Dmitri Shostakovich

Dmitri Shostakovich

Saint Petersburg, Saint Petersburg Federal City, Russia
Death 9 Aug 1975 (aged 68)
Moscow, Moscow Federal City, Russia
Burial Moscow, Moscow Federal City, Russia
Plot Section 2, Lot 39, Grave 7
Memorial ID 953 · View Source
Suggest Edits

Composer. The outstanding Soviet musician of his generation, he is best known for his 15 symphonies and for his chamber compositions. Shostakovich's boldly personal and expressive music was conditioned by the political, social, and cultural upheavals of his time, while his frequent clashes with the Soviet government have made him a controversial figure for critics in the West, who continue to debate the true meaning of his work. Dmitri Dmitrievich Shostakovich was born in St. Petersburg. He began piano lessons at age nine and studied at the St. Petersburg Conservatory from 1919 to 1925. His strikingly mature Symphony No. 1 (1926), written as his graduation exercise when he was 19, marked the emergence of a major new talent. Many of his early works were in a brittle satirical vein that displeased the authorities, among them the opera "The Nose" (1930), based on a tale by Gogol, and the ballet "The Golden Age" (1930). In 1934 Shostakovich scored an international triumph with his second opera, "Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk". Adapted from a novella by Leskov, it was a sympathetic portrayal of an illiterate young woman in the 1860s who is driven to murder her male oppressors in the name of love. Apart from its unusual feminist slant, the opera had clear parallels with Stalinist society (the tragic finale takes place in the gulag, a taboo subject at the time). In two seasons "Lady Macbeth" received 200 performances in the Soviet Union and was staged throught Europe and in New York. Then in January 1936, a Pravda editorial allegedly written by dictator Josef Stalin himself attacked the opera as "chaos instead of music". The composer was officially declared an "Enemy of the People", his music was banned, and a smear campaign was mounted against him in the national press. This was during Stalin's Great Purge of the late 1930s, in which millions of Soviet citizens were sent to Siberia or shot, and Shostakovich had every reason to fear for his life. In the tense months that followed he completed his violent, disturbing Symphony No. 4, only to withdraw it during rehearsals; it would not be performed until 1961. Realizing that he was being told to simplify his music, Shostakovich applied himself to a solution that would be acceptable to The Kremlin while preserving his creative integrity. The result was the magnificent Symphony No. 5 (1937). Ironically subtitled "A Soviet Artist's Reply to Just Criticism", it restored him to favor with the government and remains his best known opus. The repercussions of 1936, however, had a profound impact on the rest of his career. He never completed another opera, and while his style became clearer and more direct, it also made increasing use of an apparent code language of musical self-quotations, suggesting a hidden intent beyond the notes. (The most famous of these musical "fingerprints" is his four-note motto D-S-C-H, derived from the composer's initials in German notation). Also, in 1938 he produced the first of his 15 string quartets, a medium that eventually overtook the symphony as his preferred method of personal expression. When Hitler invaded the USSR in June 1941, Shostakovich tried to enlist in the Red Army but was rejected because of his poor eyesight. Instead he joined the Leningrad Volunteer Fire Brigade and began his epic Symphony No. 7, the "Leningrad". Composed mostly while the city was under German siege, it was played throughout the world as a symbol of Russia's defiance against the Nazis. Following his last-minute evacuation to the East, Shostakovich settled in Moscow in 1943 and became a professor at the Conservatory there. The end of World War II saw the return of Stalinist oppression of the arts. In 1948 the nation's leading composers---Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Khachaturian, Myaskovsky, and Shebalin---were accused of writing "anti-people music" and stripped of their official honors and positions. Shostakovich's music was again proscribed. He protected himself by turning out bland film scores and propaganda pieces on approved topics while secretly writing a series of dissenting masterpieces: the Violin Concerto No. 1, the String Quartets Nos. 4 and 5, the 24 Preludes and Fugues for Piano, and the "Songs on Jewish Folk Poetry". Several of these make use of themes derived from Jewish folk music, the artist's response to the rise of anti-Semitism in his country after the war. It is commonly assumed that after Stalin's death in 1953 Shostakovich felt free to compose as he pleased. Indeed, his immediate reaction was the towering Symphony No. 10 (1953), considered by many his greatest in the genre. Its terrifying whirlwind of a scherzo is believed to be a musical "portrait" of the dictator and the symphony ends in jubilation. But in order to keep his creative freedom he had to compromise himself by appearing to conform with the regime. To this end he joined the Communist Party in 1961, served as First Secretary of the Union of Soviet Composers from 1961 to 1968, and allowed his name to be used for mendacious political articles he did not write. Historian Ian MacDonald said of this: "Committed to producing an art of honesty in a culture of lies, [Shostakovich] had long ago made the decision that what people thought of him was less important than ensuring they had the chance of being emotionally confronted by his music". And with his Symphony No. 13, "Babi Yar" (1962), he gave them his most outspoken critique of Soviet society. A choral setting of five poems by Yevgeny Yevtushenko, it dealt not only with anti-Semitism but with the plight of the artist and the rebellious spirit of humor. The government attempted to sabotage the premiere and then temporarily banned the work. In the mid-1960s Shostakovich's health began to fail and his late music became spare, insular, and enigmatic. The Symphony No. 14 (1969) is a song cycle with the unifying theme of death; the String Quartet No. 15 (1974) consists of six funereal adagios. Most puzzling is his final symphony, the Fifteenth (1971), with its inscrutable tone and dense web of quotations. It ends one of the 20th Century's greatest symphony cycles with a question mark. Although Shostakovich saw himself as a realist, his style was an extension of late 19th Century Romantic tradition; Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky, and Mahler were his foremost influences. Towards the end he made some use of modified serial technique but never disavowed tonality. For many years western critics, ill-informed about life under totalitarianism and motivated by liberal bias, accepted the official view of Shostakovich as a "faithful son of the Communist Party" and refused to see any subversive content in his music. But with new information available since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, it is now beyond question that he was a secret dissident who tried to speak for millions silenced by tyranny. Conductor Kyril Kondrashin called him "The moral conscience of music in Russia". Shostakovich's other major works include the Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 (1933, 1957), the Piano Quintet (1940), Symphony No. 8 (1943), the Piano Trio (1944), Symphony No. 9 (1945), Symphony No. 11 ("The Year 1905", 1957), the Cello Concerto No. 1 (1959), the String Quartet No. 8 (1960), and the Symphony No. 12 ("Lenin", 1961). His son, conductor Maxim Shostakovich, and grandson defected to the United States in 1981.

Bio by: Bobb Edwards


In their memory
Plant Memorial Trees



How famous was Dmitri Shostakovich?

Current rating:

92 votes

to cast your vote.

  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Added: 31 Dec 2000
  • Find a Grave Memorial 953
  • Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Dmitri Shostakovich (25 Sep 1906–9 Aug 1975), Find a Grave Memorial no. 953, citing Novodevichye Cemetery, Moscow, Moscow Federal City, Russia ; Maintained by Find A Grave .