Dmitry Shostakovich

Brief biography of Russian composer and pianist Dmitri Shostakovich, his life and works. One of the 20th century's greatest symphonists. Famous for Symphony No. 5, considered his finest composition.

Early Years 

Dmitry or Dimitri (Dmitriyevich) Shostakovich was born in St. Petersburg on September 25, 1906. His parents were both intellectuals and talented musicians. He initially studied with his mother, a professional pianist. He trained at St. Petersburg Conservatory when he was 10 years old and became an outstanding pianist. Three years later, he studied at the Petrograd Conservatory with Alexander Glazunov. At age 19, his Symphony no.1 was his graduation piece, which brought him early international attention. His creative development was determined more by events at home.


Shostakovich married a scientist, Nina Varzara, and they had two children: Maxim became a conductor and pianist, and Galya (Galina), a biologist. He wrote many pedagogical works for his children who were also his piano students. 

Shostakovich's music is tonal and highly dramatic.  His composition career occurred in the shadow of the communist regime of his day. It was not always to official Soviet taste, and sometimes he got into trouble with authorities.

Much of his works were written in the forms of the symphony, concerto and string quarter. He wrote 15 symphonies, chamber and film music, ballets, and operas including Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, which was withdrawn by Stalin for not being sufficiently nationalistic and as ‘too divorced from the proletariat’ and for this he was disgraced. As a result, he withdrew his Fourth Symphony written in that same year.  In later years, however, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk was revived as Katerina Ismaylova. Shostakovich's reputation was restored in 1937, with Symphony no.5. Three years later Shostakovich won Stalin Prize for Piano Quintet.

As a leading Soviet artist, he went through a political upheaval during the worst years of Stalin’s rule followed by Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. After Stalin’s death, Dmitry Shostakovich was awarded Order of Lenin. His piano concerto no. 2 was written in 1957, four years after Stalin's death. It has been warmly accepted as one of Shostakovich's most popular pieces.  All these historical events came across in his music.  He died in Moscow, 9 August 1975, aged 69.

Works by Shostakovich:

Symphony No.1, 1925
Symphony No.2, Op. 14, "October"
Opera, The Nose, 1928
Symphony No.3, 1929 "The First of May"
Ballet, The Age of Gold, 1930
Opera, The Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District (later revised as Katerina Izmaylova), 1932
Love and Hate, film music, 1934
Symphony No.4, 1935
Symphony No.5, 1937
Symphony No.6, 1939
Piano Quintet, 1940
Symphony No.7 "Leningrad", 1941
Symphony No. 9, 1945
Violin concerto No.1, 1948
Symphony No.10, 1953
Symphony No.11, 1957 "The Year 1905"
Cello Concerto No.1, 1959
String Quartet No.8, 1960
Symphony No.13 "Babi-Yar", 1962
String Quartet No.11, 1966
Piano Concerto No.2, 1967
Symphony No.14, 1969
Symphony No.15, 1971 
Six Poems of Marina Tsvetaeva, suite for contralto and piano, 1974
Suite on Verses of Michelangelo Buonarroti, for bass and piano 

Video Credit: 
Shostakovich: Symphony No. 5 in D minor (Phillipe Jordan, BBC Proms, 2013). Youtube, uploaded by MartialVidz.  Accessed September 25, 2017.

Dictionary of Composers and Their Music, by Eric Gilder, Sphere Reference (1987)
The Grove Concise Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2nd Edition, edited by Stanley Sadie (2000)

Note: I originally published this piece for, 21 November 2007. / Tel 

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