Shostakovich, Dmitry (Dmitryevich)

views updated May 17 2018

Shostakovich, Dmitry (Dmitryevich) (b St Petersburg, 1906; d Moscow, 1975). Russ. composer and pianist. Had pf. lessons from his mother at age 9 and later at Glasser Sch. of Mus. 1916–18. Entered Petrograd Cons. 1919, encouraged and helped by Glazunov, and studied pf. with Nikolayev and comp. with M. Steinberg. Completed pf. course in 4 years and made several concert appearances. Gained ‘honourable mention’ in Int. Chopin Comp., Warsaw, 1927. His diploma work, the 1st Sym., was perf. in Leningrad and Moscow in 1926 and earned the composer world fame at the age of 20. As a convinced believer in Russ. socialism, he sought ways in which his mus. could serve the state. Prompted by the cond. Malko, he wrote for the stage and films, in the next decade producing his opera The Nose, the ballets The Age of Gold and The Bolt, and several cinema scores. These works, particularly The Nose, reflect the then-permitted influence of Western avant-garde music, but The Nose was regarded as a sign of ‘bourgeois decadence’ and withdrawn from the stage. His opera The Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District and ballet Bright Stream had both been successfully prod. when on 28 Jan. 1936 the opera was savagely attacked in the official Soviet newspaper Pravda for ‘leftist distortion’, ‘petty-bourgeois sensationalism’, and ‘formalism’ in an article headed ‘Chaos instead of Music’ (Sumbur vmesto muzyki). This article is said to have been written (or at any rate inspired) by Stalin himself, who had hated the opera. Another article attacking the ballet Bright Stream appeared in Pravda 10 days later. It almost seemed that Shostakovich's career was at an end, and he withdrew his 4th Sym. after initial rehearsals. His response was his 5th Sym. (1937), described by an unidentified commentator as ‘A Soviet artist's practical creative reply to just criticism’, a work which became and has remained one of his most popular. Significantly he avoided the stage for many years and between 1938 and 1953 wrote 5 more syms. and 4 str. qts. He taught comp. at Leningrad Cons. 1937–41 and was a fire-fighter during Ger. siege of Leningrad in 1941. From these experiences came his 7th Sym. (the Leningrad), which had a tremendous wartime success not only in USSR but in Eng. and USA, although it is now suggested that the barbaric march in the 1st movt. depicts Stalinist brutality rather than the Ger. army's advance. His pf. quintet (1940) won the Stalin Prize. In 1943 he settled in Moscow, becoming prof. of comp. at the Cons. In 1948, with other leading Russ. composers, he was again in disgrace following the notorious Zhdanov decree against ‘formalism’ and ‘anti-people art’. He was relieved of his Moscow professorship and did not resume the post until 1960. He made an official recantation, but his published works from 1948 to 1953 (when Stalin died) were chiefly film music and patriotic cantatas, exceptions being the 24 Preludes and Fugues for pf. The first Vn. Conc. (1947–8, rev. 1955), the 4th str. qt., and the song-cycle From Jewish Folk Poetry were all withheld from performance until after Stalin's death, and the arrival, under Khruschev, of a relatively and temporarily more liberal political and cultural climate.

In 1953 the 10th Sym. appeared, a masterpiece which is one of several highly personal works using the motif DSCH (based on the initials of his name in Ger. notation). This sym. inaugurates the great final period of his career, 22 years in which he comp. some of his finest mus.—the 10th to 15th Syms., the 6th to 15th str. qts., 2 vc. concs., The Execution of Stepan Razin to a text by the poet Yevtushenko, the 2nd vn. conc., the vn. and va. sonatas, and the Suite on Verses of Michelangelo. He visited England in 1958 and 1974, becoming a close friend and admirer of Britten. He had heart attacks in 1969 and 1971 and was in fragile health thereafter.

Many consider that Shostakovich is the greatest 20th-cent. composer. In his 15 syms., 15 qts., and in other works he demonstrated mastery of the largest and most challenging forms with mus. of great emotional power and technical invention. Nearly all the significant features of his mus. are present in the 1st Sym.: sectionalized structures, with themes built up into a mosaic, and frequent use of solo instr. in their highest and lowest registers. All his works are marked by emotional extremes—tragic intensity, grotesque and bizarre wit, humour, parody, and savage sarcasm (the scherzo of the 10th Sym. is said to be a portrait of Stalin). He frequently uses quotation, of himself and others. After his illness his mus. seemed preoccupied with death, and the great final works have an extraordinary and alarming power and tension. His admiration for, and knowledge of, Mahler is evident in his symphonic works, and he follows the Mahlerian precedent of juxtaposing the banal and the sublime. His student days in the decade following the Revolution were a time of comparative liberalism in Leningrad and it is evident from his 1st Sym. that he had studied the Western avant-garde of the time (Berg, Hindemith, and Krenek). The influence of Berg's Wozzeck, perf. in Leningrad, 1927, may be discerned in the Lady Macbeth opera. It is apparent now that Shostakovich soon became disillusioned with the Soviet system and that the intensifying darkness and bitterness of his work reflect a spiritual misery connected with external events (his attributed memoirs, published in the West in 1979, give convincing proof of his attitude). The tensions within him produced a succession of masterpieces. Prin. works:OPERAS: The Nose (Nos), Op.15 (1927–8); Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District (Ledi Makbet Mtsenskovo uyezda), Op.29 (1930–2) rev. 1955–63 as Katerina Izmaylova, Op.29/114; Moskva, Cheryomushki, musical comedy (ov. and 39 nos.), Op.105 (1958); The Gamblers (Igroki), Op.63 unfinished (1941; concert perf. Leningrad 1978; completion by K. Meyer perf. Wuppertal 1983).BALLETS: The Age of Gold (Zolotoy vek), Op.22 (1927–30); The Bolt (Bolt), Op.27 (1930–1); Bright Stream (Svetytoly ruchey), Op.39 (1934–5); The Dreamers, mus. drawn chiefly from The Age of Gold and The Bolt, with some new material (1975).SYMS.: No.1 in F minor, Op.10 (1924–5), f.p. Leningrad, cond. Malko, 1926; No.2 in B major (October) with ch. (text by A. Bezymensky), Op.14 (1927), f.p. Leningrad, cond. Malko, 1927; No.3 in E♭ (First of May) with ch. (text by S. Kirsanov), Op.20 (1929), f.p. Leningrad, cond. A. Gauk, 1930; No.4 in C minor, Op.43 (1935–6) (withdrawn during rehearsal), f.p. Moscow, cond. Kondrashin, 1961; No.5 in D minor (A Soviet Artist's Practical Creative Reply to Just Criticism), Op.47 (1937), f.p. Leningrad, cond. Mravinsky, 1937; No.6 in B minor, Op.54 (1939), f.p. Leningrad, cond. Mravinsky, 1939; No.7 in C major (Leningrad), Op.60 (1941), f.p. Kuibyshev, cond. S. Samosud, 1942; No.8 in C minor, Op.65 (1943), f.p. Moscow, cond. Mravinsky, 1943; No.9 in E♭, Op.70 (1945), f.p. Leningrad, cond. Mravinsky, 1945; No.10 in E minor, Op.93 (1953), f.p. Leningrad, cond. Mravinsky, 1953; No.11 in G minor (The Year 1905), Op.103 (1957), f.p. Moscow, cond. N. Rachlin, 1957; No.12 in D minor (1917), Op.112 (1961), f.p. Moscow, cond. Kondrashin, 1961; No.13 in B♭ minor (Babi-Yar), Op.113, bass, bass ch., orch. (poems by Y. Yevtushenko) (1962), f.p. Moscow, V. Gromadsky (bass), cond. Kondrashin, 1962; No.14, sop., bass, str., perc., Op.135 (11 poems by Lorca, Apollinaire, Küchelbecker, and Rilke) (1969), f.p. Leningrad, G. Vishnevskaya (sop.), M. Reshetin (bass), cond. Barshay, 1969; No.15 in A major, Op.141 (1971), f.p. Moscow, cond. M. Shostakovich, 1972.CONCS.: pf.: No.1 in C minor, pf., tpt., str., Op.35 (1933), No.2 in F, Op.102 (1957); vn.: No.1 in A minor, Op.77 (1947–8, f.p. 1955 and orig. pubd. as Op.99), No.2 in C♯ minor, Op.129 (1967); vc.: No.1 in E♭, Op.107 (1959), No.2 in G, Op.126 (1966).ORCH. (except for syms. and concs., listed above): Scherzo in F♯ minor, Op.1 (1919); Theme with Variations, Op.3 (1921–2); Scherzo in E♭, Op.7 (1924); Prelude and Scherzo, str. octet or str. orch., Op.11 (1924–5); Tahiti Trot (Tea for Two), Op.16 (1928); 2 Scarlatti Pieces, transcr. for wind, Op.17 (1928); Suite, Age of Gold, Op.22a (1929–32); Suite, The Bolt (Ballet Suite No.5), Op.27a (1931); Suite, Golden Mountains, Op.30a (1931); Hamlet, suite of 13 movts., small orch., Op.32a (1932); Suite for Jazz Orch., No.1 (1934), No.2 (1938); 5 Fragments, small orch., Op.42 (1935); Fragments from Maxim Film-Trilogy (assembled by L. Atovmyan), Op.50a (1938, 1961); Suite from Pirogov (assisted by Atovmyan), Op.76a (1947); Suite from Young Guards (assisted by Atovmyan), Op.75a (1947–8, 1951); Suite from Meeting on the Elbe, Op.80a (c.1948); Ballet Suite No.1 (1949), No.2 (1951), No.3 (1952), No.4 (1953); Fragments from The Memorable Year 1919 (assisted by Atovmyan), Op.89a (1951, ?1955); Festival Overture, Op.96 (1954); Fragments from The Gadfly (assisted by Atovmyan), Op.97a (1955); Suite in 5 scenes from Katerina Izmaylova (1956); Novorossiysk Chimes (1960); Suite from 5 Days, 5 Nights (assisted by Atovmyan), Op.111a (1961); Overture on Russian and Kirghiz Folk Themes, Op.115 (1963); Suite from Hamlet (film mus.) (assisted by Atovmyan), Op.116a (1964); Chamber Symphony (arr. of 8th Str. Qt. for str. by Barshay); Symphony for Strings (arr. of 10th Str. Qt.); Funeral-Triumphal Prelude, Op.130 (1967); October, sym.-poem, Op.131 (1967).CHORUS & ORCH. (excl. syms.): Poem of the Motherland, cantata, Op.74, mez., ten., 2 bar., bass soloists (1947); The Song of the Forests, oratorio, Op.81, ten., bass soloists, children's ch. (1949); The Sun Shines over our Motherland, cantata, Op.90, with children's ch. (1952); Fragments from the 1st Echelon, Op.99a (1956); The Execution of Stepan Razin (Kazn’ Stepana Razina), cantata, Op.119, bass soloist (1964).UNACC. CHORUS: 10 Poems on Texts by Revolutionary Poets, SATB, Op.88 (1951); 2 Russian Folksong Adaptations, SATB, Op.104 (1957); Loyalty, 8 ballads for male ch., Op.136 (1970).SOLO VOICE(S) & ORCH.: 2 Fables of Krylov, Op.4, mez. (also with pf., 1922); Suite, The Nose, Op.15a, ten., bar. (1927–8); 6 Romances on Words by Japanese Poets, Op.21, ten. (1928–32); 8 English and American Folksongs, low v. (1944); From Jewish Folk-Poetry, Op.79, sop., cont., ten. (1963, with pf. 1948); 7 Romances on Poems of Alexander Blok, Op.127, suite, sop., pf. trio (1967); 6 Romances on Verses of English Poets, Op.140, bass (1971, with pf., Op.62, 1942); 6 Poems of Marina Tsvetayeva, Op.143a, cont. (1973, with pf., Op.143, 1973); Suite on Verses of Michelangelo Buonarroti, Op.145a, bass (1974, with pf., Op.145, 1974).VOICE & PIANO: 2 Fables of Krilov, Op.4, mez. (1922); 4 Romances on Verses of Pushkin, Op.46, bass (1936); 6 Romances on Verses of English Poets, Op.62, bass (1942); Vow of the People's Commissar, bass, ch. (1942); 2 Songs (texts by Svetlov), Op.72 (1945); Homesickness (1948, arr. by composer 1956); From Jewish Folk-Poetry, Op.79, sop., cont., ten. (1948); 2 Romances on Verses by Lermontov, Op.84, male v. (1950); 4 Songs to words by Dolmatovsky, Op.86 (1951); 4 Monologues on Verses of Pushkin, Op.91, bass (1952); 5 Romances (Songs of our Days), Op.98, bass (1954); 6 Spanish Songs, Op.100, sop. (1956); Satires (Pictures of the Past), 5 Romances, Op.109, sop. (1960); 5 Romances on texts from Krokodil Magazine, Op.121, bass (1965); Preface to the Complete Collection of my Works, and Brief Reflections à propos this Preface, Op.123, bass (1966); Spring, Spring ( Pushkin), Op.128, bass (1967); 6 Poems of Marina Tsvetayeva, Op.143, cont. (1973); Suite on Verses of Michelangelo Buonarroti, Op.145, bass (1974); 4 Verses of Capitan Lebyadkin, Op.146, bass (texts by Dostoyevsky) (1974).CHAMBER MUSIC: str. qts.: No.1 in C, Op.49 (1938), No.2 in A, Op.68 (1944), No.3 in F, Op.73 (1946), No.4 in D, Op.83 (1949. also arr. for 2 pf. by composer), No.5 in B♭, Op.92 (1953), No.6 in G, Op.101 (1956), No.7 in F♯ minor, Op.108 (1960), No.8 in C minor, Op.110 (1960, arr. for str. orch. by Barshay as Chamber Symphony), No.9 in E♭, Op.117 (1964), No.10 in A♭, Op.118 (1964, arr. for str. orch. by Barshay as Symphony for Strings), No.11 in F minor, Op.122 (1966), No.12 in D♭, Op.133 (1968), No.13 in B♭ minor, Op.138 (1970), No.14 in F♯ major, Op.142 (1972–3), No.15 in E♭ minor, Op.144 (1974); pf. trio No.1, Op.8 (1923), No.2 in E minor, Op.67 (1944); 2 Pieces (Prelude and Scherzo) for str. octet, Op.11 (1924–5); pf. quintet in G minor, Op.57 (1940).PIANO: sonatas: No.1, Op.12 (1926), No.2 in B minor, Op.61 (1942); 8 Preludes, Op.2 (1919–20); 5 Preludes (1920–1); 3 Fantastic Dances, Op.5 (1922); 10 Aphorisms, Op.13 (1927); Polka (Age of Gold) (1935, arr. for 4 hands 1962); 24 Preludes, Op.34 (1932–3) (No.14, orch. Stokowski); Children's Notebook, Op.69 (1944–5); 24 Preludes and Fugues, Op.87 (1950–1); 7 Dances of the Dolls (1952–62).2 PIANOS: Suite in F♯ minor, Op.6 (1922); Polka (Age of Gold) (1962); Prelude and Fugue No.15 from Op.87 (?1963); Concertino, Op.94 (1953); Tarantella from The Gadfly (?1963).INCIDENTAL MUSIC FOR PLAYS: The Flea (Klop) ( Mayakovsky), Op.19 (1929); Rule, Britannia! ( Pyotrovsky), Op.28 (1931); Conditionally Killed, Op.31 (1931); Hamlet ( Shakespeare), Op.32 (1931–2); The Human Comedy ( Sukotkin, after Balzac), Op.37 (1933–4); Salute to Spain ( Apinogenov), Op.44 (1936); King Lear (Shakespeare), Op.58a (1940); Native Country, Op.63 (1942); Russian River, Op.66 (1944); Victorious Spring, Op.72 (1945).FILM MUSIC: New Babylon, Op.18 (1928, score missing: suite reconstructed by Rozhdestvensky, 1976); Alone, Op.26 (1930–1); Golden Mountains, Op.30 (1931, lost, new version 1936); Encounter, Op.33 (1932); Love and Hate, Op.38 (1934); Maxim's Youth (The Bolshevik), Op.41 (i) (1934–5); Girl Companions, Op.41 (ii) (1934–5); The Tale of the Priest and his worker Balda, Op.36 (1936, not released); Maxim's Return, Op.45 (1936–7); Volochayev Days, Op.48 (1936–7); Vyborg District, Op.50 (1938); Friends, Op.51 (1938); The Great Citizen (Part I), Op.52 (1938); Man at Arms, Op.53 (1938); The Great Citizen (Part II), Op.55 (1939); Zoya, Op.64 (1944); Simple Folk, Op.71 (1945); Pirogov, Op.76 (1947); Young Guards, Op.75 (1947–8); Michurin, Op.78 (1948); Meeting on the Elbe, Op.80 (1948); The Fall of Berlin, Op.82 (1949); Belinsky, Op.85 (1950); The Memorable Year 1919, Op.89 (1951); Song of a Great River, Op.95 (1954); The Gadfly, Op.97 (1955); The 1st Echelon, Op.99 (1956); Five Days—Five Nights, Op.111 (1960); Cheryomushki (1962); Hamlet, Op.116 (Shakespeare, trans. Pasternak, 1963–4); A Year Like a Life, Op.120 (1965); Sofya Perovoskaya, Op.132 (1967); King Lear, Op.137 (1970).ARRS. OF OTHER COMPOSERS: Scarlatti: 2 Scarlatti Pieces for wind orch., Op.17 (1928); Mussorgsky: Boris Godunov, re-orch., Op.58 (1939–40, f.p. 1959); Khovanshchina, ed. and orch., Op.106, (1959, for film version, f. stage p. 1960); Songs and Dances of Death (orch. 1962); Davidenko (1899–1934): 2 Choruses, arr. for ch. and orch., Op.124 (1962); Schumann: vc. conc., re-orch. (1963); Youmans: Tea for Two, orch. as Tahiti Trot, Op.16 (1928).

Shostakovich, Dmitry

views updated May 14 2018

Dmitry Shostakovich

Composer, pianist

Opera Broke New Ground

Returned to Symphonic Music

Composed Works with Jewish Themes

Selected compositions

Selected discography


Regarded as one of the greatest composers of his time, Dmitry Shostakovich is also the quintessential twentieth-century artist, whose life was a constant struggle to safeguard his artistic integrity in an era of violence, political oppression, and despair. Shostakovich lived his entire professional life in the Soviet Union, a country where all artists, including musicians, were expected to create accessible works glorifying the state. Since a symphony, as opposed to a novel, cannot have a clearly defined message, politicians liked to criticize music they deemed “difficult,” “sophisticated,” and alienated from the life of ordinary people. The charge of “formalism” implied that a particular composition, being just a formal construction, failed to celebrate the glory of the socialist state. Another favorite accusation was “pessimism,” a feeling that questioned the officially imposed image of a nation living in permanent bliss.

Despite the fact that Shostakovich constantly made compromises with the regime, even composing purely propagandistic works, it is to his credit that he managed to create an immensely original and influential oeuvre, which includes operas, 15 symphonies, 15 string quartets, concertos, sonatas, and many works in other genres. Writing in a traditional, tonal idiom, Shostakovich developed a highly personal style. The distinctive features of his music include archetypal power, harmonic inventiveness, melodic expressiveness, and a descriptive richness in which the listener may discern irony, sarcasm, despair, and grotesque humor.

Born in St. Petersburg (renamed Petrograd after the 1917 Revolution, later becoming Leningrad) in 1906, Shostakovich studied piano and composition at the Petrograd Conservatory, graduating in 1925. His graduation composition was the extraordinary Symphony No. 1. Performed by the Leningrad Philharmonic in 1926, this popular work effectively launched the young musician’s career as a composer. His Symphony No. 2, written in 1927, to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Revolution, had a lukewarm reception, and Shostakovich turned to a new project, an opera entitled The Nose.

Opera Broke New Ground

Based on Nikolai Gogol’s satirical masterpiece, which chronicles the woes of a government official whose nose has disappeared, Shostakovich’s opera broke new ground, revealing the composer’s extraordinary ability to create a grotesquely surreal atmosphere by an imaginative use of the orchestra’s sonic potential. While The Nose had a successful premiere in Leningrad in 1930, the work unfortunately attracted the attention of the government. What the audience welcomed as a highly original musical satire, critics rejected as an example of “bourgeois” art, a label that would brand any artist as an enemy of the Soviet state. Shostakovich attempted to convince the government of

For the Record…

Born Dmitry Dmitriyevich Shostakovich on September 12, 1906, in St. Petersburg, Russia; died on August 9, 1975, in Moscow, U.S.S.R; married Nina Varzar, 1932 (died, 1954); married Margarita Kaynova, 1956; divorced, 1959; married Irina Antonovna Supinskaya, 1962; children: Galina, Maxim. Education: Degree in piano and composition, Petrograd Conservatory, 1925; pursued graduate studies, 1925-30.

Wrote first symphony at the age of 18; opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District brought professional acclaim and official criticism; named full professor at Leningrad Conservatory, 1939; composed legendary “Leningrad” Symphony, 1941-42; appointed professor at Moscow Conservatory, 1943; visited the U.S., 1949; visited England, 1958; became First Secretary of the Composers Union of the Soviet Union, 1960.

Awards: Order of Lenin, 1946, 1956, 1966; People’s Artist of the U.S.S.R., 1954; International Sibelius Prize, 1958; Hero of Socialist Labor, 1966; Order of the October Revolution, 1971.

his loyalty by writing his Symphony No. 3, a celebration of international workers’solidarity, but officials remained skeptical.

Instead of working harder to please the authorities, however, Shostakovich composed an opera that almost destroyed his career. Based on a short story by the Nikolai Leskov, Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District sets to music a sordid story of adultery and murder. Produced in Leningrad in 1934, Lady Macbeth was praised by connoisseurs as an exceptional dramatic accomplishment. Audiences were particularly impressed by the sonic depiction (trombone glissandi) of sexual intercourse. The official reaction, however, was devastating. Reviewed in Pravda, the official publication of the Communist Party, Lady Macbeth was described as mere noise, a work without redeeming qualities. More was at stake than Shostakovich’s career, for the 1930s marked the height of dictator Joseph Stalin’s murderous campaign against perceived “enemies” of the Soviet Union.

Returned to Symphonic Music

Having survived the Lady Macbeth fiasco, Shostakovich returned to symphonic music, only to see his Symphony No. 4 condemned during rehearsal. Shostakovich finally received official recognition with his Symphony No. 5, performed in 1937, which both audiences and official critics hailed as a masterfully constructed musical expression of optimism and progress. Encouraged by his success, Shostakovich composed String Quartet No. 1, the first of 15. In this refined, inspired, witty, elegantly crafted work, his first in this notoriously difficult genre, Shostakovich presents himself as an absolute master, anticipating future works of immense artistic value. But Shostakovich’s true moment of triumph was his Symphony No. 7 (“Leningrad”), started in 1941, during the Nazi siege of Leningrad. Completed in Kuibishev, the country’s temporary capital, the Leningrad Symphony was performed in 1942. Musically depicting the Nazi advance as a terrifying, unstoppable mechanical force, Shostakovich found a way to overpower this representation of terror by the ultimate symbol of Soviet victory: a triumphant Russian song. While some Western critics deplored the crudeness and musical primitivism, the Leningrad Symphony never lost its distinction as a national symbol of Soviet victory over Nazi Germany.

Perhaps because of the tremendous emotional impact of the Leningrad Symphony, his subsequent symphonies, which reflect Shostakovich’s efforts to enlarge his musical language and compositional techniques, remained in the shadow of his wartime masterpiece. In 1948 a new campaign against musicians was launched by Andrey Zhdanov, whom the Communist Party had entrusted with the task of eradicating decadent formalism. In addition to an offensive against artistic freedom, the government started waging a war against Jewish culture, triggering a wave of virulent anti-Semitism that the Dutch music historian Francis Maes defined in A History of Russian Music as “another Holocaust.”

Composed Works with Jewish Themes

It is significant that during this period Shostakovich composed several works that incorporate Jewish themes: Violin Concerto No. 1 (1948), String Quartet No. 4 (1949), and 24 Preludes and Fugues for Piano (1951). However, even after the thaw following Stalin’s death in 1953, Jewish subjects could still get a composer into considerable trouble—and there was a moral, not only musical element, in Shostakovich’s interest in Jewish themes. Shostakovich seriously challenged the Soviet state’s anti-Semitism by composing his Symphony No. 13, composed in 1962, known as the “Babi Yar.” The first movement of this choral symphony sets to music Yevteshunko’s poem of the same name, which describes the Nazi massacre of Jews at Babi Yar, near Kiev. While other movements, also based on poems by Yevtushenko, offer musical commentaries on the foibles of Soviet life, party officials accused Shostakovich—and Yevtushenko—of failing to mention that Jews were not the only victims of the Babi Yar massacre.

Nevertheless, Shostakovich continued to work with poetry, incorporating verse by Lorca, Apollinaire, and Rilke into his Symphony No. 14 (1969) for vocal soloists and orchestra. In his last symphony, Symphony No. 15, Shostakovich is at the height of his powers as a composer. Placing the work in the stark, elemental tonality of C major, he allows his imagination free rein, borrowing from works by other composers, even briefly venturing into the forbidden (for a Soviet composer, at least) realm of 12-tone music. Symphony No. 15 was first performed in Moscow in 1972 under the direction of the composer’s son, Maxim.

Toward the end of his life Shostakovich, having waged many battles in the public arena, turned to the timeless subjects of death and human destiny. Apparent in Symphony No. 14, the theme of death is heard in the doleful String Quartet No. 13 (1970). In his last two quartets, Shostakovich eschews tonal experimentation, staying with the realm of tonal music and ingeniously exploiting the expressive potential of traditional tonality. “The remarkable quality of Shostakovich’s quartets,” wrote Maes, “lies in his stunning mastery of the sound of the string instruments, in the structural depth and refinement, and above all in the quantity of expressive means and musical characters.”

Shostakovich died in 1975, hailed simply as a son of the Communist Party. While there is little dispute about the value of his music, there has been much speculation, particularly after the demise of the Soviet Union, concerning Shostakovich’s political views. Unconvinced by the composer’s numerous expressions of loyalty to his country, scholars have scoured his works for hidden messages indicating a complete condemnation of the U.S.S.R. Indeed, Shostakovich, as his work testifies, rejected certain aspects of Soviet rule; however, as Maes pointed out, defining him as a dissident would be totally anachronistic. The truth about Shostakovich can only be found in his music.

Selected compositions

Symphony No. 1, 1924-25.

Symphony No. 2, 1927.

The Nose (opera), 1930.

Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District (opera), 1930-32; revised as Katarina Izmaylova, 1955-63.

Sonata for Cello and Piano, 1934.

Symphony No. 5, 1937.

String Quartet No. 1, 1938.

Symphony No. 7 (“Leningrad”), 1941-42.

Piano Trio No. 2, 1944.

Violin Concerto No. 1, 1948.

24 Preludes and Fugues for Piano, 1951-52.

String Quartet No. 1, 1952.

Cello Concerto No. 1, 1959.

String Quartet No. 8, 1960.

Symphony No. 13 (“Babi Yar”), 1962.

Cello Concerto No. 2, 1966.

Symphony No. 15, 1971.

String Quartet No. 13, 1970.

Symphony No. 14, 1969.

String Quartet No. 14, 1973.

String Quartet No. 15, 1974.

Selected discography

Complete Symphonies, Elekra/Asylum, 1988.

Piano Trio, Op. 67, and Sonata for Cello and Piano, Sony, 1990.

Twenty-four Preludes and Fugues for Piano, Hyperion, 1993.

Complete String Quartets, Polygram, 2000.


Maes, Francis, A History of Russian Music: From Kamarinskaya to Babi Yar, University of California Press, 2002.

Sadie, Stanley, editor, The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Macmillan, 2001.

Zoran Minderovic