Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)

Dmitri Shostakovich was one of the most important composers of the Soviet Union. Growing up under the influence of Mahler, Stravinsky, and Prokofiev, Shostakovich took those influences and fused them with an interest in jazz and other popular music to form a unique musical language. His pieces often contained sarcastic or even barbaric elements. Although his music was very popular in his native Russia, and throughout the world, he was often banned and was denounced twice under Stalin’s regime. After his first denunciation, his large orchestral works became much more conservative in style. However, he turned increasingly to chamber music, (which tended to be overlooked more by Soviet censors), to express his more experimental ideas. Years of repression under Stalin shaped his personality, making him prone to nervous fits and bouts with depression. This melancholy is often reflected in his music. Many musicologists (and even his children) believe that he created secret messages in much of his later music that was highly critical of communist policies and programs. As he ironically observed,

“I always try to make myself as widely understood as possible; and if I don’t succeed I consider it my own fault.”

Shostakovich composed an enormous amount of music, including several symphonies, ballets, operas, piano pieces, chamber music, and film scores. Some of his best known compositions include the Symphony No. 7, “Leningrad”; Symphony No. 13, “Babi Yar” (about a massacre of Jews during World War II); the String Quartet No. 8 (dedicated to the victims of fascism and war), the 24 Preludes & Fugues for piano (inspired by Bach), and the Festive Overture (which was used for the 1980 Olympic Games).

Suggested Listening:

Suggested Reading:

Solomon Volkov. Testimony: The Memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich.