Find out more about Shostakovich's The Unforgettable Year 1919. Watch and listen to different recordings and download your favourite.
Dmitri Shostakovich (1906–1975) was a Russian composer and pianist and was one of the most celebrated composers of the 20th century.
Life and Music
- Despite Shostakovich's exceptional talent, it was not until he was nine that he received his first formal piano lessons from his mother, a professional pianist.
- In 1919, composer Alexander Glazunov considered the young Shostakovich ready to begin his studies at the Petrograd Conservatory, where he was director.
- The 19-year-old Shostakovich produced a First Symphony that is an astonishing act of creative prodigy.
- In 1936, Stalin attended a performance of Shostakovich's operatic grotesquerie, Lady Macbeth of the Mtensk District. Dismayed by its lack of positivist flag-saving, the state newspaper, Pravda, slated this "bedlam of noise".
- With the gun of the Soviet regime pointed at his head - and Stalin's finger effectively on the trigger - Shostakovich knew he had to produce a surefire winner. The Fifth Symphony, with its universal message of triumph achieved out of adversity, was exactly what the State wanted, and it made him a public hero.
- In 1948, several composers, including Shostakovich and Prokofiev, were hauled over the coals by Pravda for "decadent formalism".
- In 1953 Shostakovich also composed his masterly Tenth Symphony, written - although no one was aware of it at the time - as a reaction against the Stalinist regime, and in the case of the vitriolic Scherzo, a sardonic portrait of Stalin.
- The constant psychological torture had taken its toll, and it seems that in 1960, following the completion of his Eighth String Quartet, Shostakovich contemplated suicide. In 1966 he suffered a heart attack from which he never fully recovered, and which hastened a preoccupation with death which is tangibly realised in his angst-ridden Fourteenth Symphony.
- Shostakovich died a broken man.
Did you know?
One of Shostakovich's songs was sung by the cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin over the radio from his spacecraft to Mission Control down on earth.
Find out more about Shostakovich's The Gadfly. Watch and listen to different recordings and download your favourite.
Mstislav Rostropovich leds the London Symphony Orchestra on to an inspirational performance of Shostakovich's Symphony No.5
Kurt Masur leds the London Philharmonic Orchestra on an emphatic performance of Shostakovich's Symphonies Nos 1 and 5
Mark Matsov’s flat in Tallinn contains an invaluable collection of Shostakovich scores and recordings from the communist era. But even in post-Soviet times the archive is under threat.
Maxim Shostakovich still recalls the awe of hearing, when he was just four years old, the first performance of his father Dmitri’s Leningrad Symphony. Here, he explains how the experience sparked his desire to follow in his father’s musical footsteps.
Top Shostakovich Pieces
Festive Overture Opus 96
- Conductor: Neeme Jarvi
- Ensemble: Royal Scottish National Orchestra
- Record Label: Chandos
- Catalog: CHAN 7000
Jazz Suite No.1
- Conductor: Mariss Jansons
- Ensemble: Philadelphia Orchestra
- Record Label: EMI
- Catalog: CDC 5556012
Jazz Suite No.2 (6)
- Conductor: Paavo Jarvi
- Ensemble: Philharmonic Orchestra of Radio France
- Record Label: Virgin
- Catalog: 7243 5456092
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