compositions. Few composers could have been better suited to animated films, and it is a great shame that Mikhail Tsekhanovsky's feature-length "cartoon comic-opera," The Tale of the Priest and His Servant Balda, was never completed (and the footage subsequently lost). Luckily, Shostakovich's exuberant score survives, so vivid that one can almost see the visuals it accompanied.

For the patriotic films of the 1940s and 1950s Shostakovich supplied more conventional material, although an undercurrent of scepticism and personal anguish, as in the 7th and 8th Symphonies, prevented him falling back on bombastic Soviet cliché. His score for Five Days—Five Nights creates a poignant vision of the shattered city of Dresden, with pity for war's victims (of whatever nationality) and hope for the future expressed in a passionate orchestral climax built around a theme from Beethoven's Choral Symphony.

Shostakovich's film music also gave vent to the romantic side of his character—though tempered, once again, by a pervasive sense of irony. For The Unforgettable Year 1919 he devised a single-movement piano concerto that rivals Addinsell's Warsaw Concerto in its lush Rachmaninovian pastiche. The Gadfly, a period swashbuckler set in Austrian-occupied Italy, inspired one of his most tuneful and approachable scores, including a Romance that became something of a popular hit as theme music for the British TV serial Reilly, Ace of Spies.

The sparse textures and sombre tones of Shostakovich's late style colour his scores for Kozintsev's two powerful Shakespeare films, Hamlet and King Lear. Hamlet is full of obsessive, driving rhythms, punctuated by fierce outbursts of percussion, while passages of high skittering woodwind suggest mental disturbance. The music for Lear is even darker, with slow rumbling brass chorales reflecting the inexorable disaster overtaking king and country alike. Both scores do full justice to Kozintsev's epic conception of the plays, and bring Shostakovich's career as a film composer to an impressive conclusion.

—Philip Kemp

Dmitri Dmitrievich Shostakovich

views updated May 21 2018

Dmitri Dmitrievich Shostakovich

Dmitri Dmitrievich Shostakovich (1906-1975) was a Soviet composer who, after Prokofiev's death in 1953, stood quite alone at the summit of Soviet Russian music.

Widely imitated, Dmitri Shostakovich was perhaps the first great composer purposely and consciously to develop a political awareness as an integral part of his art and to accept, even seek, creative guidance from ideological, extramusical sources. His career was troubled and tense at times, yet he was honored more than any other composer of his time, possibly excepting Igor Stravinsky. A natural bent for the stage seemed thwarted by early criticism, and it is chiefly for his 14 symphonies that he is best known.

Shostakovich was born in St. Petersburg and grew up in that city through its war and revolutionary (Petrograd; later Leningrad) periods. He was only 11 at the time of the Revolution, and his family was affested by political troubles: His mother's family was of the petty bourgeois that Lenin abhorred. Dmitri attended the Glasser school; in 1919 he entered the Petrograd Conservatory under the protective wing of the composer Alexander Glazunov. Shostakovich studied both piano and composition, the latter with Maximilian Steinberg. The training was rigorous. Shostakovich's diploma work, the First Symphony (1924-1925), was received with unusual enthusiasm by Western audiences eager for the musical fruits of the Bolshevik experiment, and it is still frequently programmed in the West.

Early Works

Socially and politically aware, Shostakovich worked with the Leningrad workers' schools (rabfak) and began to aim his talents toward the stage. At the same time he concertized and did musical "odd jobs." An opera, The Nose (1928), and a ballet, The Golden Age (1929), both satirical, were successful, although his Second and Third Symphonies were not. He began the opera Lady Macbeth of Mzensk (later Katerina Izmailova) in 1930; it was to be the first of a trilogy on the fate of women in past periods. It contains some of Shostakovich's most effective music both in lyric, solo vocal pieces and in grotesque orchestral interludes. It was staged successfully throughout the world.

Relations with the Party

In 1936 the opera was officially condemned and the composer taken to task in the Communist party press. Stalin was personally and directly involved (he attended a performance), and the overt issues were those of "formalism," crude eroticism, and musical inaccessibility. The incident served as a platform for the party's ideological guidance of the art; the vocabulary of political control of music was begun, and Shostakovich abandoned the stage for years. He withdrew his Fourth Symphony (it was already in rehearsal) and wrote the Fifth Symphony as an apology and expression of gratitude for the instruction he had received. This work, too, became popular in the West.

With other Soviet artists, Shostakovich benefited from the relaxation of controls which the party deemed necessary during the war years. During this relatively free period he wrote his Sixth through Ninth Symphonies. The Seventh, called the Leningrad Symphony, was begun in that besieged city and finished in an evacuation center. It was received with intense emotion throughout the world. But after the war, and until Stalin's death in 1953, life was a nightmare for intellectuals and artists, a fact now conceded in the Soviet Union. Shostakovich was vigorously attacked not only for a number of his works but also for matters of attitude, origin, and taste. In company with other criticized composers, he apologized in the pattern established in the political trials of the mid-1930s and thanked the party for its concern.

After Stalin died, a thaw began, which remained a peripatetic, unpredictable feature of Soviet intellectual life for several decades following. Shostakovich's Tenth Symphony was first heard late in 1953. Although it has remained a controversial item, it is still occasionally played. The Eleventh (1957) and Twelfth (1961) Symphonies, both programmatic and based on revolutionary-political themes, were ideologically proper but not musically long-lived.

Late Works

In 1963 Shostakovich rewrote Lady Macbeth of Mzensk as Katerina Izmailova, and the opera was quite successful. A comparison of the two versions reveals curiously little change. In the later version Shostakovich was a more painstaking craftsman and editor. He removed certain blatantly erotic portions. In general, he abandoned the complexities of characterization; Katerina, in particular, is no longer the complicated creature that Lady Macbeth was. Also in 1963 Shostakovich resumed teaching—he had lost his teaching posts in 1948.

Shostakovich's works not only grace the symphonic repertoire, but those of chamber and piano music as well. He wrote 12 String Quartets, and his sets of Preludes and Fugues for piano are contemporary classics. His two Concertos for violin and orchestra and his Concerto for cello and orchestra have proved hardy. The Cello Concerto is an outstanding work on which the composer sought the collaboration of Mstislav Rostropovich, the cellist for whom it was written. Shostakovich's Thirteenth Symphony was a symphonic setting of Yevgeny Yevtushenko's poetry, including his protest against Soviet anti-Semitism, Babi Yar. The work was, in effect, banned. The Fourteenth Symphony is also a setting of poetic texts— poems of death by various authors, Russian and Western. It is an unusual expression in a milieu which values optimism.

In 1968 at the Fourth Congress of Soviet Composers, Shostakovich reaffirmed his belief that "Soviet music is a weapon in the international ideological battle…. Soviet artists cannot remain indifferent observers in the struggle." It was statements like this which led most to regard Shostakovich as an orthodox Communist, content to toe the party line. Not until after his death when his memoirs were published in the West, did the general public realize how perilous Shostakovich's situation was for most of his career. He was the embodiment of the enlightened Russian intellectual in his work and way of life: rational, disciplined, and self-critical. His constitution was not strong and he often was force to spend time in sanatoriums. Although he was diagnosed with an incurable myelitis in 1959, his death in 1975 came as the result of his third heart attack. Shostakovich's music unites powerful emotional expression with formal mastery, tragedy and humour, pugnacious vitality and resignation. A wide range of stylistic influences, from Bach to revolutionary song, from Russian folk music to 20th-century atonality, combine and merge in a synthesis forged by his genius.

Further Reading

Dmitri Shostakovich: About Himself and His Times (1981), compiled by L. Grigoriyov and I. Platek, discusses his life and music in his own words. Shostakovich is the subject of biographies by Seroff (1943), Martynov (1947), and Rabinovich (1959). Seroff is out of date, and Martynov and Rabinovich emphasize a Soviet view not altogether useful to the Western reader. Any book on contemporary music will devote considerable space to Shostakovich, as does William Austin, Music in the Twentieth Century (1966). Chapters on Shostakovich are found in Gerald Abraham, Eight Soviet Composers (1943), and Stanley D. Krebs, Soviet Music and Musicians (1970). □

Shostakovich, Dmitri Dmitrievich

views updated Jun 11 2018


(19061975), highly controversial composer, at the same time outstanding musical representative of the Soviet Union and tragic figure in tension between acceptance and rejection of his music by the Soviet regime.

Dmitry Shostakovich's acculturation and his musical training at the Petrograd, then Leningrad, conservatory took place in the new Soviet state. Overnight Shostakovich rose to fame with a rousing performance of his first symphony in 1926. He was seen as a beacon of hope in Soviet music. The young composer succeeded in fulfilling the high-flying expectations in the following years. Over-whelming applause was given to the opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District (1934). This coarsely realistic work based on a novel by Nikolay Leskov was celebrated as a first milestone in the development of a genuine Soviet musical theatre. In 1936, however, a devastating review based on ideological criteria was published in Pravda. Shostakovich was caughtafter Josef Stalin had watched the opera with greatest displeasurein the trap of the aggressive, intrigue-dominated cultural policy. The composer was branded in public as aesthetizing formalist and his work as extreme left abnormality. These typical expressions of Soviet politico-cultural discourse meant that his music was too dissonant and complicated for Party taste. Ensuing condemnations not only by the officialdom but even by previously enthusiastic fellow composers greatly worried Shostakovich, as did the arrest and execution of his friend and patron Soviet Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky in the course of the Great Terror in 1937. Nonetheless, during the same year he managed to rehabilitate himself with his fifth symphony. In fact, the work signals a clear stylistic turn to a more moderate musical language, but to attribute this exclusively to political pressure seems misguided. Previous works indicate a break with aesthetic radicalism; moreover, Shostakovich practiced all his life through diverse styles of composition. He even wrote operetta-like light music, which cannot be dismissed simply as reluctantly performed commissioned work. From the end of the 1930s, however, Shostakovich successfully developed forms of musical expression that realized his aesthetical ideas and at the same time met the demands of Socialist Realism for comprehensibility and popular appeal. His individuality and heterogeneity, his inclination toward the grotesque and sarcasm, and the profound seriousness and expressiveness of his works left the audience fascinated, but again and again provoked conflicts with the official state organs. In spite of vehement accusations in 1948, he soon was integrated again into the Soviet music elite, but only the Thaw following Stalin's death made general conditions more favorable for the composer and his oeuvre. During his last two decades he could act as a respected personality of Soviet cultural life.

Shostakovich and his work have been highly disputed and exposed to ideologically charged interpretations. Shostakovich was seen as a faithful communist, an opportunistic conformist, a secret dissident, or an oppressed genius. In any case, he was a Soviet citizen, who, like many others, stood by his home country but also got in trouble with its officials. Regardless of all political factors, he was one of the outstanding composers of the Soviet Union and perhaps the last great symphonist of music history.

See also: cultural revolution; music; purges, the great; thaw, the


Bartlett, Rosamund. (2000). Shostakovich in Context. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Fanning, David, ed. (1998). Shostakovich Studies. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Fay, Laurel E. (2000). Shostakovich: A Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ho, Allan B. (2000). Shostakovich Reconsidered. London: Toccata Press.

Matthias Stadelmann

Shostakovich, Dmitri

views updated May 11 2018

Shostakovich, Dmitri

Shostakovich, Dmitri, Russian pianist, son of Maxim Shostakovich and grandson of Dmitri (Dmi-trievich) Shostakovich; b. Moscow, Aug. 9, 1961. He studied piano with Elena Khoven. He made his debut as a soloist with the State Academic Sym. Orch. in 1978 in Moscow; also toured Italy in 1979. In April 1981 he was soloist with the U.S.S.R. State Radio Orch. during its tour of West Germany, conducted by his father, who then decided not to return to Russia; both applied for resident visas for the U.S., which were granted. In Sept. 1981 he joined his father and Mstislav Rostropovich in a series of concerts with the National Sym. Orch. of Washington, D.C., in celebration of the 75th anniversary of the birth of his grandfather, hi subsequent years he also appeared with other U. S. and European orchs.

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

Shostakovich, Dmitri Dmitrievich

views updated May 11 2018

Shostakovich, Dmitri Dmitrievich (1906–75) Russian composer. Shostakovich's use of contemporary western musical developments in his compositions did not conform with Soviet socialist realism. His opera The Lady Macbeth of the Mtsenk District (1934) received international acclaim but was later criticized in Pravda. Other works were deliberately more conventional. He composed 15 symphonies, 13 string quartets, ballets, concertos, piano music, film music, and vocal works.