Dmitri [Dmitry] (Dmitrievich) Shostakovich was a preeminent Russian composer of the Soviet generation, whose style and idiom of composition largely defined the nature of new Russian music, father of Maxim Shostakovich.
Dmitri Shostakovich was born in St. Petersburg. He was a member of a cultured Russian family; his father was an engineer employed in the government office of weights and measures; his mother was a professional pianist. Dmitri grew up during the most difficult period of Russian revolutionary history, when famine and disease decimated the population of Petrograd. Of frail physique, he suffered from malnutrition; Glazunov, the director of the Petrograd Conservatory, appealed personally to the Commissar of Education, Lunacharsky, to grant an increased food ration for Shostakovich, essential for his physical survival. At the age of 9, he commenced piano lessons with his mother; in 1919 he entered the petrograd Conservatory, where he studied piano with Nikolayev and composition with Steinberg; graduated in piano in 1923, and in composition in 1925. As a graduation piece, he submitted his 1st Symphony, written at the age of 18; it was first performed by the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra on May 12, 1926, under the direction of Malko, and subsequently became one of Shostakovich's most popular works. He pursued postgraduate work in composition until 1930.
Dmitri Shostakovich’s is 2nd Symphony, composed for the 10th anniversary of the Soviet Revolution in 1927, bearing the subtitle Dedication to October and ending with a rousing choml finale, was less successful despite its revolutionary sentiment. He then wrote a satirical opera, The Nose, after Gogol's whimsical story about the sudden disappearance of the nose from the face of a government functionary; here Shostakovich revealed his flair for musical satire; the score featured a variety of modernistic devices and included an interlude written for percussion instruments only. The Nose was premiered in Leningrad on January 12, 1930, with considerable popular acclaim, but was attacked by officious theater critics as a product of "bourgeois decadence," and quickly withdrawn from the stage. Somewhat in the same satirical style was his ballet The Golden Age (1930), which included a celebrated dissonant Polka, satirizing the current disarmament conference in Geneva. There followed the 3rd Symphony, subtitled May First (Leningrad, January 21, 1930), with a choral finale saluting the International Workers' Day. Despite its explicit revolutionary content, it failed to earn the approbation of Soviet spokesmen, who dismissed the work as nothing more than a formal gesture of proletarian solidarity.
Dmitri Shostakovich's next work was to precipitate a crisis in his career, as well as in Soviet music in general; it was an opera to the libretto drawn from a short story by the 19th-century Russian writer Leskov, entitled Lady Macbeth of the District of Mtsensk, and depicting adultery, murder, and suicide in a merchant home under the czars. It was premiered in Leningrad on January 22, 1934, and was hailed by most Soviet musicians as a significant work comparable to the best productions of Western modem opera. But both the staging and the music ran counter to growing Soviet puritanism; a symphonic interlude portmying a scene of adultery behind the bedroom curtain, orchestrated with suggestive passages on the slide trombones, shocked the Soviet officials present at the performance by its bold naturalism. After the Moscow production of the opera, Pravda, the official organ of the Communist party, publ. an unsigned (and therefore all the more authoritative) article accusing Shostakovich of creating a "bedlam of noise." The brutality of this assault dismayed Shostakovich; he readily admitted his faults in both content and treatment of the subject, and declared his solemn determination to write music according to the then-emerging formula of "socialist realism." His next stage production was a ballet, The Limpid Brook (Leningrad, April 4, 1935), portraying the pastoral scenes on a Soviet collective farm. In this work he tempered his dissonant idiom, and the subject seemed eminently fitting for the Soviet theater; but it, too, was condemned in Pravda, this time for an insufficiently dignified treatment of Soviet life.
Having been rebuked twice for 2 radically different theater works, Dmitri Shostakovich abandoned all attempts to write for the stage, and returned to purely instrumental composition. But as though pursued by vengeful fate, he again suffered a painful reverse. His 4th Symphony (1935-1936) was placed in rehearsal by the Leningrad Phil., but withdrawn before the performance when representatives of the musical officialdom and even the orchestra musicians themselves sharply criticized the piece. Shostakovich's rehabilitation finally came with the production of his 5th Symphony (Leningrad, November 21, 1937), a work of rhapsodic grandeur, culminating in a powerful climax; it was hailed, as though by spontaneous consensus, as a model of true Soviet art, classical in formal design, lucid in its harmonic idiom, and optimistic in its philosophical connotations. The height of his rise to recognition was achieved in his 7th Symphony He began its composition during the siege of Leningrad by the Nazis in the autumn of 1941; he served in the fire brigade during the air raids; then flew from Leningrad to the temporary Soviet capital in Kuibishev, on the Volga, where he completed the score, which was premiered there on March 1, 1942. Its symphonic development is realistic in the extreme, with the theme of the Nazis, in mechanical march time, rising to monstrous loudness, only to be overcome and reduced to a pathetic drum dribble by a victorious Russian song. The work became a musical symbol of the Russian struggle against the overwhelmingly superior Nazi war machine; it was given the subtitle Leningrad Symphony, and was performed during World War II by virtually every orchestra in the Allied countries. Ironically, in later years Shostakovich intimated that the Symphony had little or nothing to do with the events of the siege of Leningrad but actually with the siege of Russia in the grip of the dehumanizing and tyrannical Stalinist regime.
After the tremendous emotional appeal of the Leningrad Symphony, the 8th Symphony, written in 1943, had a lesser impact; the 9th, 10th, and 11th Symphonies followed (1945, 1953, 1957) without attracting much comment; the 12th Symphony (1960-1961), dedicated to the memory of Lenin, aroused a little more interest. But it was left for his 13th Symphony (Leningrad, December 18, 1962) to create a controversy which seemed to be Shostakovich's peculiar destiny; its vocalIst movement for solo bass and men's chorus, to words by the Soviet poet Yevtushenko, expressing the horror of the massacre of Jews by the Nazis during their occupation of the city of Kiev and containing a warning against residual anti-Semitism in Soviet Russia, met with unexpected criticism by the chairman of the Communist party, Nikita Khrushchev, who complained about the exclusive attention in Yevtushenko's poem to Jewish victims, and his failure to mention the Ukrainians and other nationals who were also slaughtered. The text of the poem was altered to meet these objections, but the 13th Symphony never gained wide acceptance. There followed the remarkable 14th Symphony (1969), in 11 sections, scored for voices and orchestra, to words by Federico Garcia Lorca, Apollinaire, Rilke, and the Russian poet Kuchelbecker.
Dmitri Shostakovich's 15th Symphony, his last (premiered in Moscow under the direction of his son Maxim on January 8, 1972), demonstrated his undying spirit of innovation; the score is set in the key of C major, but it contains a dodecaphonic .passage and literal allusions to motives from Rossini's William Tell Overture and the Fate Motif from Wagner's Die Walküre. Shostakovich's adoption, however limited, of themes built on 12 diffnotes, a procedure that he had himself condemned as anti-musical, is interesting both from the psychological and sociological standpoint; he experimented with these techniques in several other works; his first explicit use of a 12-tone subject occurred in his 12th String Quartet (1968). Equally illuminating is his use in some of his scores of a personal monogram, D.S.C.H. (for D, Es, C, H in German notation, i.e., D, E-flat, C, B). One by one, his early works, originally condemned as unacceptable to Soviet reality, were returned to the stage and the concert hall; the objectionable 4th and 13th Symphonies were published and recorded; the operas The Nose and Lady Macbeth of the District of Mtzensk (renamed Katerina Izmailova, after the name of the heroine) had several successful revivals.
Dmitri Shostakovich excelled in instrumental music. Besides the 15 symphonies, he wrote 15 string quartets, a String Octet, Piano Quintet, 2 piano trios, Cello Sonata, Violin Sonata, Viola Sonata, 2 violin concertos, 2 piano concertos, 2 cello concertos, 24 preludes for Piano, 24 preludes and fugues for Piano, 2 piano sonatas, and several short piano pieces; also choral works and song cycles. What is most remarkable about Shostakovich is the unfailing consistency of his style of composition. His entire oeuvre, from his first work to the last (147 opus numbers in all), proclaims a personal article of faith. His idiom is unmistakably of the 20th century, making free use of dissonant harmonies and intricate contrapuntal designs, yet never abandoning inherent tonality; his music is teleological, leading invariably to a tonal climax, often in a triumphal triadic declaration. Most of his works carry key signatures; his metrical structure is governed by a unifying rhythmic pulse. Shostakovich is equally eloquent in dramatic and lyric utterance; he has no fear of prolonging his slow movements in relentless dynamic rise and fall; the cumulative power of his kinetic drive in rapid movements is overwhelming. Through all the peripeties of his career, he never changed his musical language in its fundamental modalities. When the flow of his music met obstacles, whether technical or external, he obviated them without changing the main direction.
In a special announcement issued after Dmitri Shostakovich's death, the government of the U.S.S.R. summarized his work as a "remarkable example of fidelity to the traditions of musical classicism, and above all, to the Russian traditions, finding his inspiration in the reality of Soviet life, reasserting and developing in his creative innovations the art of socialist realism, and in so doing, contributing to universal progressive musical culture." His honors, both domestic and foreign, were many: the Order of Lenin (1946, 1956, 1966), People's Artist of the U.S.S.R. (1954), Hero of Socialist Labor (1966), Order of the October Revolution (1971), honorary Doctor of the Univ. of Oxford (1958), Laureate of the International Sibelius Prize (1958), and Doctor of Fine Arts from Northwestern University (1973). He visited the USA as a delegate to the World Peace Conference in 1949, as a member of a group of Soviet musicians in 1959, and to receive the degree of D.F.A. from Northwestern University in 1973. A postage stamp of 6 kopecks, bearing his photograph and an excerpt from the Leningrad Symphony, was issued by the Soviet Post Office in 1976 to commemorate his 70th birthday. A collected edition of his works was published in Moscow (42 volumes, 1980-).