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DIMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH 1906-1975 Russian Composer. Early years. He studied piano and composition at the St. Petersburg Conservatory He graduated at the age of 19 having written his first symphony. Dimitri spent his entire career under the Russian Communist Party. Reform or Rebel?.

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Dimitri shostakovich 1906 1975 russian composer

DIMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH1906-1975Russian Composer

Early years
Early years

  • He studied piano and composition at the St. Petersburg Conservatory

  • He graduated at the age of 19 having written his first symphony.

  • Dimitri spent his entire career under the Russian Communist Party

Reform or rebel
Reform or Rebel?

  • Though his first symphony was an early success, his music didn't always enjoy the approval of the Soviet authorities. In later years he was to enjoy more artistic freedom, but under Stalin, a ruthless Communist party leader, composers and other artists ran the risk of their work being labelled anti-state . In some cases this could lead to "disappearances“. This threat was very real.

  • Shostakovich withdrew his 4th symphony before its premier for this reason and it wasn't performed until later under more liberal times. Some of Shostakovich's work seems to be simply paying his dues as an upright citizen but in many cases, although his music might outwardly be conforming with the party line, there is the feeling that he is actually rebelling against this.

The year of terror 1936
The Year of Terror: 1936

  • Because the Russian authorities wanted control over everything, including music, they put pressure on Dimitri to write music that followed their guidelines: Nationalistic, traditional, and heroic.

  • The government denounced him as being unloyal to the Russian doctrine.

  • In order to make sure he understood, his friends and relatives went “missing” as did thousands of other Russians.

His response symphony 5
His ResponseSymphony #5

  • The composer's response to his denunciation was the Fifth Symphony of 1937, which was musically more conservative than his earlier works.

  • Premiering on 21 November 1937 in Leningrad, it was a phenomenal success: many in the Leningrad audience had lost family or friends to the mass executions. The Fifth drove many to tears and welling emotions. Later Shostakovich wrote in his memoirs: "I'll never believe that a man who understood nothing could feel the Fifth Symphony. Of course they understood, they understood what was happening around them and they understood what the Fifth was about.“ The Russian government understood this piece to be nationalistic, but its true intent was understood by the people.

  • The success put Shostakovich in good standing once again. Music critics and the authorities alike, including those who had earlier accused Shostakovich of not following the “rules”, claimed that he had learned from his mistakes and had become a true Soviet artist

Secret messages
Secret messages

  • His tempo indications for the ending of Symphony #5 seem to make the music painfully slow. Some conductors have felt this was an error and it should end at a heroic tempo, but Shostakovich's intention was that it should be played slowly to undermine the heroic conclusion with irony.

  • The 1st movement of his 7th Symphony seems to be a of what is expected from a Soviet composer during the war years (though written in Leningrad when the city was under siege during WWII). The snare drum repeats the same 2-bar rhythm 175 times while the rest of the orchestra seems to play the same simple tune over and over again, but somehow Shostakovich turns this repetitious idea into something special.

  • Dimitri is also noted for encoding hidden messages in his music, in part as a protest to the way he was constrained artistically by the Soviet Authorities. For instance the woodblock part in the 9th symphony stands for K G B (the Russian FBI).

Stalin s death
Stalin’s death

  • After Stalin’s death, Shostakovich wrote Symphony #10.

  • The savage second movement is said to be musical portrait of Stalin.

Dimitri s death
Dimitri’s Death

  • Shostakovich died of lung cancer in 1975.

  • His son, Maxim, is a conductor who regularly travels to orchestras all over the world to conduct his father’s works.

    Shostakovich represented himself in some works with the a motif, consisting of D-Eb-C-B.