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.