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Dmitri Shostakovich in 1942

Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich (Russian: About this sound Дмитрий Дмитриевич Шостакович​ ; 25 September [O.S. September 12] 1906 – 9 August 1975) was a Russian composer of the Soviet period and one of the most celebrated composers of the 20th century.

Shostakovich achieved fame in the Soviet Union under the patronage of Leon Trotsky's chief of staff Mikhail Tukhachevsky, but later had a complex and difficult relationship with the Stalinist bureaucracy. His music was officially denounced twice, in 1936 and 1948, and was periodically banned. Yet he also received accolades and state awards and served in the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR. Despite the official controversy, his works were popular and well received.

After a period influenced by Prokofiev and Stravinsky, Shostakovich developed a hybrid style, as exemplified by his opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District (1934). This single work juxtaposed a wide variety of trends, including the neo-classical style (showing the influence of Stravinsky) and post-Romanticism (after Mahler). Sharp contrasts and elements of the grotesque[1] characterize much of his music.

Shostakovich's orchestral works include 15 symphonies and six concerti. His music for chamber ensembles includes 15 string quartets, a piano quintet, two pieces for a string octet, and two piano trios. For the piano he composed two solo sonatas, an early set of preludes, and a later set of 24 preludes and fugues. Other works include two operas, and a substantial quantity of film music.



Birthplace of Shostakovich (now School no. 267). Commemorative plaque at left.

Early life

Born at 2 Podolskaya Ulitsa in Saint Petersburg, Russia, Shostakovich was the second of three children born to Dmitri Boleslavovich Shostakovich and Sofiya Vasilievna Kokoulina. Though the Shostakovich family through his paternal grandfather (originally Szostakowicz) was of Polish (Litvin) Roman Catholic heritage (his family roots trace to the region of the town of Vileyka in Belarus), his immediate forebears came from Siberia.[2] His paternal grandfather, a Polish revolutionary in the January Uprising of 1863-4, had been exiled to Narim (near Tomsk) in 1866 in the crackdown that followed Dmitri Karakozov's assassination attempt on Tsar Alexander II. When his term of exile ended Bolesław Szostakowicz decided to remain in Siberia. He eventually became a successful banker in Irkutsk and raised a large family. His son, Dmitriy Boleslavovich Shostakovich, the composer's father, was born in exile in Narim in 1875 and attended Saint Petersburg University, graduating in 1899 from the faculty of physics and mathematics. After graduation, he went to work as an engineer under Dmitriy Mendeleyev at the Bureau of Weights and Measures in Saint Petersburg. In 1903, he married Sofiya Vasilievna Kokoulina, another Siberian transplant to the capital. Sofiya herself was one of six children born to Vasiliy Yakovlevich Kokoulin, a Russian Siberian native. Dmitri Shostakovich's family was politically liberal (one of his uncles was a Bolshevik, but the family also sheltered far-right activists).

He was a child prodigy as both a pianist and composer, his talent becoming apparent after he began piano lessons with his mother at the age of eight. (On several occasions, he displayed a remarkable ability to remember what his mother had played at the previous lesson, and would get "caught in the act" of pretending to read, by playing the previous lesson's music when different music was placed in front of him.)[3] In 1918, he wrote a funeral march in memory of two leaders of the Kadet party, murdered by Bolshevik sailors.

In 1919, he was allowed to enter the Petrograd Conservatory, then headed by Alexander Glazunov. Glazunov monitored Shostakovich's progress closely and promoted him.[4] Shostakovich studied piano with Leonid Nikolayev, after a year in the class of Elena Rozanova, composition with Maximilian Steinberg, and counterpoint and fugue with Nikolay Sokolov, with whom he became friends.[5] Shostakovich also attended Alexander Ossovsky's history of music classes.[6] However, he suffered for his perceived lack of political zeal, and initially failed his exam in Marxist methodology in 1926. His first major musical achievement was the First Symphony (premiered 1926), written as his graduation piece at the age of nineteen.

Shostakovich in 1925

After graduation, he initially embarked on a dual career as concert pianist and composer, but his dry style of playing (Fay comments on his "emotional restraint" and "riveting rhythmic drive") was often unappreciated. He nevertheless won an "honorable mention" at the First International Frederic Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw in 1927. After the competition Shostakovich met the conductor Bruno Walter, who was so impressed by the composer's First Symphony that he conducted it at its Berlin premiere later that year. Thereafter, Shostakovich concentrated on composition and soon limited performances primarily to those of his own works. In 1927 he wrote his Second Symphony (subtitled To October). While writing the symphony, he also began his satirical opera The Nose, based on the story by Gogol. In 1929, the opera was criticised as "formalist" by RAPM, the Stalinist musicians' organisation, and it opened to generally poor reviews in 1930.

1927 also marked the beginning of the composer's relationship with Ivan Sollertinsky, who remained his closest friend until the latter's death in 1944. Sollertinsky introduced Shostakovich to the music of Gustav Mahler, which had a strong influence on his music from the Fourth Symphony onwards. In 1932, he married his first wife, Nina Varzar. Initial difficulties led to a divorce in 1935, but the couple soon remarried when Nina became pregnant with their first child.[7]

In the late 1920s and early 1930s he worked at TRAM, a proletarian youth theatre. Although he did little work in this post, it shielded him from ideological attack. Much of this period was spent writing his opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District; it was first performed in 1934 and was immediately successful, both on a popular and official level. It was said to be “the result of the general success of Socialist construction, of the correct policy of the Party" and that such an opera “could have been written only by a Soviet composer brought up in the best tradition of Soviet culture.”[8]

First denunciation

In 1936 Shostakovich fell from official favour. The year began with a series of attacks on him in Pravda, in particular an article entitled Muddle Instead of Music. The campaign, which condemned Lady Macbeth as formalist, "coarse, primitive and vulgar,"[9] was thought to have been instigated by Stalin; consequently, commissions began to cease, and his income fell by about three quarters. The Fourth Symphony began to be rehearsed that December, but the political climate made performance impossible. It was not performed until 1961, but Shostakovich did not repudiate the work: it retained its designation as his Fourth Symphony. A piano reduction was published in 1946.

More widely, 1936 marked the beginning of the Great Terror, in which many of the composer's friends and relatives were imprisoned or killed. His only consolation in this period was the birth of his daughter Galina in 1936; his son Maxim was born two years later.

The composer's response to his denunciation was the Fifth Symphony of 1937, which was, because of its fourth movement, musically more conservative than his earlier works. It was a success, and is still one of his most popular works. It was also at this time that Shostakovich composed the first of his string quartets. His chamber works allowed him to experiment and express ideas which would have been unacceptable in his more public symphonic pieces. In September 1937, he began to teach composition at the Conservatory, which provided some financial security but interfered with his own creative work.

Wartime propaganda images of Shostakovich as a fire warden reached as far as the American Time magazine.


In 1939, before the Soviet forces invaded Finland, the Party Secretary of Leningrad Andrei Zhdanov commissioned a celebratory piece from Shostakovich, entitled "Suite on Finnish Themes" to be performed as the marching bands of the Red Army would be parading through the Finnish capital Helsinki. The Winter War was a humiliation for the Red Army, and Shostakovich would never lay claim to the authorship of this work.[10] It was not performed until 2001[11].

After the outbreak of war between the Soviet Union and Germany in 1941, Shostakovich initially remained in Leningrad, enduring the siege, during which he wrote the first three movements of his Seventh Symphony (nicknamed Leningrad). He also contributed to propaganda efforts, posing as a fire warden and delivering a radio broadcast to the Soviet people About this sound listen . In October 1941, the composer and his family evacuated to Kuybishev (now Samara), where the symphony was completed. It was adopted as a symbol of Russian resistance both in the USSR and in the West.

In spring 1943 the family moved to Moscow. Whilst the Seventh Symphony depicts a heroic (and ultimately victorious) struggle against adversity, the Eighth Symphony of that year is perhaps the ultimate in sombre and violent expression within Shostakovich's output, resulting in it being banned until 1956. The Ninth Symphony (1945), in contrast, is an ironic Haydnesque parody, which failed to satisfy demands for a "hymn of victory." Shostakovich continued to compose chamber music, notably his Second Piano Trio (Op. 67), dedicated to the memory of Sollertinsky, with a bitter-sweet, Jewish-themed totentanz finale.

Second denunciation

In 1948 Shostakovich, along with many other composers, was again denounced for formalism in the Zhdanov decree. Most of his works were banned, he was forced to publicly repent, and his family had privileges withdrawn. Yuri Lyubimov says that at this time "he waited for his arrest at night out on the landing by the lift, so that at least his family wouldn't be disturbed."[12]

In the next few years his compositions were divided into film music to pay the rent, official works aimed at securing official rehabilitation, and serious works "for the desk drawer". The latter included the Violin Concerto No. 1 and the song cycle From Jewish Folk Poetry. The cycle was written at a time when the post-war anti-Semitic campaign was already under way, and Shostakovich had close ties with some of those affected.

The restrictions on Shostakovich's music and living arrangements were eased in 1949, to secure his participation in a delegation of Soviet notables to the U.S. That year he also wrote his cantata Song of the Forests, which praised Stalin as the "great gardener." In 1951 the composer was made a deputy to the Supreme Soviet of RSFSR. Stalin's death in 1953 was the biggest step towards Shostakovich's official rehabilitation, which was marked by his Tenth Symphony. It features a number of musical quotations and codes (notably the DSCH and Elmira motifs), the meaning of which is still debated, whilst the savage second movement is said to be a musical portrait of Stalin himself. It ranks alongside the Fifth as one of his most popular works. 1953 also saw a stream of premieres of the "desk drawer" works.

During the forties and fifties Shostakovich had close relationships with two of his pupils: Galina Ustvolskaya and Elmira Nazirova. He taught Ustvolskaya from 1937 to 1947. The nature of their relationship is far from clear: Mstislav Rostropovich described it as "tender" and Ustvolskaya claimed in a 1995 interview that she rejected a proposal from him in the fifties. However, in the same interview, Ustvolskaya's friend, Viktor Suslin, said that she had been "deeply disappointed" in him by the time of her graduation in 1947. The relationship with Nazirova seems to have been one-sided, expressed largely through his letters to her, and can be dated to around 1953 to 1956. In the background to all this remained Shostakovich's first, open marriage to Nina Varzar until her death in 1954. He married his second wife, Komsomol activist Margarita Kainova, in 1956; the couple proved ill-matched, and divorced three years later.

In 1954, Shostakovich wrote the Festive Overture, opus 96, that was used as the theme music of the 1980 Summer Olympics.[13] In addition his '"Theme from the film 'Pirogov', Opus 76a: Finale" was played as the cauldron was lit at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece.

In 1959, Shostakovich appeared on stage in Moscow at the end of a concert performance of his Fifth Symphony, congratulating Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra for their performance (part of a concert tour of the Soviet Union). Bernstein recorded the symphony later that year in New York for Columbia Records.

Joining the Party

The year 1960 marked another turning point in Shostakovich's life: his joining of the Communist Party. This event has been interpreted variously as a show of commitment, a mark of cowardice, or as the result of political pressure. On the one hand, the apparat was undoubtedly less repressive than it had been before Stalin's death. On the other, his son recalled that the event reduced Shostakovich to tears,[14] and he later told his wife Irina that he had been blackmailed.[15] Lev Lebedinsky has said that the composer was suicidal.[16] Around this time, his health also began to deteriorate. Shostakovich's musical response to these personal crises was the Eighth String Quartet, composed in only three days. Like the Tenth Symphony, this quartet incorporates quotations and his musical monogram.

In 1962 he married for the third time, to Irina Supinskaya. In a letter to his friend Isaak Glikman, he wrote, "her only defect is that she is 27 years old. In all other respects she is splendid: clever, cheerful, straightforward and very likeable."[17] According to Galina Vishnevskaya, who knew the Shostakoviches well, this marriage was a very happy one: "It was with her that Dmitri Dmitriyevich finally came to know domestic peace... Surely, she prolonged his life by several years." [18] In November Shostakovich made his only venture into conducting, conducting a couple of his own works in Gorky: otherwise he declined to conduct, citing nerves and ill health as his reasons.

That year saw Shostakovich again turn to the subject of anti-Semitism in his Thirteenth Symphony (subtitled Babi Yar). The symphony sets a number of poems by Yevgeny Yevtushenko, the first of which commemorates a massacre of the Jews during the Second World War. Opinions are divided how great a risk this was: the poem had been published in Soviet media, and was not banned, but it remained controversial. After the symphony's premiere, Yevtushenko was forced to add a stanza to his poem which said that Russians and Ukrainians had died alongside the Jews at Babi Yar.

In 1965 Shostakovich raised his voice in defense of poet Joseph Brodsky, who was unfairly sentenced to five years of exile and hard labor. Shostakovich co-signed protests together with Yevtushenko and fellow Soviet artists Kornei Chukovsky, Anna Akhmatova, Samuil Marshak, and the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. After the protests the sentence was commuted, and Brodsky returned to Leningrad. Shostakovich joined the group of 25 distinguished intellectuals in signing the letter to Leonid Brezhnev asking not to rehabilitate Stalin.

Later life

In later life, Shostakovich suffered from chronic ill health, but he resisted giving up cigarettes and vodka. Beginning in 1958 he suffered from a debilitating condition that particularly affected his right hand, eventually forcing him to give up piano playing; in 1965 it was diagnosed as polio. He also suffered heart attacks the following year and again in 1971, and several falls in which he broke both his legs; in 1967 he wrote in a letter:

"Target achieved so far: 75% (right leg broken, left leg broken, right hand defective). All I need to do now is wreck the left hand and then 100% of my extremities will be out of order."[19]

A preoccupation with his own mortality permeates Shostakovich's later works, among them the later quartets and the Fourteenth Symphony of 1969 (a song cycle based on a number of poems on the theme of death). This piece also finds Shostakovich at his most extreme with musical language, with twelve-tone themes and dense polyphony used throughout. Shostakovich dedicated this score to his close friend Benjamin Britten, who conducted its Western premiere at the 1970 Aldeburgh Festival. The Fifteenth Symphony of 1971 is, by contrast, melodic and retrospective in nature, quoting Wagner, Rossini and the composer's own Fourth Symphony.

A Russian stamp in Shostakovich's memory

Shostakovich died of lung cancer on 9 August 1975 and after a civic funeral was interred in the Novodevichy Cemetery, Moscow. The official obituary did not appear in Pravda until three days after his death, apparently because the wording had to be approved at the highest level, by Brezhnev and the rest of the Politburo.[20] Even before his death he had been commemorated with the naming of the Shostakovich Peninsula on Alexander Island, Antarctica.

He was survived by his third wife, Irina; his daughter, Galina; and his son, Maxim, a pianist and conductor who was the dedicatee and first performer of some of his father's works. Shostakovich himself left behind several recordings of his own piano works, while other noted interpreters of his music include his friends Emil Gilels, Mstislav Rostropovich, Tatiana Nikolayeva, Maria Yudina, David Oistrakh, and members of the Beethoven Quartet.

Shostakovich's opera Orango (1932) was found by Russian researcher Olga Digonskaya in his last home. It is being orchestrated by the British composer Gerard McBurney and will be performed some time in 2010-2011.[21][22]

Shostakovich's musical influence on later composers outside the former Soviet Union has been relatively slight, although Alfred Schnittke took up his eclecticism, and his contrasts between the dynamic and the static, and some of André Previn's music shows clear links to Shostakovich's style of orchestration. His influence can also be seen in some Nordic composers, such as Kalevi Aho[23] and Lars-Erik Larsson.[24] Many of his Russian contemporaries, and his pupils at the Leningrad Conservatory, however, were strongly influenced by his style (including German Okunev, Boris Tishchenko, whose 5th Symphony of 1978 is dedicated to Shostakovich's memory, Sergei Slonimsky, and others). Shostakovich's conservative idiom has nonetheless grown increasingly popular with audiences both within and beyond Russia, as the avant-garde has declined in influence and debate about his political views has developed.


For a complete list, see List of compositions by Dmitri Shostakovich. See also: Category:Compositions by Dmitri Shostakovich (thematical selection of works by Shostakovich).

Shostakovich's works are broadly tonal and in the Romantic tradition, but with elements of atonality and chromaticism. In some of his later works (e.g., the Twelfth Quartet), he made use of tone rows. His output is dominated by his cycles of symphonies and string quartets, each numbering fifteen. The symphonies are distributed fairly evenly throughout his career, while the quartets are concentrated towards the latter part. Among the most popular are the Fifth, Seventh and Tenth Symphonies and the Eighth and Fifteenth Quartets. Other works include the operas Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, The Nose and the unfinished The Gamblers based on the comedy of Nikolai Gogol; six concertos (two each for piano, violin and cello); two piano trios; and a large quantity of film music.

Shostakovich's music shows the influence of many of the composers he most admired: Bach in his fugues and passacaglias; Beethoven in the late quartets; Mahler in the symphonies and Berg in his use of musical codes and quotations. Among Russian composers, he particularly admired Modest Mussorgsky, whose operas Boris Godunov and Khovanshchina he re-orchestrated; Mussorgsky's influence is most prominent in the wintry scenes of Lady Macbeth and the Eleventh Symphony, as well as in his satirical works such as "Rayok".[25] Prokofiev's influence is most apparent in the earlier piano works, such as the first sonata and first concerto.[26] The influence of Russian church and folk music is very evident in his works for unaccompanied choir of the 1950s.

Shostakovich's relationship with Stravinsky was profoundly ambivalent; as he wrote to Glikman, "Stravinsky the composer I worship. Stravinsky the thinker I despise."[27] He was particularly enamoured of the Symphony of Psalms, presenting a copy of his own piano version of it to Stravinsky when the latter visited the USSR in 1962. (The meeting of the two composers was not very successful, however; observers commented on Shostakovich's extreme nervousness and Stravinsky's "cruelty" to him.)[28]

Many commentators have noted the disjunction between the experimental works before the 1936 denunciation and the more conservative ones that followed; the composer told Flora Litvinova, "without 'Party guidance' ... I would have displayed more brilliance, used more sarcasm, I could have revealed my ideas openly instead of having to resort to camouflage."[29] Articles published by Shostakovich in 1934 and 1935 cited Berg, Schoenberg, Krenek, Hindemith, "and especially Stravinsky" among his influences.[30] Key works of the earlier period are the First Symphony, which combined the academicism of the conservatory with his progressive inclinations; The Nose ("The most uncompromisingly modernist of all his stage-works"[31]); Lady Macbeth. which precipitated the denunciation; and the Fourth Symphony, described by Grove as "a colossal synthesis of Shostakovich's musical development to date".[32] The Fourth Symphony was also the first in which the influence of Mahler came to the fore, prefiguring the route Shostakovich was to take to secure his rehabilitation, while he himself admitted that the preceding two were his least successful.[33]

In the years after 1936, Shostakovich's symphonic works were outwardly musically conservative, regardless of any subversive political content. During this time he turned increasingly to chamber works, a field that permitted the composer to explore different and often darker ideas without inviting external scrutiny.[34] While his chamber works were largely tonal, they gave Shostakovich an outlet for sombre reflection not welcomed in his more public works. This is most apparent in the late chamber works, which portray what Groves has described as a "world of purgatorial numbness";[35] in some of these he included the use of tone rows, although he treated these as melodic themes rather than serially. Vocal works are also a prominent feature of his late output, setting texts often concerned with love, death and art.


According to Shostakovich scholar Gerard McBurney, opinion is divided on whether his music is "of visionary power and originality, as some maintain, or, as others think, derivative, trashy, empty and second-hand."[36] William Walton, his British contemporary, described him as "The greatest composer of the 20th century."[37] Musicologist David Fanning concludes in Grove that, "Amid the conflicting pressures of official requirements, the mass suffering of his fellow countrymen, and his personal ideals of humanitarian and public service, he succeeded in forging a musical language of colossal emotional power."[38]

Some modern composers have been critical. Pierre Boulez dismissed Shostakovich's music as "the second, or even third pressing of Mahler."[39] The Romanian composer and Webern disciple Philip Gershkovich called Shostakovich "a hack in a trance."[40] A related complaint is that Shostakovich's style is vulgar and strident: Stravinsky wrote of Lady Macbeth: "brutally hammering ... and monotonous."[41] English composer and musicologist Robin Holloway described his music as "battleship-grey in melody and harmony, factory-functional in structure; in content all rhetoric and coercion."[42]

It is certainly true that Shostakovich borrows extensively from the material and styles both of earlier composers and of popular music; the vulgarity of "low" music is a notable influence on this "greatest of eclectics".[43] McBurney traces this to the avant-garde artistic circles of the early Soviet period in which Shostakovich moved early in his career, and argues that these borrowings were a deliberate technique to allow him to create "patterns of contrast, repetition, exaggeration" that gave his music the large-scale structure it required.[44]

The Trotskyist theoretician Alan Woods puts much of this criticism down to anti-communist politicking and the professional jealousy of less accomplished composers, pointing out that Shostakovich "made no secret of his debt to Mahler and many other composers: Bach, Stravinsky, jazz and popular music, Jewish and Russian folk music. But was the music of Beethoven not rooted in the music of Mozart and Haydn? Of course it was. But did it not evolve into something entirely different — something that is unmistakably Beethoven? Of course, it did. And who can deny that the symphonies of Shostakovich, taking their starting point from Mahler, developed into an entirely different musical idiom that is unmistakably Shostakovich and nobody else but Shostakovich?"[45]


Shostakovich with close friend Ivan Sollertinsky

Shostakovich was in many ways an obsessive man: according to his daughter he was "obsessed with cleanliness";[46] he synchronised the clocks in his apartment; he regularly sent cards to himself to test how well the postal service was working. Elizabeth Wilson's Shostakovich: A Life Remembered indexes 26 references to his nervousness. Mikhail Druskin remembers that even as a young man the composer was "fragile and nervously agile".[47] Yuri Lyubimov comments, "The fact that he was more vulnerable and receptive than other people was no doubt an important feature of his genius".[48] In later life, Krzysztof Meyer recalled, "his face was a bag of tics and grimaces".[49] In his lighter moods, sport was one of his main recreations, although he preferred spectating or umpiring to participating (he was a qualified football referee). His favourite football club was Zenit Leningrad, which he would watch regularly.[50] He also enjoyed playing card games, particularly patience. Both light and dark sides of his character were evident in his fondness for satirical writers such as Gogol, Chekhov and Mikhail Zoshchenko. The influence of the latter in particular is evident in his letters, which include wry parodies of Soviet officialese. Zoshchenko himself noted the contradictions in the composer's character: "he is ... frail, fragile, withdrawn, an infinitely direct, pure child ... [but he is also] hard, acid, extremely intelligent, strong perhaps, despotic and not altogether good-natured (although cerebrally good-natured)".[51]

He was diffident by nature: Flora Litvinova has said he was "completely incapable of saying 'No' to anybody."[52] This meant he was easily persuaded to sign official statements, including a denunciation of Andrei Sakharov in 1973; on the other hand he was willing to try to help constituents in his capacities as chairman of the Composers' Union and Deputy to the Supreme Soviet. Oleg Prokofiev commented that "he tried to help so many people that ... less and less attention was paid to his pleas."[53] Shostakovich was an atheist.[54]

Orthodoxy and revisionism

Shostakovich represented himself in some works with the DSCH motif, consisting of D-E♭-C-B.

Shostakovich's response to official criticism and, what is more important, the question of whether he used music as a kind of abstract dissidence is a matter of dispute. Clearly, he outwardly conformed to government policies and positions, reading speeches and putting his name to articles expressing the government line. It is also generally agreed that he disliked many aspects of the regime, a view confirmed by his family, his letters to Isaak Glikman, and the satirical cantata "Rayok," which ridiculed the "anti-formalist" campaign and was kept hidden until after his death. He was a close friend of Trotsky's protege Marshal of the Soviet Union Mikhail Tukhachevsky, who was executed in 1937 for his opposition to Stalin.

It is also uncertain to what extent Shostakovich expressed his opposition to the state in his music. The revisionist view was put forth by Solomon Volkov in the 1979 book Testimony, which was claimed to be Shostakovich's memoirs dictated to Volkov. The book alleged that many of the composer's works contained coded anti-government messages. That would place Shostakovich in a tradition of Russian artists outwitting censorship that goes back at least to the early 19th century poet Pushkin. It is known that he incorporated many quotations and motifs in his work, most notably his signature DSCH theme. His longtime collaborator Evgeny Mravinsky said that "Shostakovich very often explained his intentions with very specific images and connotations."[55] The revisionist perspective has subsequently been supported by his children, Maxim and Galina, and many Russian musicians. More recently, Volkov has argued that Shostakovich adopted the role of the yurodivy or holy fool in his relations with the government. Shostakovich's widow Irina, who was present during Volkov's visits to Shostakovich, denies the authenticity of Testimony. Other prominent revisionists are Ian MacDonald, whose book The New Shostakovich put forward more interpretations of his music, and Elizabeth Wilson, whose Shostakovich: A Life Remembered provides testimony from many of the composer's acquaintances.

Tombstone of Shostakovich, showing his D-E♭-C-B motif. Novodevichy Cemetery, Moscow.

Many musicians and scholars (notably Laurel Fay and Richard Taruskin) contest the authenticity (and debate the significance) of Testimony, alleging that Volkov compiled it from a combination of recycled articles, gossip, and possibly some information direct from the composer. Fay documents these allegations in her 2002 article 'Volkov's Testimony reconsidered', showing that the only pages of the original Testimony manuscript that Shostakovich had signed and verified are word-for-word reproductions of earlier interviews given by the composer, none of which are controversial. (Against this, it has been pointed out by Allan B. Ho and Dmitry Feofanov that at least two of the signed pages contain controversial material: for instance, "on the first page of chapter 3, where [Shostakovich] notes that the plaque that reads 'In this house lived Meyerhold' should also say 'And in this house his wife was brutally murdered'.")[56] More broadly, Fay and Taruskin argue that the significance of Shostakovich is in his music rather than his life, and that to seek political messages in the music detracts from, rather than enhances, its artistic value.

Recorded legacy

In 1957, during a visit to Paris, Shostakovich recorded his two piano concertos with Andre Cluytens, as well as some short piano works. These were issued by EMI on an LP, reissued by Seraphim Records on LP, and eventually digitally remastered and released on CD. Shostakovich also recorded the Sonata, Op. 40, for Cello and Piano with cellist Daniil Shafran, the Sonata, Op. 134, for Violin and Piano with violinist David Oistrakh, and the Trio, Op. 67, for Violin, Cello, and Piano with violinist David Oistrakh and cellist Miloš Sádlo. There is also a short sound film of Shostakovich as soloist in a concert performance of the closing moments of his first piano concerto.

Shostakovich's fascination with the work of electrical engineer Nikola Tesla and his own hobby of electrical experimentation was to result in perhaps his most experimental musical recording: 'глупо муравей', named after his father's playful nickname for the Cossacks, surfaced in the early 1990s. The work is notably experimental; indeed, Shostakovich is said to have created the piece with his own amateur electromagnetic devices, using magnetic tape to create its unique sounds. Arthur Rubinstein is said to have been heard saying it was "the most profound piece of music man has of yet created."[citation needed]


Soviet Union
United States
United Kingdom


  1. ^ Sheinberg (2000) pp.207-309
  2. ^ Laurel Fay (2000), Shostakovich: A Life p. 7
  3. ^ Laurel Fay (2000), p. 9
  4. ^ Laurel Fay (2000), p. 17
  5. ^ Laurel Fay (2000), p. 18
  6. ^ The Cambridge Companion to Shostakovich, Cambridge Companions to Music by Pauline Fairclough (Editor), David Fanning (Editor). Cambridge University Press; 1 edition (November 17, 2008) p.73
  7. ^ Fay (2000), p.80
  8. ^ Dmitrii Shostakovich, Shostakovich: About Himself and His Times, compiled by L. Grigoryev and Ya. Platek, trans. Angus and Neilian Roxburgh (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1981), 33.
  9. ^ McBurney, p. 287.
  10. ^ Edwards 2006, p. 98
  11. ^ MTV3: Shostakovitshin kiistelty teos kantaesitettiin (in Finnish)
  12. ^ Elizabeth Wilson, Shostakovich: A Life Remembered p. 183.
  13. ^ "1980 Summer Olympics Official Report from the Organizing Committee, vol. 2" (pdf). pp. 283. Retrieved 2007-10-16.  40-megabyte document.
  14. ^ Ho and Feofanov, p. 390.
  15. ^ Manashir Yakubov, programme notes for the 1998 Shostakovich seasons at the Barbican, London).
  16. ^ Wilson p. 340.
  17. ^ Dmitri Shostakovich and Isaak Glikman, Story of a Friendship: The Letters of Dmitry Shostakovich to Isaak Glikman p. 102.
  18. ^ Galina Vishnevskaya, Galina, A Russian Story p. 274.
  19. ^ Glikman p. 147.
  20. ^ Volkov, Solomon. Obituary Came Three Days Late. Moscow News N49 2005. Retrieved on 23 December 2005.
  21. ^ Sirén, Vesa (April 6, 2009), "Šostakovitšin apinaooppera löytyi ('The ape opera by Shostakovich was found')" (in (Finnish)), Helsingin Sanomat (Helsinki: Sanoma Oy): C1,, retrieved April 6, 2009 
  22. ^ Artsjournal accessed April 5, 2009 (English)
  23. ^ Finnish Music Information Centre. Kalevi Aho in Profile. Retrieved on 18 November 2005.
  24. ^ Musicweb International. Lars-Erik Larsson. Retrieved on 18 November 2005.
  25. ^ Fay (2000), pp. 119, 165, 224.
  26. ^ Grove pp. 288, 290.
  27. ^ Glikman p. 181.
  28. ^ Wilson pp. 375–377.
  29. ^ Wilson p. 426.
  30. ^ Fay (2000), p. 88.
  31. ^ Grove p. 289.
  32. ^ Grove p. 290.
  33. ^ Glikman p. 315.
  34. ^ See also Grove p. 294.
  35. ^ Grove p. 300.
  36. ^ McBurney, p. 283.
  37. ^ British Composers in Interview by R Murray Schafer (Faber 1960)
  38. ^ Grove p. 280.
  39. ^ McBurney, p. 288.
  40. ^ McBurney, p. 290.
  41. ^ McBurney, p. 286.
  42. ^ Holloway, Robin. "Shostakovich horrors." The Spectator, 26 August 2000. Available at Find articles. Retrieved on 2007-10-14.
  43. ^ Haas, Shostakovich's Eighth: C minor Symphony against the Grain p. 125.
  44. ^ McBurney
  45. ^ Woods, Alan. "Shostakovich, the musical conscience of the Russian Revolution – Part Two". In Defence of Marxism, 22 December 2006. Retrieved on 2008-04-23.
  46. ^ Michael Ardov,Memories of Shostakovich p. 139.
  47. ^ Wilson pp. 41–45.
  48. ^ Wilson p. 183.
  49. ^ Wilson p. 462.
  50. ^ Mentioned in his personal correspondance (Shostakovich, tr. Phillips (2001)), as well as other sources.
  51. ^ Quoted in Fay (2000), p. 121.
  52. ^ Wilson p. 162.
  53. ^ Wilson p. 40.
  54. ^ Laurel Fay (2000), p. 263
  55. ^ Wilson p. 139.
  56. ^ Ho & Feofanov, p. 211


  • Ardov, Michael (2004). Memories of Shostakovich. Short Books. ISBN 1-904095-64-X. 
  • Edwards, Robert (2006). White Death: Russia's War on Finland 1939–40. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 13 978 0 297 84630 2. 
  • Fay, Laurel (2002). "Volkov's Testimony Reconsidered". in Hamrick Brown, Malcolm (ed). A Shostakovich Casebook. Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-21823-3. 
  • Fay, Laurel (2001). "Dmitri Shostakovich". Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Macmillan Publishers. 
  • Fay, Laurel (2000). Shostakovich: A Life. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-513438-9. 
  • Haas, David. "Shostakovich's Eighth: C minor Symphony against the Grain". in Bartlett (ed). Shostakovich in Context. 
  • Ho, Allan; Dmitry Feofanov (1998). Shostakovich Reconsidered. Toccata Press. ISBN 0-907689-56-6. 
  • MacDonald, Ian (1990). The New Shostakovich. Northeastern University Press. ISBN 1-55553-089-3. 
  • MacDonald, Ian. "Shostakovichiana". Music Under Soviet Rule. Retrieved August 17, 2005. 
  • McBurney, Gerard (2002). "Whose Shostakovich?". in Hamrick Brown, Malcolm (ed). A Shostakovich Casebook. Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-21823-3. 
  • van Rijen, Onno. "Opus by Shostakovich". Shostakovich & Other Soviet Composers. Retrieved August 17, 2005. 
  • Sheinberg, Esti (2000-12-29). Irony, satire, parody and the grotesque in the music of Shostakovich. UK: Ashgate. pp. 378. ISBN 0-7546-0226-5. 
  • Shostakovich, Dmitri; Glikman, Isaak; tr. Phillips, Anthony (2001). Story of a Friendship: The Letters of Dmitry Shostakovich to Isaak Glikman. Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-8014-3979-5. 
  • Shostakovich, Dmitri; Volkov, Solomon (2000). Testimony (7th edition ed.). Proscenium (publisher). ISBN 0-87910-021-4. 
  • Volkov, Solomon (2004). Shostakovich and Stalin: The Extraordinary Relationship Between the Great Composer and the Brutal Dictator. Knopf. ISBN 0-375-41082-1. 
  • Wilson, Elizabeth (1994). Shostakovich: A Life Remembered. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-04465-1. 

External links

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Erwin Rommel
Cover of Time Magazine
20 July 1942
Succeeded by
Semyon Timoshenko


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Real music is always revolutionary.

Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich (1906-09-251975-08-09) was a Soviet composer and pianist. Many of his works mark the epochs of Soviet history, or explore his own position as an artist in a communist state. Since his death there has been much controversy as to his private political views.


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  • I live in the USSR, work actively and count naturally on the worker and peasant spectator. If I am not comprehensible to them I should be deported.
    • In discussion with an opera audience, January 14, 1930; cited from Laurel Fay Shostakovich: A Life (2000) p. 55.
  • There can be no music without ideology. The old composers, whether they knew it or not, were upholding a political theory. Most of them, of course, were bolstering the rule of the upper classes. Only Beethoven was a forerunner of the revolutionary movement. If you read his letters, you will see how often he wrote to his friends that he wished to give new ideas to the public and rouse it to revolt against its masters.
  • What can be considered human emotions? Surely not only lyricism, sadness, tragedy? Doesn't laughter also have a claim to that lofty title? I want to fight for the legitimate right of laughter in "serious" music.
    • From an article in Sovetskoye Iskusstvo, November 5, 1934; translation from Laurel Fay Shostakovich: A Life (2000) p. 77.
  • If they cut off both hands, I will compose music anyway holding the pen in my teeth.
    • Said to Isaac Glikman, 1936; cited from Laurel Fay Shostakovich: A Life (2000) p. 92.
  • I always try to make myself as widely understood as possible, and if I don't succeed I consider it's my own fault.
  • A great piece of music is beautiful regardless of how it is performed. Any prelude or fugue of Bach can be played at any tempo, with or without rhythmic nuances, and it will still be great music. That's how music should be written, so that no-one, no matter how philistine, can ruin it.
    • Letter to Isaac Glikman, August 28, 1955; Josiah Fisk & Jeff Nichols (eds.) Composers on Music (1997) p. 364.
  • A creative artist works on his next composition because he is not satisfied with his previous one. When he loses a critical attitude toward his own work, he ceases to be an artist.
  • I don't think that either self-deprecation or self-aggrandizement is among the defining qualities of an artist…Beethoven could have been forgiven if his symphonies had gone to his head. Gretchaninoff could also be forgiven if his Dobrinya Nikititch went to his head. But neither one could be forgiven for writing a piece that was amoral, servile, the work of a flunky.
    • Letter to Isaac Glikman, February 26, 1960; Josiah Fisk & Jeff Nichols (eds.) Composers on Music (1997) p. 354.
  • Music is a means capable of expressing dark dramatism and pure rapture, suffering and ecstasy, fiery and cold fury, melancholy and wild merriment – and the subtlest nuances and interplay of these feelings which words are powerless to express and which are unattainable in painting and sculpture.
    • "The Power of Music" (1964), translated in Music Journal, September 1965, p. 37.
  • Real music is always revolutionary, for it cements the ranks of the people; it arouses them and leads them onward.
    • "The Power of Music" (1964), translated in Music Journal, September 1965, p. 37.
  • The real geniuses know where their writing has to be good and where they can get away with some mediocrity.
    • In conversation with Isaac Glikman, July 4, 1966; Josiah Fisk & Jeff Nichols (eds.) Composers on Music (1997) p. 355.
  • You ask if I would have been different without "Party guidance"? Yes, almost certainly. No doubt the line I was pursuing when I wrote the Fourth Symphony would have been stronger and sharper in my work. I would have displayed more brilliance, used more sarcasm, I could have revealed my ideas openly instead of having to resort to camouflage.
    • In conversation with Flora Litvinova, 1970; cited from Elizabeth Wilson Shostakovich: A Life Remembered (1994) pp. 425-6.
  • What do you think of Puccini?
    [ Britten: "I think his operas are dreadful." ]
    No, Ben, you are wrong. He wrote marvellous operas, but dreadful music.

Testimony (1979)

Testimony is a posthumously published memoir supposedly dictated by Shostakovich in private conversations with the journalist Solomon Volkov. Its authenticity has been hotly disputed. English quotations and page-numbers here are taken from the translation by Antonina W. Bouis (New York: Limelight, 2004).

  • The most uninteresting part of the biography of a composer is his childhood. All those preludes are the same and the reader hurries on to the fugue.
    • Page 6
  • It's about the people, who have stopped believing because the cup of evil has run over.
  • The withering away of illusions is a long and dreary process, like a toothache. But you can pull out a tooth. Illusions, dead, continue to rot within us. And stink. And you can't escape them. I carry all of mine around with me.
    • Page 85
  • For some reason, people think that music must tell us only about the pinnacles of the human spirit, or at least about highly romantic villains. Most people are average, neither black nor white. They're gray. A dirty shade of gray. And it's in that vague gray middle ground that the fundamental conflicts of our age take place.
    • Page 94
  • The Allies enjoyed my music, as though trying to say: Look how we like Shostakovich's symphonies, and you still want something more from us, a second front or something.
    • Page 137
  • I feel eternal pain for those who were killed by Hitler, but I feel no less pain for those killed on Stalin's orders. I suffer for everyone who was tortured, shot, or starved to death.
    • Page 155
  • The majority of my symphonies are tombstones.
    • Page 156
  • Jewish folk music has made a most powerful impression on me. I never tire of delighting in it, it's multifaceted, it can appear to be happy while it is tragic. It's almost always laughter through tears. This quality of Jewish folk music is close to my ideas of what music should be. There should always be two layers in music. Jews were tormented for so long that they learned to hide their despair. They express despair in dance music.
    • Page 156
  • People knew about Babi Yar before Yevtushenko's poem, but they were silent. And when they read the poem, the silence was broken. Art destroys silence.
    • Page 159
  • When a man is in despair, it means that he still believes in something.
    • Page 175
  • I think it is clear to everyone what happens in the Fifth. The rejoicing is forced, created under threat, as in Boris Godunov. It's as if someone were beating you with a stick and saying, "Your business is rejoicing, your business is rejoicing," and you rise, shaky, and go marching off, muttering, "Our business is rejoicing, our business is rejoicing."
    • Page 183.
  • I write music, it's performed. It can be heard, and whoever wants to hear it will. After all, my music says it all. It doesn't need historical and hysterical commentaries. In the long run, any words about music are less important than the music.
    • Page 196
  • What you have in your head, put down on paper. The head is a fragile vessel.
    • Page 229

About Shostakovich and his music

  • Here is music turned deliberately inside out in order that nothing will be reminiscent of classical opera, or have anything in common with symphonic music or with simple and popular musical language accessible to all...Here we have "leftist" confusion instead of natural human music. The power of good music to infect the masses has been sacrificed to a petty-bourgeois, "formalist" attempt to create originality through cheap clowning. It is a game of clever ingenuity that may end very badly.
  • Pornophony.
    • From a 1935 review of Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District in the New York Sun, quoted in Richard Taruskin Defining Russia Musically (1997) p. 505.
  • Not since the time of Berlioz has a symphonic composer created such a stir. In far-away America, great conductors vie with each other for the jus primae noctis of his music. The score of his Seventh Symphony, the symphony of struggle and victory, has been reduced to a roll of microfilm and flown half-way across the speed the day of the American première. How the old romantics would have loved to be the center of such a fantastic adventure!
    • Nicolas Slonimsky in The Musical Quarterly, 1942; reprinted in his Writings on Music (2005), p. 84.
  • He did not write about this war and that revolution, but about war and revolution in general, the state of mind and emotion, not facts.
    • Maxim Shostakovich, the composer's son, quoted in the Chicago Tribune, September 24, 2006.
  • Many consider that Shostakovich is the greatest 20th-century composer. In his 15 symphonies, 15 quartets, and in other works he demonstrated mastery of the largest and most challenging forms with music of great emotional power and technical invention…All his works are marked by emotional extremes – tragic intensity, grotesque and bizarre wit, humour, parody, and savage sarcasm.
  • He is thinner, taller, younger – more boyish-looking – than expected, but he is also the shyest and most nervous human being I have ever seen. He chews not merely his nails but his fingers, twitches his pouty mouth and chin, chain-smokes, wiggles his nose in constant adjustment of his spectacles, looks querulous one moment and ready to cry the next. His hands tremble, he stutters, his whole frame wobbles when he shakes hands…There is no betrayal of the thoughts behind those frightened, very intelligent eyes.

External links

Wikipedia has an article about:

Simple English

[[File:|thumb|right|210px|Dmitri Shostakovich]]

Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich (born St Petersburg, September 25 1906; died Moscow August 9 1975) was a Soviet composer. People think he was the greatest writer of symphonies in the mid-20th century. He was also a great writer of string quartets. He lived at a time when Russia was part of the Soviet Union, ruled by dictators like Joseph Stalin. People who criticized the way the country was being ruled were punished. The politicians wanted music and art to be easy to understand and to show how great their country was. If it was too difficult to understand it was called “formalist” and that composer was not allowed to have his music performed. When Shostakovich wanted to put his real feelings into his music he had to be careful how he did it so that he did not offend the politicians.


Shostakovich's life

Early years

Shostakovich’s parents came from Siberia. His father was a biologist and engineer and his mother was a pianist. They lived comfortably, although this was to change after the Revolution (1917). Shostakovich studied the piano and composition at the Petrograd Conservatory (St Petersburg was called Petrograd between 1914 and 1924, after which it became Leningrad until 1991 when it became St Petersburg again). After his father died the family were short of money so the young Dmitri had to earn money by playing the piano in cinemas for silent movies. He worked extremely hard and with a lot of concentration. He was very successful both as a pianist and a composer. His First Symphony was very popular. His music sounded very modern with lots of dissonant chords. His first dramatic works include an opera called The Nose and a ballet called The Golden Age.


In 1930 he wrote an important opera called Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk district. It was a huge success and the critics said that “it could only have been written by a Soviet composer brought up in the best traditions of Soviet culture”. One night in 1936 Stalin came to watch it. He left before the end. Two days later there was an article in the official government paper Pravda. The title was “Chaos instead of Music”. It said that this opera was primitive and vulgar, full of screaming and noise. The politicians were criticizing not just Shostakovich but all modern Soviet music. Shostakovich was denounced (meaning: they said that he was bad) and his friends were too frightened to defend him in case they were denounced as well. Shostakovich suffered quietly and wrote another symphony (his Fifth Symphony). The politicians liked this symphony. He was once more thought of as the leading Soviet composer. He was supposed to have said that his new symphony was the “creative reply of a Soviet artist to justified criticism”, but it was actually a critic who said this. Shortly afterward he received the Stalin Prize for his Piano Quintet.

During World War II Shostakovich was evacuated with his wife and two children. His next two symphonies (nos 7 and 8) describe the war. They were hugely popular in the West. In the United States, the Seventh Symphony became the symbol of resistance against Nazism.

After World War II

After the war the Soviet politicians again began to control and critic artistic life very hard. In 1948 there was a big meeting at which Shostakovich, Prokofiev and several other composers were criticized. Their music was called “formalist”, “anti-democratic” and lots of other things which actually had nothing to do with music. There was nothing the composers could do except to say how sorry they were. For the next five years Shostakovich was careful not to write anything the politicians would not like. He wrote songs such as The sun shines on our motherland. Some of his other compositions in which he expressed his real feelings he kept in a drawer so that no one could see them.

In 1953 Stalin died and things became easier again. He wrote his Tenth Symphony. The whole world now saw Shostakovich as the greatest Soviet composer. He suffered less from official repression. Surprisingly he often criticized the music of modern young composers, but a lot of these articles he never wrote himself. He was persuaded to sign them so that the politicians would leave him in peace. He wrote more symphonies and quartets as well as concertos. His opera Lady Macbeth was revised and given a different title: Katerina Izmaylova. It was made into a movie and was performed in many countries.

In his later years Shostakovich suffered from ill-health. He had poliomyelitis which made it difficult for him to use his hands and legs. He suffered several heart attacks and started to lose his sight. He died of lung cancer in 1975.

Shostakovich’s music

Shostakovich is best known for his 15 symphonies and 15 string quartets. His most important opera is Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District. He also wrote a lot of film music and music for plays (including Hamlet). Shostakovich read a lot of Russian literature. His songs set words by famous Russian writers such as Pushkin, Dostoyevsky and Blok. He wrote 24 Preludes and Fugues for piano, a piano trio, two piano concertos, a piano quintet, a sonata for cello and piano and a sonata for viola and piano (his last work).

He had lots of friends who regularly gave the first performances of his works. Most of his symphonies were first performed by the Leningrad Philharmonic conducted by Eugeny Mravinsky. His string quartets were first performed by the Beethoven String Quartet. The violinist David Oistrakh, the cellist Mstislav Rostropovitch and the pianist Sviatoslav Richter were all close friends who played his music.

Shostakovich the pianist

Shostakovich had an amazing musical memory and could play almost anything he knew by ear. When he was young he spent hours improvising, composing and playing. He was a very gifted pianist although he had small hands. He had no difficulty in playing any of his works on the piano, even music written for an orchestra. He often played his music too fast and without much expression.

Shostakovich’s personality

Shostakovich was a very nervous person. He was shy and very self-critical. He hated having to talk to people he did not know. He did not sit still but was always fidgeting and twitching his face nervously. He was always very polite and very kind to everyone he met. He was very careful not to criticize musicians who asked him for advice. He said very little, but what he said was carefully thought out. He wrote lots of letters to the authorities to try to help his friends. He was very reliable and always tried to arrive everywhere on time. He hated being five seconds late for anything. In his last years he found it very difficult to use his hands because of his illness but he always insisted on writing down his music himself.


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