Dimitri Shostakovich

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Dmitri Shostakovich

Dmitri Shostakovich, born on September 25, 1905, started taking piano lessons from his mother at the age of nine after he showed interest in a string quartet that practiced next door. He entered the Petrograd (formerly St. Petersburg, later Leningrad) Conservatory in 1919, where he studied the piano with Leonid Nikolayev until 1923 and composition until 1925 with Aleksandr Glazunov and Maksimilian Steinberg. He participated in the Chopin International Competition for Pianists in Warsaw in 1927 and received an honorable mention, after which he decided to limit his public performances to his own works to separate himself from the virtuoso pianists.

Prior to the competition, he had had a far greater success as a composer with the First Symphony (1924-25), which quickly achieved worldwide recognition. The symphony was influenced by composers as diverse as Tchaikovsky, Paul Hindemith, and Sergey Prokofiev. The cultural climate in the Soviet Union was, compared to the Soviet Union at its peak, free at the time. Even the music of Igor Stravinsky and Alban Berg, then in the avant-garde, was played. Bela Bartok and Paul Hindemith visited Russia to perform their own works, and Shostakovich toyed openly with these novelties. His first opera, The Nose, based on the satiric Nikolay Gogol story, displayed a thorough understanding of what was popular in Western music combined with his "dry" humor. Not surprisingly, Shostakovich's undoubtedly finer second opera, Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District (later renamed Katerina Izmaylova), marked a stylistic retreat. However, this new Shostakovich was too avant-garde for Stalin.

In 1928, Joseph Stalin inaugurated his First Five-Year Plan, an "iron hand fastened on Soviet culture," (Johnson) and in music a direct and popular style was demanded. Avant-garde music and jazz were banished, and for a while even Tchaikovsky was looked down upon. Shostakovich remained in good favor for a time, but it has been said that it was Stalin's personal anger at what he heard when he attended a performance of Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District in 1936 that sparked the official condemnation of the opera and of its creator. The focus of the opera was based around murder, conspiracy, and trickery, all of which were the worst things that a Russian could speak of.

Shostakovich was brutally attacked in ...

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...obert Dearling. The Music of Dmitri Shostakovich: the symphonies. Tantivy Press, 1979

Brown, Royal S. ‘Interview with Shostakovich.’ High Fidelity, 23 (October 1973).

Fanning, David. The Breath of the Symphonist: Shostakovich’s Tenth. Royal Musical Association, 1988.

Fay, Laurel E. ‘Shostakovich vs. Volkov: whose Testimony?’ The Russian Review (October 1980), pp. 484-93.

Johnson, Priscilla and Leopold Labdez (eds.). Khrushchev and the Arts: the politics of Soviet Culture, 1962-64. MIT Press, 1965.

Kay, Norman. Dmitri Shostakovich. Oxford University Press, 1972.

MacDonald, Ian. The New Shostakovich. Northeastern University Press, 1990.

Norris, Christopher. Bibliography of Russian Composers. White Lion, 1976.

Olkhovsky, Andrei. Music under the Soviets: the agony of an art. Praeger, 1955.

Salisbury, Harrison. ‘A Visit with Dmitri Shostakovich.’ New York Times, 8 August 1954.

Schwartz, Boris. Music and Musical Life in Soviet Russia, 1917-1981. 2nd edition. Indiana University Press, 1983.

Sollertinsky, Dmitri and Ludmilla. Pages from the Life of Dmitri Shostakovich. Hale, 1981.

Volkov, Solomon (ed.). Testimony: the memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich. Harper & Row, 1979.

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