Dmitri Dmitryevich Shostakovich - Soviet Composer Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Dmitri Dmitryevich Shostakovich - Soviet Composer

2 Conversations

Dmitri Shostakovich, 1906-1975.

Dmitri Dmitryevich Shostakovich was one of the most famous composers in Russia during the Soviet era, not only for his symphonic and chamber works (including 15 symphonies and 15 string quartets) but also for the controversy that still surrounds his opinions - particularly of the Soviet regime in which he lived - and how they influenced his music. A man frequently in conflict with the authorities but publicly proclaimed to be a loyal Communist and surrounded by the suffering of his fellow citizens, Shostakovich nevertheless preserved his artistic integrity and wrote music of immense emotional power.

A Life

Early Years

Shostakovich was born on 25 September, 19061 in St Petersburg, Russia to an engineer father with Polish ancestry and a pianist mother, both members of the intelligentsia2 who appreciated an eclectic range of arts - music in particular. Both his parents held politically liberal and tolerant views - the family sheltered both Bolsheviks and far-right extremists - and they frequently discussed the Revolution of 1905 against Tsar Nicholas II. At the comparatively late age of nine, Mitya3 started piano lessons and was found to be exceptionally gifted as both a pianist and composer. Mitya witnessed both the February and October Revolutions in 1917, as well as a number of other events - such as a Cossack killing a small boy in the street, and Lenin's arrival at the Finland Station in Petrograd4 in April 1917 - that may have shaped his future political views. He even composed a 'Funeral March in Memory of the Victims of the Revolution' - his first composition - after two leaders of the moderate Kadet Party were murdered by Bolshevik sailors. While the Shostakovich family remained loyal to the new Bolshevik regime after the October Revolution and unlike most of the intelligentsia did not leave the city, the chaos caused by the resulting civil war made living conditions very difficult.

In the midst of this upheaval and after some uncertainty into what his future career would be, the 13-year-old Mitya enrolled into the Petrograd Conservatory in 1919, then run by the famous composer and former pupil of Rimsky-Korsakov, Alexander Glazunov. Shostakovich was an able and persistent pupil - he always turned up to composition lectures in spite of fuel shortages for heating and walked to his piano teacher's house for lessons whenever his teacher failed to turn up. However, Mitya suffered from a bout of tuberculosis that lasted for ten years and a perceived lack of political zeal, as he initially failed his examination in Marxist methodology. When his father died in 1922, Mitya started working at local cinemas by playing piano for silent films to help support his mother and two sisters. Although this may have helped Shostakovich in his later career as a composer of film music, he hated this work and even had to resort to taking his employers to court to receive his wages. In spite of these hardships, Shostakovich was able to compose several pieces that were later published. One of these was his First Symphony, written in 1925 as his dissertation piece, which was eventually performed all over the world and assured his success as a composer as well as allowing him to graduate from the recently renamed Leningrad Conservatoire. Every year until his death, he celebrated the anniversary of the premiere of his First Symphony as the moment when his life changed forever.

He initially started a career as both pianist and composer but his dry style of playing was not universally appreciated - after receiving an 'honourable mention' but no prize at the 1927 Warsaw International Piano Competition, he concentrated on composition and usually only performed his own works in public; he originally composed his first piano concerto (Concerto for Piano, Trumpet and Strings) in 1933 for himself to play. In 1927, Shostakovich also wrote his Second Symphony - an experimental single-movement work with a choral ending set to a poem, 'To October' by Alexander Bezymensky, praising the Revolution and Lenin. He also started work on his opera based on Gogol's story 'The Nose' and met Ivan Sollertinsky, a polymath who became a close friend and introduced Shostakovich to the music of Mahler which became a major influence on his music, particularly on his later symphonies. He also met and became friends with the theatrical director, actor and theorist Vsevolod Meyerhold. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Shostakovich worked with the Leningrad Workers' Youth Theatre (TRAM) group, sometimes playing piano for productions of Brecht-inspired agitprop pieces. This helped Shostakovich to avoid ideological attacks at the time when Stalin was gaining power, along with writing works such as his Third Symphony of 1929 (another single-movement work with a choral setting of Semyon Kirsanov's poem 'First of May', praising May Day and the Revolution). He also started writing an eclectic range of music: apart from his symphonies, he wrote three ballets, The Age of Gold, The Bolt and The Limpid Stream, incidental music for plays, film scores and his First Suite for Jazz Orchestra.

Spurred on by the general change in attitudes to sexuality due to the Revolution, Shostakovich believed that 'love is free' - as he once wrote to his mother - and that it could not be restricted by marriage, although he also considered parenthood to be sacred. His relationships with various women could be argued to have had an influence on his music, and he dedicated many of his pieces to them; his First Piano Trio, for instance, was dedicated to his first true love, Tanya Glivenko, with whom he had an open relationship. In 1932, after hearing that Glivenko had married another man and become pregnant, he married his first wife, physicist Nina Varzar, whom he had met soon after completing his Second Symphony five years before. Shostakovich had an open affair with another woman soon afterwards that nearly led to divorce three years later, but he and Nina reunited soon after they discovered she was pregnant with his child.

'Muddle Instead of Music'

In spite of criticism of his first opera The Nose as being 'formalist'5, Shostakovich wrote a second one inspired by Nikolai Leskov's story Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, in which a merchant's wife has an affair and falls in love with a new manservant, which leads her to kill her husband and father-in-law so she can marry him. It proved to be very popular with audiences when it was first performed in 1934 and was another internationally renowned piece for Shostakovich; the young British composer Benjamin Britten saw an unstaged concert performance of the opera in March 1936 and was deeply impressed, as he wrote in his diary:

[...] Of course it is idle to pretend that this is great music throughout - it is stage music and as such must be considered. There is some terrific music in the entr'acts. But I will defend it through thick & thin against these charges of 'lack of style'. [...] There is a consistency of style & method throughout. The satire is biting & brilliant. It is never boring for a second - even in this form. [...] The 'eminent English Renaissance' composers sniggering in the stalls was typical. There is more music in a page of Macbeth than in the whole of their 'elegant' output!
- Benjamin Britten, Diary entry for 18 March, 1936

However, on 26 January, 1936, Stalin himself attended a performance of Lady Macbeth in Moscow - furious with what he saw and heard6, he left before the end. Two days later, one of the most famous reviews in history was published in the Communist Party's newspaper, Pravda, 'Muddle Instead of Music':

From the first minute, the listener is shocked by deliberate dissonance, by a confused stream of sound. Snatches of melody, the beginnings of a musical phrase, are drowned, emerge again, and disappear in a grinding and squealing roar. To follow this 'music' is most difficult; to remember it, impossible.

Thus it goes, practically throughout the entire opera. The singing on the stage is replaced by shrieks. [...] Here is music turned deliberately inside out in order that nothing will be reminiscent of classical opera, or have anything in common with symphonic music or with simple and popular musical language accessible to all. [...] We have 'leftist' confusion instead of natural human music. The power of good music to infect the masses has been sacrificed to a petty-bourgeois, 'formalist' attempt to create originality through cheap clowning. It is a game of clever ingenuity that may end very badly.

[...] The music quacks, grunts, and growls, and suffocates itself in order to express the love scenes as naturalistically as possible. And 'love' is smeared all over the opera in the most vulgar manner.

[...] Lady Macbeth is having great success with bourgeois audiences abroad. Is it not because the opera is non-political and confusing that they praise it? Is it not explained by the fact that it tickles the perverted taste of the bourgeois with its fidgety, neurotic music?

- Unknown author7, Pravda

By this time, many of the 'excesses' of Lady Macbeth had already been cut or modified by Shostakovich himself, but the effect of this clumsy review along with one on his much more conventional ballet The Limpet Stream ('Balletic Falsity') was devastating. Apart from the impact these attacks had on Shostakovich's career - he lost commissions and about three-quarters of his income - they came at the start of the Great Terror in which hundreds of thousands or even millions of people suspected of opposing Stalin's regime were executed or deported to prison camps in Siberia. Meyerhold and Marshall Tukhachevsky - both friends of Shostakovich - were shot on Stalin's orders and several of his relatives including his brother-in-law, his mother-in-law and his eldest sister were imprisoned. As a result, Shostakovich feared arrest8 and even kept a suitcase in the hall at this time so as not to disturb his wife and family if the NVKD9 knocked on his door to take him away10. Many people who knew Shostakovich kept their distance to avoid being arrested themselves. The only consolation at this time for Shostakovich was the birth of his daughter Galina - her brother Maxim was born two years later in 1938.

One of the works that Shostakovich had been working on at the time of the Pravda review was his Fourth Symphony - a large-scale work that is both technically and emotionally challenging for performers and demonstrates a strong Mahlerian influence in terms of its musical development and its grotesque and tragic character. Indeed, it is believed that Shostakovich wrote the symphony in response to the betrayals by some of his friends and colleagues and his suicidal thoughts:

In that critical period my familiarity with Zoshchenko's ideas [on suicide] helped me greatly. He didn't say that suicide was a whim, but he did say that suicide was a purely infantile act. It was the mutiny of the lower level against the higher level of the psyche. [...]

[...] These and similar considerations kept me from making extreme decisions. I came out of the crisis stronger than before, more confident of my own strength. The hostile forces didn't seem so omnipotent any more and even the shameful treachery of friends and acquaintances didn't cause me as much pain as before.

Some of these thoughts you can find, if you wish, in my Fourth Symphony. In the last pages it's all set out rather precisely.

- Attributed to Shostakovich11, Testimony: The Memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich

He completed the work after the Pravda attacks and the symphony entered rehearsals for its premiere by the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra at the end of December 1936. However, Shostakovich withdrew the work almost at the last minute. Why he did so remains unclear - while he publicly stated that he thought the symphony suffered from 'grandiosomania' and the conductor was making a mess of rehearsals, his secretary and friend Isaak Glikman suggested that Communist party bosses had put pressure on the orchestra's manager to drop the work. Shostakovich's own public criticism of the work was probably dissimilar to his private views: he tried in vain to get the symphony premiered about a decade later and when the work was finally premiered in 1961, he dismissed suggestions to make significant changes from the original 1936 score, which had been reconstructed from orchestral parts after the manuscript score had been lost.

Soon after he withdrew his Fourth Symphony, Shostakovich started work on the Fifth Symphony, perhaps his most famous and popular work. It is in a more conservative idiom than his Fourth Symphony and uses a much more conventional symphony orchestra: the symphony was given the subtitle 'A Soviet Artist's Response to Just Criticism', although not by Shostakovich himself. It cannot necessarily be argued that Shostakovich was forced to write his symphony in this 'simpler' style because of the Pravda attacks; his Cello Sonata from 1935 is written in a similarly accessible idiom. This might suggest, however, that he was already modifying his musical language to fit the state-imposed doctrine of socialist realism - the Pravda attacks could have just been an indication that this was the 'right' thing to do. Apart from the more optimistic ending - which Shostakovich apparently said in Testimony was 'forced rejoicing' - the Fifth Symphony is thought to be about as tragic as its immediate predecessor. However, it also incorporated musical quotations from the first of his Four Romances on Verses by Pushkin, 'Rebirth', where a 'barbarian painter blackens the genius's painting' but the masterpiece is reborn as the black paint gradually falls away. Its premiere on 21 November, 1937 by Yevgeny Mravinsky and the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra proved to be a make-or-break time for Shostakovich: fortunately for him, not only were the authorities satisfied - if reluctantly at first - but the audience was deeply moved by the piece and gave it a standing ovation for at least half an hour. The symphony was able to meet two mainly different goals: to be both officially acceptable and a sincere piece of music that had integrity and emotional depth.

The Fifth Symphony turned out to be one of several works that Shostakovich wrote for official approval and public performance - in spite of an apparent 'lapse' with his Sixth Symphony of 1939, an appealing if lopsided work with a long and sombre first movement, a scherzo and a 'full-blooded and debauched music-hall galop' that reminded some critics of a football match! Conversely, he also started to write more chamber pieces from around the same time, such as his First String Quartet of 1938 and his officially-acclaimed Piano Quintet of 1940, in which he was still able to experiment musically and express ideas that would have been unacceptable in more 'public' pieces. In 1937, Shostakovich began teaching at the Leningrad Conservatoire, which made him financially secure but also interfered with his composition.

The Patriotic War

Although the Second World War (known as the 'Patriotic War' to Soviet citizens) had started two years earlier, Hitler broke the Molotov-Ribbentrop Non-Aggression Pact of 1939 and invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941. The Germans were able to surprise the USSR with their Blitzkrieg attack and thus rapidly gained land - three months after they first attacked, they reached the outskirts of Leningrad and started a 900-day siege on the city that caused around a million people to die, mostly from starvation and exposure to the cold in the winter.

Shostakovich initially stayed in Leningrad with his family, where he started writing a new symphony and, mainly to help contribute to propaganda efforts, he served as a fire warden and delivered a radio broadcast to the Soviet people. In October, after completing the first three movements, he and his family were evacuated out of Leningrad to Kuybishev12, the secondary capital of the USSR while Moscow was under threat - they moved to Moscow in spring 1943 once the danger of invasion had passed. Shostakovich finished his Seventh Symphony (also known as the 'Leningrad' Symphony) in December 1941 and it was premiered in Kuybishev on 5 March, 1942 to great acclaim. After smuggling the score out of the USSR on photographic film, the symphony was also premiered in London in June 1942 by Henry Wood and the London Philharmonic Orchestra and in New York by Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony Orchestra a month later. The 'Leningrad' Symphony was also performed in the besieged city itself in August 1942 by the Leningrad Radio Orchestra: the players were given extra rations and were augmented by amateur musicians to replace those who had died, left the city or were drafted into the army to fight. Although it was a very popular work in both the USSR and the West during the Second World War, seen to embody the fighting Russian spirit, the Seventh Symphony was later considered to be a crude piece of Soviet propaganda. Even at the time of the symphony's popularity in the West, the Hungarian composer Bela Bartok parodied the repeated march tune of the first movement13 in his Concerto For Orchestra.

During the Patriotic War, while Stalin still had authoritarian control over the USSR, there were far fewer purges and in spite of the hardships due to the war, the intelligentsia (including Shostakovich) felt less restricted. The enforced optimism required for all forms of art under the doctrine of 'socialist realism' did not need to apply as rigidly during the war as in peacetime, as any depicted grief or destruction could be attributed to the War and the Germans. In this light, Shostakovich's Eighth Symphony of 1943 - perhaps his most sombre and tragic work, with a more subdued ending than the 'Leningrad' and premiered after the victory at Stalingrad14 - was not well-received by the authorities nor viciously attacked by them. Responding to the lukewarm reception of this symphony, Shostakovich suggested that the Seventh and Eighth Symphonies would form part of a trilogy of War Symphonies and publicly announced that he would compose a choral and orchestral celebration of victory. In the meantime, he had been composing more officially-approved patriotic songs and chamber music such as his Second String Quartet and his Second Piano Trio (dedicated to the memory of Sollertinsky, who had died in 1944).

In January 1945, Shostakovich started work on his proposed celebratory Ninth Symphony but for some reason he abandoned it. When he finally restarted work on it at the end of July after the War in Europe ended, he had changed tack and actually wrote a light, neo-classical styled work that seemingly had no extra-musical meaning, although it could be argued to be a light-hearted satirical swipe at the Soviet authorities. Shostakovich himself said it was 'a joyful little piece' and that 'musicians will like to play it, and critics will delight in blasting it'. After its premiere on 3 November, 1945, the Ninth Symphony was treated with suspicion by the Soviet authorities, who claimed it was an example of 'ideological weakness' and failed to 'reflect the true spirit of the people of the Soviet Union'.


After the end of the Second World War, Stalin quickly regained his xenophobia with the deterioration of relations with the Western Allies - the start of the Cold War. Mass arrests and deportations were resumed as part of a campaign against 'cosmopolitanism' and 'kow-towing to the West' with the aim of bringing Soviet citizens back under repressive control.

Another part of this campaign was to reinforce the principle of socialist realism on the country's artists - this task was entrusted to the Party Leader of Leningrad and the Central Committee secretary with responsibility for ideology and culture, Andrei Zhdanov. From 1946 until his death in 1948, Zhdanov issued a number of Party resolutions condemning artists for 'formalism', which initiated sustained campaigns of persecution against them until the late 1950s - this period is known as Zhdanovshchina (the era of Zhdanov). The first resolutions were against writers, including the satirist Mikhail Zoshchenko and the poet Anna Akhmatova, both of whom Shostakovich greatly admired.

On 10 February, 1948, it was music's turn - a decree entitled 'On the Opera The Great Friendship by Vano Muradeli' not only attacked the named composer but also those people said to influence his music, namely Shostakovich and many of his contemporaries including Sergei Prokofiev and Aram Khachaturian. Muradeli's opera was merely a pretext for an all-out attack against composers, who:

[...] maintained a formalistic, anti-people tendency [...] , in whose work formalist perversions and anti-democratic tendencies in music, alien to the Soviet people and its artistic tastes, were particularly glaring.
- 'On the Opera The Great Friendship by Vano Muradeli', Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union

This party decree was even more damaging to Shostakovich than the Pravda attacks in 1936: its claim that Shostakovich had written music that was 'against the People' cost him his job at the Leningrad Conservatoire, applied an effective ban on most of his music and renewed his fears of arrest. Two months after the 'Historic Decree' had been issued, Shostakovich and a number of the other named composers attended a special congress of the Composers' Union to publicly repent for their 'formalist' music and be humiliated - his own speech had been prepared by officials and was presented to him to read out seconds before he reached the podium.

Over the next few years, Shostakovich's music could be divided up into three types: film music to pay the rent, official works for rehabilitation (such as the 1949 cantata 'Song of the Forest' that praised Stalin as the 'great gardener') and 'serious' works for the desk drawer to be performed after Stalin's death, including the First Violin Concerto and the song cycle 'From Jewish Folk Poetry'. Composing this song cycle was probably a very big risk for Shostakovich, given that the campaign against 'cosmopolitanism' was targeted against Jews and his ties with affected people - nevertheless, while it was not publicly performed until 1955, Shostakovich's friends were invited to private performances of the work soon after it was composed.

In spite of his anger over Shostakovich's music, Stalin still considered the composer to be useful for his political purposes and eased the restrictions on Shostakovich's music and living arrangements in 1949 to allow him to be a cultural ambassador for the USSR. As such, Shostakovich attended events such as the 1949 Cultural and Scientific Conference for World Peace in New York and the celebrations in Leipzig in East Germany for the bicentennial of the death of JS Bach in 1950. The trip to Leipzig inspired Shostakovich to write another of his 'serious' works - his 24 Preludes and Fugues for the pianist Tatiana Nikolayeva as a tribute to Bach's The Well-Tempered Clavier. Although the authorities criticised the piece, it is perhaps Shostakovich's best work for piano and is highly regarded by pianists. In 1951, Shostakovich was made a deputy to the Supreme Soviet, a legislative body that had some political power, albeit very little compared to less representative bodies such as the Politburo. This gave him the opportunity to try and help people, although after a time his requests fell on deaf ears due to the large number of people he tried to help!

Even though Shostakovich was still devoted to his family, he and his wife had relationships with other people. Around the time of the Zhdanov decree Shostakovich had a relationship with one of his composition pupils, Galina Ustvolskaya, although its nature has never been entirely clear. The cellist Mstislav Rostropovich - who was also one of Shostakovich's composition pupils and later one of his closest friends along with his wife, the soprano Galina Vishnevskaya - claimed the relationship was 'tender' around the time of the Zhdanov decree and Ustvolskaya said that she had rejected a marriage proposal from him in the 1950s, although she also confided to a friend that she was 'deeply disappointed' in him by the time of her graduation in 1947. In a later interview, Ustvolskaya revealed her bitterness towards her relationship with Shostakovich - thought to have ended acrimoniously after he remarried - saying that he had 'burdened my life and killed my best feelings'. While Ustvolskaya has not been obviously influenced by Shostakovich's music, he used a theme from her Clarinet Trio in his last major work, the Suite on Verses of Michelangelo Buonarroti, composed some 20 years after their relationship came to an end.

The Death of Stalin and the Khrushchev Thaw

On 5 March, 1953, Stalin died after suffering from a stroke four days previously15. While political control was retained by the Communist Party following his death, the purges came to an end and almost all political prisoners exiled to Siberia were released. With Khrushchev as the First Secretary of the Communist Party and later as Chairman of the Council of Ministers (Prime Minister of the USSR), there was a temporary thaw in the Cold War between the communist East and capitalist West, as well as a gradual relaxation in restrictions against Soviet citizens. The intelligentsia also considered this change in Soviet leadership as a 'thaw' for the USSR itself: the country seemed to be changing for the better rather than for the worse for the first time since the Revolution.

In 1953, Shostakovich completed his Tenth Symphony, the first symphony after the 'Historic Decree', which was premiered in December that year. This particular work is full of quotations and references to real people: the first movement quotes from the setting 'What is in My Name?' in Shostakovich's Four Romances on Verses by Pushkin, while the second movement, a violent scherzo, is - if Testimony is to be believed - a musical portrait of Stalin. The third movement incorporates two musical ciphers, DSCH16 which denotes Shostakovich himself (from the German transliteration of his name, Dimitri SCHostakowitsch) and ELMIRA17, which was a mystery for many years but apparently depicts a composition pupil he loved from afar, Elmira Nazirova - a fact that she recently revealed in letters she received from Shostakovich. The ELMIRA theme is played twelve times on the French horn in this movement and strongly resembles the ape call at the start of Mahler's symphonic song-cycle Das Lied von der Erde. The last movement of the symphony initially reprises the mood of the first movement, while the subsequent naively happy tune is displaced by a Georgian gopak, recalling the second movement, before this is itself 'defeated' by the DSCH motif, which is repeated with increasing agitation as the piece comes to a frantic conclusion. Opinion on the Tenth Symphony was divided: while the 'official' critics claimed that the work embodied 'ideological depravity' and was 'an erroneous solution to the basic problems of life', Shostakovich's fellow composers thought very highly of it and its popularity ranked alongside that for the Fifth Symphony.

In spite of the criticism, Shostakovich's Tenth Symphony marked his official rehabilitation since the Zhdanov decree, which was finally acknowledged publicly with another decree in 1958 - however, the original 'Historic Decree' was never properly rescinded. From 1953 onwards, several of his 'desk drawer' works were also finally performed in public, including his Fourth String Quartet and, in 1955 after some revision, his First Violin Concerto by the violinist David Oistrakh. He also wrote possibly his most accessible music around this time - music for the film The Gadfly in 1955 of which the Romance is particularly famous, his Second Piano Concerto in 1957, which was dedicated to his 19-year-old son Maxim and written for him to perform, and his First Cello Concerto for Rostropovich in 1959, who impressed the composer by learning the work off by heart in just four days.

Shostakovich's Eleventh Symphony was written and premiered in 1957. Given the subtitle 'The Year 1905', it officially depicted the first Russian Revolution of 1905 and Bloody Sunday in particular - a massacre of a peaceful protest march by Tsarist soldiers in January 1905 - using revolutionary songs of the time as thematic material. While it was thought of as 'overblown film music' by Western critics at the time and praised by the Soviet government with the Lenin Prize, the symphony was composed in the aftermath of the Hungarian Uprising of 1956, which was crushed by Soviet troops, and it is possible for the work to be considered in more general terms than its subtitle suggests18.

Four years later in 1961, Shostakovich finally wrote the long-promised 'Lenin' symphony: his Twelfth Symphony 'The Year 1917' is similar in style and shape to the Eleventh, using revolutionary song-like themes throughout the four movements played without breaks between them, although this is the only one that follows the traditional sonata form used by Classical period composers19. Once again, this symphony was praised by the authorities but not highly regarded by the public and critics, although it was shortly followed by the premiere of his Fourth Symphony, 25 years after Shostakovich had originally withdrawn the work.

1960 proved to be another turning point for Shostakovich when he joined the Communist Party: suggested reasons for him doing so include his wish to outwardly show commitment to the Party, being too cowardly not to join or succumbing to substantial political pressure20. While the Soviet government was considerably less repressive at this time than it had been under Stalin, Shostakovich was apparently in tears over it, possibly even suicidal, and later claimed to have been tricked or blackmailed into joining, something that he actively resisted doing for many years. His health had also started to deteriorate around this time - he suffered from a debilitating condition which particularly affected his right hand and was later diagnosed as poliomyelitis. During a second visit to Dresden - ten years after the first in 1950 when a lot of the damage caused by Allied bombing during the Second World War was still visible - he wrote his Eighth String Quartet in the space of just three days. This work includes his DSCH motif and several quotations from earlier pieces such as his First, Fifth, Eighth and Tenth Symphonies, his Second Piano Trio, his First Cello Concerto, Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District and a 19th Century revolutionary song, 'Tormented by Grevious Bondage'. He dedicated the quartet 'to the victims of fascism and war', which has been variously interpreted at face value, as a memorial to victims of all totalitarianism and as an autobiographical work, even perhaps as a potential suicide note in musical form21.

In spite of this apparent public willingness to conform to the Communist Party, Shostakovich was nevertheless still willing to be critical of the Soviet government through his music. In 1961, the Soviet-Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko published his controversial poem 'Babi Yar' about the massacre of thousands of Jews in a ravine near Kiev by the Germans during the Second World War, as well as anti-Semitism in history and in the contemporary Soviet Union. Shostakovich was inspired by the poem and decided to set it to music - afterwards, he extended the work into a symphony using more of Yevtushenko's poetry. Shostakovich's Thirteenth 'Babi Yar' Symphony includes the original Yevtushenko poem plus 'Humour', 'At the Store' (about the struggles of the Russian housewife), 'Fears' (a poem that was specially written by Yevtushenko for the symphony) and 'Career', all set for a bass soloist and a bass choir singing almost entirely in unison. A very moving work, the Thirteenth Symphony was premiered in December 1962 in spite of attempts by the Soviet authorities to prevent its performance22 - Shostakovich's principal interpreter Mravinsky refused to conduct the work and several bass soloists pulled out of rehearsals - and there were relatively few subsequent performances. Not long after the first performance, Yevtushenko published a watered-down version of 'Babi Yar' in which he added a stanza to say that Russians and Ukrainians had also died there - much to Shostakovich's annoyance. However, both of them later worked together on another vocal piece, the cantata The Execution of Stepan Razin for bass soloist, mixed chorus and orchestra, which also proved to be a controversial work.

While Shostakovich's marriage to Nina Varzar was an open one and they were not entirely faithful to each other, he was nevertheless stunned and deeply saddened by her sudden death from cancer (possibly related to her work as a nuclear research scientist) in 1954. Although his children Galina and Maxim were already young adults by this time, he still wanted to find a suitable stepmother for them. In 1956, almost at a whim, he married Margarita Kainova - a staunch Communist and allegedly even a plant for the KGB - much to the surprise of his family and friends. This marriage proved to be disastrous - Shostakovich almost immediately regretted going through with it and neither Shostakovich's family nor his friends could stand her - and they divorced three years later. In spite of this setback, Shostakovich was still determined to remarry and in 1962 he married Irina Supinskaya, a literary editor and orphan of the Great Terror - according to a letter to Isaak Glikman, 'her only defect is that she is 27 years old. In all other respects she is splendid: clever, cheerful, straightforward and very likeable'. In spite of Irina only being a year older than Galina (and nearly 30 years younger than Shostakovich), she quickly gained the respect of Shostakovich's children and it is argued that she helped to keep Shostakovich alive for considerably longer than if he had not remarried. She also helped Shostakovich with certain aspects of his music; for instance, she helped to edit the libretto for a revised version of his opera Lady Macbeth, which was renamed Katerina Ismailova after the 'heroine' and first performed in 1962 to official approval.

Later Life

By the time of the premiere of Shostakovich's 'Babi Yar' Symphony, the Khrushchev Thaw had effectively come to an end. Two years later, Khrushchev was deposed by the Central Committee and forced to retire, accusing him of making political mistakes. Leonid Brezhnev took over as First Secretary of the Communist Party and began to reverse many of the reforms that Khrushchev had made to liberalise the USSR, including clamping down on dissidents such as Solzhenitsyn and Rostropovich (who were both ejected from the Soviet Union in 1974) and increasing the powers of the KGB. While there was no return to the mass arrests under Stalin's Great Terror, everyday life and culture were once again under repressive control of the Soviet government. In spite of this and a crackdown on the less repressive socialist government in Czechoslovakia in 1968 (the Prague Spring), Brezhnev was able to initiate a détente with the West in the 1970s and improved relations with the USA.

One reaction by Shostakovich by this change in the political climate was to concentrate more on his 'private' works, including his String Quartets for the Moscow-based Beethoven Quartet (to whose original members he dedicated some of these works) and various song settings. However, his health was also starting to fail: apart from poliomyelitis forcing him to give up playing the piano, he started suffering from heart attacks and managed to break both of his legs. His later works reflected a preoccupation with mortality and his musical language became more stark than before with his use of tone-rows23 in many of his chamber pieces. However, even more public works were not exempt from this change: his Second Cello Concerto and his Second Violin Concerto - written for Rostropovich and Oistrakh respectively, the latter being an early 60th birthday present for the violinist - also reflect his later, darker style.

His Fourteenth Symphony of 1969 was another public work that demonstrates Shostakovich's later musical style, although its scoring for soprano and bass soloists as well as relatively small orchestral forces (strings and percussion) could be seen as an attempt to bring his chamber music into the musical mainstream and the concert hall. It was also an unconventional form for a symphony: its eleven movements consisted of settings of poems by García Lorca, Apollinaire, Küchelbeker and Rilke on the subject of premature death. However, its style could be argued to lend itself to both the Songs and Dances of Death by Shostakovich's favourite Russian composer, Modest Mussorgsky, and to several works by its dedicatee, Benjamin Britten, who had dedicated his church parable The Prodigal Son to Shostakovich the year before. The symphony was premiered in September 1969 by Rudolph Barshai, a famous viola player and a later interpreter and arranger of Shostakovich's works. The symphony's reception from both Soviet officials and the intelligentsia was generally negative - the subject matter of the poems set was considered to be too pessimistic - and during one of the run-throughs before the premiere, one of Shostakovich's fiercest critics, Pavel Apostolov, collapsed after suffering a heart attack or a stroke and died about a month later24. As with the Thirteenth Symphony, the Soviet authorities sanctioned very few subsequent performances after its first performance.

His final symphony, the Fifteenth, was another work that applied chamber music writing on a symphonic scale - in spite of the large orchestra required for the work, it is sparingly scored and uses a large percussion section in a groundbreaking way. It also includes quotes from several of his previous symphonies - particularly his Fourth and Seventh Symphonies - as well as from music by Rossini (his William Tell Overture), Wagner, Glinka and Mahler. In spite of the more retrospective mood shown by this symphony, it uses a more conventional musical language than the Fourteenth, which used tone-rows and dense polyphony. It was completed in 1971 and premiered on 8 January, 1972 by his son Maxim.

The vast majority of Shostakovich's last works were for chamber performance, such as his Fourteenth and Fifteenth String Quartets, although he arranged his 1974 Suite on Verses of Michelangelo Buonarrotti (originally for bass and piano) for bass and orchestra a year later and did consider it as a possible Sixteenth Symphony in all but name with settings of poems on the relationship between the artist and society. Apart from new works, Shostakovich's first opera The Nose was revived in 1974 in Moscow by the conductor Gennady Rozhdestvensky to great success - it also featured a slight modification where the main character pointed to Shostakovich sitting in the audience and blamed him for the mess he was in! His final work was his Sonata for Viola and Piano, written for the violist of the Beethoven Quartet, Fyodr Druzhinin, in July 1975 for a concert to be held later that year - a concert he was destined not to attend.

On 9 August, 1975, Shostakovich died in hospital in Moscow from heart failure caused by lung cancer and was interred in the city's Novodevichy Cemetery after a civic funeral a week later. His official obituary did not appear in Pravda until three days after his death, as Brezhnev and the Politburo apparently had to approve the wording. He was survived by his third wife Irina and his two children, Galina and Maxim. Irina has subsequently become the Vice-President of the International Shostakovich Association, which promotes her late husband's music, while Maxim has helped to popularise his father's less-known works as a pianist and conductor.

Musical Works

The vast majority of Shostakovich's output is broadly tonal and of the late Romantic tradition - following on from composers such as Mahler, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and his principal at the Leningrad Conservatoire, Glazunov - albeit with elements of atonality and chromaticism. The bulk of his music consists of his fifteen symphonies (written throughout his life), his fifteen string quartets (most of which were written late in life), his operas The Nose, Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District and the unfinished The Gamblers (based on Gogol's play), his six concerti for piano, violin and cello and his film music. However, he also wrote many other 'lighter' pieces, including Tahiti Trot25, his two Suites for Jazz Orchestra, a Suite for Variety Stage Orchestra26, a Festive Overture27, an operetta commenting on living conditions in Moscow and Communist Party corruption, Moscow: Cheryomushki (Cherry Tree Towers) and perhaps his most biting and satirical work, Rayok, a cantata ridiculing the 1948 Zhdanov decree, the subsequent anti-formalism campaign and its proponents, Stalin, Zhdanov and Dmitri Shepilov (Zhdanov's protege)28.

A frequent quote from Shostakovich was that he loved 'all music - from Bach to Offenbach' and this range, from the serious to the seemingly trivial, is reflected in Shostakovich's own music. There is also a noticeable difference between the music written before the Pravda article on Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District in 1936 and that written afterwards. Many of Shostakovich's works before 1936 are generally optimistic and more experimental in their outlook; key early works include his First Symphony, the operas The Nose and Lady Macbeth and his Mahler-inspired Fourth Symphony. After 1936, Shostakovich's symphonic output - whether or not it contained any subversive content - was outwardly more conservative. Even his chamber works were still predominately tonal, although they did still provide an output for darker content and he later used tone-rows on a melodic basis. Although Shostakovich was already starting to write more conservatively before the Pravda attacks, he later admitted that:

... without 'Party guidance' ... I would have displayed more brilliance, used more sarcasm, I could have revealed my ideas openly instead of having to resort to camouflage.
- Account by Flora Litvinova from Elizabeth Wilson's Shostakovich: A Life Remembered

Shostakovich's major musical influences can be heard in the various types of music he composed: Bach in his fugues and passacaglias29, Beethoven in his string quartets, Mahler in his symphonies and Berg in musical codes and quotations like the DSCH motif, which he used several times in his music. Shostakovich also admired three Russian composers in particular: Mussorgsky, Prokofiev and Stravinsky.

Mussorgsky's influence on Shostakovich's music is most noticeable in Lady Macbeth and the Eleventh, Thirteenth and Fourteenth Symphonies; the last work being heavily influenced by Mussorgsky's song cycle Songs and Dances of Death, which Shostakovich orchestrated around the same time. Prokofiev was particularly influential in Shostakovich's early piano works such as his First Piano Sonata and Concerto for Piano, Trumpet and Strings, although his influence can be seen in later works such as Shostakovich's First Cello Concerto, partially modelled on Prokofiev's Sinfonia Concertante. Shostakovich was ambivalent about Stravinksy, as he once wrote to his friend Glikman: 'Stravinsky the composer I worship. Stravinsky the thinker I despise.' While Shostakovich adored Stravinksy's works, particularly his Symphony of Psalms, their meeting in 1962 was not a success given Shostakovich's extreme nervousness and Stravinsky's cruelty towards him30.

Apart from his major influences, a recent festival celebrating Shostakovich's centenary year in Manchester also included music by his two other heroes, a composer of light opera, Lehár, and the British composer Benjamin Britten. Not only was Shostakovich's admiration for Britten's music reciprocated - Shostakovich particularly admired Britten's War Requiem (even comparing it to Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde) while Britten adored Shostakovich's Cello Concerti and cited Shostakovich as one of his earliest musical influences - but they were also introduced to each other by Rostropovich during the London premiere of Shostakovich's First Cello Concerto and became close personal friends in spite of a language barrier31. While Shostakovich only visited Britten once in the UK, Britten and his partner Peter Pears made several trips to the Soviet Union to visit Shostakovich, even staying with him and his third wife Irina for Christmas in 1966 and New Year in 1967. Musically they shared similar influences - both Shostakovich and Britten adored Mahler's music - and the same philosophy for writing music that would engage listeners and be accessible to them: an article written for the Colorado Britten Society even suggests that they were 'kindred spirits'.

Shostakovich once said in a filmed interview that he loved and valued every single composition he wrote - he otherwise would not have written them. Even if a piece was criticised by officials or trusted friends, Shostakovich rarely changed a note and would often say that he would make the corrections in his next piece. He almost always wrote his compositions directly into full scores rather than writing out a reduced score first and then orchestrating it - he also very rarely crossed anything out (one exception was his Eighth String Quartet). He was, however, a very skilled orchestrator - he reorchestrated Mussorgsky's operas Boris Godunov and Khovanshchina, as well as pieces by Rimsky-Korsakov, Beethoven and Johann Strauss II 'The Waltz King'. His style of orchestration is distinctive - he particularly made use of piccolos, cor anglais, soprano and bass clarinets, French horns, violas and cellos to play certain solo passages in his symphonic works. According to the editor of Testimony, Shostakovich assigned very high value to musical craft, of just writing music: after one of his students complained that he was unable to find a theme for the second movement of his symphony, Shostakovich said, 'You shouldn't be looking for a theme, you should be writing the second movement.'

Critics of Shostakovich's music have described it as 'derivative, trashy, empty and second-hand', 'the second, or even third pressing of Mahler' and the music of a 'hack in a trance', as well as being vulgar and strident. Shostakovich certainly borrowed quite heavily from the material and styles both of earlier composers and of popular music; according to Testimony he considered both serious and popular music highly so long as it was good. This stems from common practice in avant-garde music, of which Shostakovich was involved early on in his career, making Shostakovich among the 'greatest of eclectics'.

In recent years, Shostakovich's music has become increasingly popular with audiences of classical music due to the decline in influence of avant-garde music and after revelations about his political views started to be made clear to listeners in the West. Seven of his pieces are currently (as of 2006) in the Classic FM Hall of Fame, the highest placed being his Second Piano Concerto. His music has also been used in films and television programmes, most famously for Western audiences in Rollerball (Fifth and Eighth Symphonies), Eyes Wide Shut (Waltz 2 from the Suite for Variety Orchestra), Reilly: The Ace of Spies (Romance from The Gadfly) and Ever Decreasing Circles (Prelude 15 from 24 Preludes, op. 34). The first movement of his Second Piano Concerto was also used in Disney's Fantasia 2000 for a computer-animated sequence based on Hans Christian Andersen's tale The Steadfast Tin Soldier.


There were many different sides to Shostakovich's character, although perhaps the most noticeable was his nervousness: he was described even as a young man as 'fragile and nervously agile' and one of Elizabeth Wilson's interviewees remembered that in old age 'his face was a bag of tics and grimaces'. Galina Shostakovich also remembered that her father would hide his mouth with his hand when he was listening to music in public (either his own or other people's) so as not to give anything away. His natural shyness and nervousness were very likely to have been aggravated by the public denunciations of his own music, which his friends say deeply affected him. He was an outwardly courteous and polite man - he even addressed his friends and children with their patronymics32 - and also obsessive in many ways: he used to regularly check the clocks in his apartment and send postcards to himself to ensure the postal service was efficient!

In spite of the fears, hardships and attacks that Shostakovich lived through, he still had a positive outlook on life. As well as being devoted to his family (particularly his children and later his grandchildren), he smoked and often drank alcohol (particularly vodka) - both of which he continued to do and resisted giving up even when he fell ill later in life. He enjoyed card games and was a big sports fan, although mainly as a spectator or even an umpire rather than a player - he was a qualified referee for both football33 and volleyball. He also loved humour and enjoyed satirical writers such as Gogol, Chekhov and Mikhail Zoshchenko, the latter of whom himself described Shostakovich's contradictory character:

He is ... frail, fragile, withdrawn, an infinitely direct, pure child... [but also] hard, acid, extremely intelligent, strong perhaps, despotic and not altogether good-natured (although cerebrally good-natured).
- Mikhail Zoshchenko, as quoted in Laurel Fay's Shostakovich: A Life

Many of Shostakovich's letters to his friends, especially to his secretary Isaak Glikman, are full of passages that are full of irony and parody the inane journalism style of the day - one example lists the entire Politburo in exact order of seniority, a testament to Shostakovich's photographic memory. Shostakovich was also a great raconteur and used to enjoy telling amusing stories - many of his friends remember him telling the tale of the man who woke up during his funeral procession and the band, who were playing the Funeral March, immediately playing the Internationale!

Another of Shostakovich's characteristics was his inability to say no to any request. This proved to be both positive and negative: while it meant that Shostakovich was willing to help his friends who were in trouble - even to the point of hiding them from the secret police to avoid arrest or writing to the authorities to try to get them released from prison - he could easily be persuaded to sign official documents (often without reading them first), such as one denouncing the dissident nuclear physicist Andrei Sakharov. His tendency to follow any suggestion was not just limited to explicit actions - a friend once sat with Shostakovich during a speech at the Composer's Union that strongly criticised his music. Shostakovich applauded warmly with the rest of the audience until his friend told him what was actually said!

Testimony, Revisionism and Anti-Revisionism

At the time of Shostakovich's death, Shostakovich was referred to as a 'faithful son of the Communist Party'. In spite of the criticisms made about his music - not just the Pravda article and the 'Historic Decree' but also with his later symphonies - outside of his family and friends, this assumption was generally accepted by the wider world, particularly in the capitalist West where Shostakovich's music had declined in popularity.

Four years after Shostakovich's death, however, this 'assumption' could no longer be accepted as an absolute truth. In 1979, a Soviet musicologist who had emigrated to the United States of America, Solomon Volkov, published a book entitled Testimony: The Memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich. Before working on the book, Volkov had been a music journalist and had collaborated with Shostakovich on various projects that had been interfered with by the authorities. This apparently provoked Shostakovich into telling his version of events over the course of his life and in the early 1970s he and Volkov met a number of times - Shostakovich telling his stories, Volkov taking them down in shorthand. After editing the recollections into chapters for a book, Volkov gave them to Shostakovich to read and sign to indicate his approval before he had them smuggled out of the USSR to the West ready for publication after the composer's death.

The picture painted by Testimony was a very different one to that given by the official obituary: rather than a loyal Communist whose music was clear in intent and mainly in praise of the Soviet regime, Shostakovich seemed to be a man who was privately anti-Communist, frightened and deeply embittered by the criticism that he endured and whose music contained meanings that commentated on and criticised the Soviet regime, which he publicly co-operated with only so he could survive. In essence, Volkov compared Shostakovich to a yurodivy - a 'holy fool' who performs a strange pantomime, tells a story or, in Shostakovich's case, composes music that is seemingly innocuous but also contains a hidden (perhaps dissident) meaning that is encoded to escape the wrath of the authorities34.

The initial reaction from readers in the West at the time Testimony was published was of shock: their previous perceptions of Shostakovich and his music were completely shattered by this book. However, apart from many Western reviewers and musicians, Soviet musicians who had managed to escape to the West (including the conductor Kyrill Kondrashin and the cellist Rostropovich) also began to give their public support to the book, confirming that it represented Shostakovich's real views. A 'revisionist'35 view of Shostakovich and his music that agrees with Testimony started to develop, although not all revisionists necessarily agree that the book itself is entirely authentic.

As well as a campaign from the Soviet government to discredit the book - supported by six of Shostakovich's former pupils - a few Western journalists originally did not believe that Testimony was accurate. However, the 'anti-revisionist' view really started to develop when the US musicologist Laurel Fay published an essay entitled 'Shostakovich versus Volkov: Whose Testimony?', in which she raised questions about how Volkov obtained the material found in Testimony. In particular, she pointed out that there were at least seven passages that strongly resembled articles already published under Shostakovich's name in Soviet journals and that there was no evidence to suggest that these were pure coincidences, given that Volkov was refusing to release the original manuscript of Testimony for detailed scrutiny and no tape recordings of his interviews with Shostakovich existed. The 'anti-revisionists' not only dispute the authenticity of the views laid out in Testimony36 but also argue that Shostakovich's music does not contain any hidden messages.

Since the publication of Testimony, there has been a long and drawn-out debate between revisionists and anti-revisionists, which has on occasion descended into exchanges of personal insults. The main revisionists have been Volkov himself, the late Ian MacDonald, Elizabeth Wilson, Allan Ho and Dmitry Feofanov. MacDonald's 1990 book The New Shostakovich suggested further interpretations of Shostakovich's music, while Wilson collected reminiscences from many of Shostakovich's acquaintances (including one of his sisters) for her 1994 book Shostakovich: A Life Remembered; Ho and Feofanov's 1998 book Shostakovich Reconsidered analyses and disputes the anti-revisionist view. The most prominent anti-revisionists have been Laurel Fay, who completed her biography Shostakovich: A Life in 1999 and the US musicologist Richard Taruskin, who had ironically written a letter of recommendation for Volkov in 1976 and has subsequently written many papers and articles refuting the revisionist view of Shostakovich's music.

Apart from Testimony itself (which Volkov 'transcribed and edited'), the main arguments between the two factions have been over each other's books and articles. However, the revisionists and anti-revisionists still have two areas of broad agreement:

  1. Their support for Elizabeth Wilson's collection of interviews in her book Shostakovich: A Life Remembered;
  2. They agree that Shostakovich disliked the Soviet regime but outwardly conformed to it - this view is supported by his family, his letters to Isaak Glikman, Wilson's book and the existence of Rayok.

The extra-musical meaning in many of Shostakovich's works is still hotly contested, the 'political' references37 being dominant in the debate. Revisionists claim that there is a suggestion of dissidence in a number of Shostakovich's musical works, while anti-revisionists believe that these musical themes are 'purely' musical and were treated as such by Shostakovich. In recent years, extra-musical meanings have been 'discovered' in Shostakovich's music that do not necessarily relate to his politics, including musical quotes related to his favourite composers and people Shostakovich knew (such as the ELMIRA code in his Tenth Symphony), references to 'low-brow' music such as imitations of accordion music and comical sounds such as 'farts' from lower brass instruments. Rather than a simple debate about whether or not Shostakovich was secretly dissenting in his music, interpretation now considers other factors in his life, which arguably did still have positive aspects, and gives a more rounded 'image' to his music. The continuing argument between the revisionists and anti-revisionists also supports a more comprehensive view: it is entirely possible to interpret Shostakovich's music in any way that the listener wishes to, which appears to be the case for 'great' music in general.

In an interview for an article in the Los Angeles Times, Shostakovich's son Maxim said that while 'there is protest in the music', he prefers not to politicise his father's music too much as he believes it to be much more than just political, 'a philosophical picture of humanity ... - about God, about everything.' This view is also shared by the famous Russian conductor Valery Gergiev, who was born after the death of Stalin: while he is supportive of the revisionist view on Shostakovich and featured in a film about the composer's musical responses to Stalin's Terror38, he still believes that Shostakovich's music can be appreciated as just music for many years to come.

And what about Shostakovich's family and friends? The vast majority of Shostakovich's friends and colleagues have taken a revisionist point of view: Barshai, Rostropovich, Kondrashin, Lebedinsky and many others have publicly stated their approval of Testimony as an accurate account about Shostakovich and his music - even those who doubt the authenticity of Volkov's book generally agree with the conclusions drawn from it about their late colleague. In a book published in the USSR twelve years before Testimony appeared, the main interpreter for several of Shostakovich's symphonies, Mravinsky, stated that 'I do not like to search for subjective, literary and concrete images in music which is not by nature programmatic, whereas Shostakovich very often explained his intentions with very specific images and associations'. This quote, along with several supporting recollections from musicians who played under Mravinsky, strongly supports a revisionist interpretation for Shostakovich's music.

Shostakovich's daughter, Galina, has said that she fully approves of Volkov and the book he edited, saying that 'definitely the style of speech is Shostakovich's - not only the choice of words, but the way they are put together.' Her brother Maxim takes a more cautious approach: while he was encouraged by the Soviet authorities to discredit the book when it was first published, after he and his family emigrated to the West he publicly said that: 'It's true. It's accurate. Sometimes, for me, there is too much rumour in it, but nothing major. The basis of the book is correct.' While he still does not refer to the book as his father's autobiography or memoirs, he generally agrees with its portrayal of his father and his main criticisms are various rumours stated in it about interpreting his father's music. Irina Shostakovich has stated that she does not believe that Testimony is authentic, mainly because she does not believe that Volkov met her husband enough times for him to have effectively dictated an entire book due to his illness and her caring for him - although there are witnesses who claim otherwise. She still supports the revisionist view of her late husband, however, as does the International Shostakovich Association for whom she is a Vice-President (along with Galina Vishnevskaya). Their inaugural statement is an good summary of who Shostakovich was as a man and a composer and makes an ideal conclusion for this Guide Entry:

The Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich, whose music is known and played throughout the world, continues to acquire new and ever more fervent admirers. He epitomises the most noble traditions and values of our civilization.

The personality of Shostakovich proved a powerful moral influence on his contemporaries. During the hard and cruel era of Stalinism, he had the courage to express in his music the misery of his people by means of an extraordinary dramatic feeling, and to denounce the hidden forces which were then eliminating millions of human lives. His music became a moral support for all who were persecuted. Belief in the final victory of justice, instilled through his works, transformed his music into a powerful stimulus to the spirit of resistance and freedom.

The inner power of his music, always of great vividness, enriches the many thousands of new listeners who discover it with eagerness and pleasure. Thus, even after his death, Dmitri Shostakovich continues to lead the world towards light and reason. His work, of universal value, is recognised by all.

- From the Inaugural Declaration of the International Shostakovich Association (1992)

Further reading

While there are many other books, articles and websites about Shostakovich, his life and his music, the ones listed below are perhaps the most comprehensive:

  • Testimony: The Memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich as related to and edited by Solomon Volkov (1979) - Possibly the most controversial book about Shostakovich but certainly worth reading to understand the 'revisionist' point of view
  • Shostakovich: A Life Remembered by Elizabeth Wilson (1994) - One of the least controversial works about Shostakovich, this collection of accounts from Shostakovich's friends and family provides a lot of detail about him that mainly collaborates the 'revisionist' opinion
  • Shostakovich: A Life by Laurel Fay (1999) - A biography of the composer from the 'anti-revisionist' point of view, it concentrates mainly on his life and career rather than interpreting his music
  • Music under Soviet rule: Shostakovichiana - Website of collected revisionist writings by the late Ian MacDonald about Shostakovich, including book reviews, supplementary articles and links to other websites
  • Shostakovich Myths Debunked - Website by Rick Redrick, a collection of articles supporting the anti-revisionist view, including one explaining how Volkov 'faked Testimony'
  • DSCH Journal - Twice-yearly periodical about Shostakovich, includes articles from revisionists, anti-revisionists and interviews with his family and friends
1According to the 'New Style' Gregorian calendar system in use from 1918 in the USSR; under the 'Old Style' Julian calendar in Tsarist Russia, Shostakovich was born on 12 September, 1906.2A social class of people who work to develop and disseminate culture.3Diminutive form of Dmitri.4St Petersburg was renamed Petrograd in 1914 by the Tsar.5A common criticism of the Soviet era for any work that does not follow the Communist Party line at the time.6Possible reasons for this include headache-inducing brass passages, overt sexual references, a caricature of Stalin in the corrupt police chief, the murder of a tyrannical father-in-law and the opera's general sense of counter-revolutionary individualism.7Many people have been suggested as authors for this review, including Stalin himself - while it is unlikely that he wrote the article, it is almost certain that he personally approved its publication.8There is an apocryphal account of Shostakovich being questioned by an NVKD officer about Marshall Tukhachevsky's alleged plot to assassinate Stalin. After being stunned into silence by the questioning, he was sent home and ordered to return after the weekend. The following Monday, he left home, believing he would never see his family again, and returned to the NVKD headquarters, only to find the officer in charge of the case had himself been arrested.9Secret police force and forerunner to the KGB.10This fear was ultimately unfounded, since Stalin had privately decided not to have him arrested, possibly due to his considerable international reputation and as a possible influence on other artists to conform to the Soviet regime.11See below about the reliability of Testimony12Now called Samara.13Official propaganda stated that this march tune - which gets progressively louder with each repetition - represented the approaching Nazi troops, although it could also be an in-joke with a pun on his son Maxim's name (the theme alludes to an aria in Lehár's operetta The Merry Widow, 'Please take me to Maxim's').14Now called Volgograd.15Prokofiev, one of Shostakovich's colleagues, also died on the same day, although naturally his death was overshadowed by Stalin's.16As denoted in German notation: this is the equivalent of D-E flat-C-B.17In a mixture of German notation and tonic sol-fa: E-La-MI-Re-A or E-A-E-D-A.18This view is supported by a reminiscence from Lev Lebedinsky (a musicologist friend of Shostakovich's), who reported that during rehearsals of this symphony, Maxim Shostakovich whispered to his father, 'Papa, what if they hang you for this?'.19One rumour about the symphony was that Shostakovich originally composed a work satirising Lenin but got cold feet shortly before rehearsals, so he composed a new symphony from scratch in about a week. While there is anecdotal evidence to support this, nothing about this 'alternative' Twelfth Symphony has come to light.20Possibly as a prerequisite for being First Secretary of the 'Russian' division of the Composers' Union.21According to Lebedinsky, Shostakovich had bought a large number of sleeping pills while he was in Dresden and, after playing the piece to him on the piano, said it was to be his last piece. Lebedinsky apparently found the pills in Shostakovich's jacket and gave them to his son Maxim, asking him not to let his father out of his sight until the danger of him committing suicide had passed.22Khrushchev's negative reaction to an exhibition on modern art that month had escalated to include Yevtushenko's poetry after he rallied to a sculptor's defence.23A technique used in serialism where all twelve semitones are arranged in a particular order and the sequence is used as thematic material.24It is often erroneously claimed, even by Shostakovich, that Apostolov died during the concert itself.25An orchestral arrangement of Vincent Youman's song 'Tea For Two' completed in under an hour as a bet with conductor Nikolai Malko.26This suite was mistakenly believed to be the previously lost Second Jazz Suite until the piano score of the Jazz Suite was found in 2000.27Another work that was composed in a very short time - a few days before a concert celebrating the 37th anniversary of the October Revolution in 1954.28The text of Rayok contains a quotation of Stalin's favourite song, Suliko, and a reference to Shepilov's mispronunciation of Rimsky-Korsakov (as Rimsky-KorSAkov).29Pieces consisting of a repeated bass line or harmonic progression.30Their only point of agreement was a mutual dislike of Puccini's music!31Britten spoke almost no Russian and Shostakovich little English, so they communicated via a dialect of German known as 'Aldeburgh Deutsch', named after Britten's hometown.32Middle names denoting the names of fathers.33He used to fill diaries with the scores of games played by his favourite team, Leningrad Zenith, and would often return from rural composing retreats to his city home to watch matches!34A similar description of a 'yurodivy composer' was also given to one of Shostakovich's favourite composers, Mussorgsky.35This term was also used in place of 'formalism' after the Zhdanov era and was occasionally used for Shostakovich's music by Soviet officials!36One prominent anti-revisionist believes the book could be authentic quotation from Shostakovich but that it was an attempt to rebrand himself posthumously as a dissident.37One example is the Georgian folk song Suliko, Stalin's favourite tune, in a number of works such as Rayok and the First Cello Concerto.38The War Symphonies: Shostakovich Against Stalin by the Canadian filmmaker Larry Weinstein

Bookmark on your Personal Space

Edited Entry


Infinite Improbability Drive

Infinite Improbability Drive

Read a random Edited Entry

Categorised In:

Write an Entry

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a wholly remarkable book. It has been compiled and recompiled many times and under many different editorships. It contains contributions from countless numbers of travellers and researchers."

Write an entry
Read more