San Pietroburgo, 1906 – Mosca, 1975

Dmitrij Dmitrievič Šostakovič

The story of this composer, a Russian piano child prodigy (who began his studies with his pianist mother) and composer, is inextricably intertwined with many aspects of the ‘short twentieth century’ which began with Stalinism and the Cold War and become emblematic of the difficult relationship between Art and Power; he was often paradoxically criticised and praised, both in his homeland and in the Western world for varying reasons and at different times. He was one of the leading figures of Russian music of the twentieth century and his artistic career stretched between the two world wars, from the Russian Revolution and Stalinism until the end of the Cold War in the ‘70s (including the Khrushchev era and calm that followed). Vast and stylistically diverse, his music passed through various stages of experimentation, though not always avant-garde, through to an acceptance of the so-called socialist realism,  while never being unproblematic, with frequent changes of style but an underlying link to the musical tradition of his country. He was also exposed to styles such as jazz and popular music which influenced his work. His life’s work includes 15 Symphonies (most famously the Fifth, 1937, and Seventh called Leningrad, 1941 – Shostakovich was actively engaged, in spite of health problems, in the defense of the city, as a firefighter at the Leningrad Conservatory during the siege of German troops); numerous other compositions for orchestra and choir and six solo concertos (two for piano, two for violin and two for cello). In terms of chamber music he left behind 15 quartets, two trios, five sonatas (for violin, viola and cello and two for piano), and 24 Preludes and Fugues for piano solo written in the wake of the Well Tempered Clavier by Bach, although with modern tuning. There are also numerous works for the stage: Plays and ballets (Il Naso, with text by Gogol’, and La lady Macbeth del distretto di Mcensk) and a vast contribution to film music, in collaboration with some of the leading Soviet directors including the famous Sergei M. Eisenstein. The Composer was immersed in a world of, perhaps irreconcilable, contradictions between adherence to Leninist socialism, patriotism and the rejection of Moloch Stalin, as was in the great cultural milieu of the twentieth century. He came into contact with many great writers and poets (from Tolstoy to Gor ‘kij), as well as performers and important figures in the world of music (from Britten to Toscanini, and Rostropovich to Mravinskij) who helped bring his music to the world.

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