Dmitrii Shostakovich

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Shostakovich, Dmitrii Dmitrievich


Born Sept. 12 (25), 1906, in St. Petersburg; died Aug. 9,1975, in Moscow. Soviet composer. People’s Artist of the USSR (1954); Hero of Socialist Labor (1966); doctor of the arts (1965). Member of the CPSU from 1960.

The son of an engineer, Shostakovich graduated from the Leningrad Conservatory, where he studied piano with L. V. Nikolaev until 1923 and composition with M. O. Shteinberg until 1925. In 1927 he received an honorable mention at the First Chopin International Competition for Pianists in Warsaw. He subsequently gave concerts at which he performed his own compositions. In 1937 he began teaching composition at the Leningrad Conservatory, where he became a professor in 1939; from 1943 to 1948 he taught at the Moscow Conservatory. Among his pupils were R. S. Bunin, A. D. Gadzhiev, G. G. Galynin, O. A. Evlak-hov, K. A. Karaev, G. V. Sviridov, B. I. Tishchenko, K. S. Kha-chaturian, and B. A. Chaikovskii. He became a secretary of the Composers’ Union of the USSR in 1957 and of the Composers’ Union of the RSFSR in 1960; from 1960 to 1968 he was first secretary of the Composers’ Union of the RSFSR.

Shostakovich, whose work represents a high point in 20th-century music, invariably turned to socially important themes and images and rendered the most important aspects of contemporary life. His music combines epic scope and psychological profundity, the emotional power of a crusading artist and a highly refined, intimate lyricism. Several of Shostakovich’s works reflect the global conflicts of the modern age and give expression to the clash between the world of victorious socialism and the world of reaction and oppression. Particularly important to the composer were the themes of war and peace and the struggle against fascism: to images of evil and aggression he counterposed the will and reason of the Soviet people and a faith in the ultimate victory of light over darkness. Shostakovich’s works, which affirm the ideals of Soviet humanism, are imbued with a boundless sympathy for man and his sufferings.

Symphonic works distinguished by a sense of high drama occupy a central place in Shostakovich’s oeuvre. The varied musical development in these works is marked by sharp conflicts and contrasts and by the free hand with which the composer worked out his themes: Shostakovich often rethought his musical ideas, and the same theme sometimes embodies totally contrasting aspects of life. Shostakovich, an innovator in the tradition of M. P. Mussorgsky (with whom he felt a special affinity), J. S. Bach, Beethoven, and Mahler, created his own profoundly original style. The individuality of his music is strikingly apparent in its tonal structure and harmony. Shostakovich modified the harmonic systems of classical Russian music to create his own harmonic idiom. An oustanding polyphonist, he reinterpreted the fugue and passacag-lia, made extensive use of polyphonic devices to develop musical themes, and restructured the symphony and sonata cyclic forms, whose component parts he fashioned anew to suit his own needs. Shostakovich used the interplay of orchestral timbres to great expressive effect. The principles of symphonic composition are evident in his chamber music.

Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 1 (1925), like several of the symphonies to follow, gained worldwide recognition. Subsequent compositions, such as the Symphony No. 2 (October Symphony, 1927), the Symphony No. 3 (First of May Symphony, 1931), and the ballets The Golden Age (1930) and Bolt (1931), reflect a search for new directions. In certain works, notably the opera The Nose (after N. V. Gogol, 1928), Shostakovich showed a predilection for satire, humor, and the grotesque.

In the opera Katerina Izmailovna (or Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, 1932; new version, 1963), which marks the beginning of the composer’s mature period, the tragic vein, so important in all Shostakovich’s works, is combined with social satire. The Symphony No. 4 (1936) and Symphony No. 5 (1937)—particularly the latter—established the principles of Shostakovich’s mature symphonic style. Of the Fifth Symphony the composer wrote: “The subject of my symphony is the development of the individual. It was precisely man, with all his sufferings, that I saw as the focal point of this work” (Vecherniaia Moskva, Jan. 25, 1938, p. 3). Other compositions of the 1930’s are the Symphony No. 6 (1939), the Concerto No. 1 for Piano and Orchestra (1933), Twenty-four Preludes for Piano (1933), the ballet The Limpid Stream (1935), and the String Quartet No. 1 (1938).

The Quintet for Piano and Strings (1940; State Prize of the USSR, 1941), a work imbued with a poetic lyricism, is one of Shostakovich’s most harmonious compositions. Shostakovich worked on the Symphony No. 7 (Leningrad Symphony; State Prize of the USSR, 1942) in the besieged city of Leningrad. The symphony, which depicts the Soviet people’s heroic struggle against fascism, became a musical monument of the war years and played an important role in rallying the world against fascism. Images from the Great Patriotic War also appear in the Symphony No. 8 (1943), a work of enormous tragic power, and in the Trio No. 2 for Violin, Cello, and Piano (1944; State Prize of the USSR, 1946), the String Quartet No. 3 (1946), and songs and choruses from this period. Shostakovich returned to the war for subject matter in such late works as the String Quartet No. 8 (1960), dedicated to the victims of war and fascism.

The Symphony No. 10 (1953), which reflects the composer’s concern about the fate of the world, is distinguished by its profound psychological insight. The oratorio Song of the Forests (words by E. A. Dolmatovskii, 1949; State Prize of the USSR, 1950) depicts socialist labor. The monumental cycle Twenty-four Preludes and Fugues for Piano (1951), which communicates a variety of emotions and moods ranging from high tragedy to carefree gaiety, from epic heroism to moving lyricism, adds to the tradition of Bach a distinctly Russian character.

Other notable postwar works are the Symphony No. 9 (1945), the Violin Concerto No. 1 (1948), and the song cycle From Jewish Folk Poetry (1948, set to traditional poems). In this period Shostakovich’s fondness for historical and revolutionary subjects became evident. His Ten Narrative Poems for A Cappella Chorus (set to words by revolutionary poets, 1951; State Prize of the USSR, 1952) is dedicated to the struggle of the proletariat in the early 20th century. Works in a similar vein include the Symphony No. 11 (1905 Symphony, 1957; Lenin Prize, 1958) and the Symphony No. 12 (1917 Symphony, 1961), dedicated to V. I. Lenin; these compositions are notable for their striking musical idiom and are imbued with the traditional spirit of the revolutionary song. The Russian past also found expression in the symphonic poem for voice and orchestra The Execution of Stepan Razin (words by E. A. Evtushenko, 1964; State Prize of the USSR, 1968).

During this period Shostakovich continued to use a broad range of images and varied subject matter. He turned to humor and satire once again in the musical comedy Moscow, Chere-mushki (1958) and the song cycle Satires (1960, words by Sasha Chernyi).

In the 1960’s and 1970’s, Shostakovich composed vocal instrumental suites to poems by A. A. Blok (1967) and M. I. Tsvetaeva (1973). The vocal work Suite on Verses by Michelangelo (1974), summing up several major themes of the composer’s work, registered a protest against evil and injustice and affirmed the creative triumph and immortality of the artist. The principles of the vocal-instrumental suite are combined with operatic elements in the symphonies for voice and orchestra: Symphony No. 13 (1962, words by Evtushenko) and Symphony No. 14 (1969, words by Garcia Lorca, G. Apollinaire, W. K. Küchelbecker, and R. Rilke), an enormously profound and emotionally powerful treatment of the theme of life and death, a subject that is central to such works as the Symphony No. 15 (1971) and the late string quartets. The Sonata for Alto and Piano (1975) marks the end of Shostakovich’s creative output.

Shostakovich, who composed music for more than 35 motion pictures, including The Youth of Maksim (1935), The Return of Maksim (1937), The Vyborg Side (1939), The Man With a Gun (1938), and Hamlet (1964), was a pioneer of Soviet motion-picture music. He adapted several of his film scores for concert performance, notably Golden Mountains (1931), The Young Guard (1948), and The Gadfly (1955). Several songs by Shostakovich for motion pictures have achieved great popularity. He wrote music for the stage and prepared new orchestral versions of Mussorgsky’s operas Boris Godunov (1940) and Khovanshchina (1959). His articles include “Thoughts on the Road I Have Traveled” (1956).

The music of Shostakovich, whose compositions are among the classic works of the 20th century, is of tremendous importance for Soviet and international music.

Shostakovich was a deputy to the sixth through ninth convocations of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. He was a member of the Soviet Peace Committee (1949), the Slavic Committee of the USSR (1942), and the International Peace Committee (1968). He was an honorary member of Sweden’s Royal Academy of Music (1954), Italy’s Saint Cecilia National Academy (1956), and the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts (1965).

Shostakovich was awarded honorary doctorates by Oxford University (1958), Northwestern University in Evanston, 111. (1973), and France’s Académie des Beaux-Arts (1975). He was a corresponding member of the Academy of Arts of the German Democratic Republic (1956) and the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts (1968), a member of Great Britain’s Royal Academy of Music (1958) and the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (1959) and an honorary professor at Mexico’s National Conservatory. He served as president of the USSR-Austria Society (1958). A recipient of the International Peace Prize (1954), Shostakovich was awarded three Orders of Lenin, the Order of the October Revolution, the Order of the Red Banner of Labor, and various medals.


Martynov, I. D. Shostakovich. Moscow-Leningrad, 1946.
Cherty stilia D. Shostakovicha: Sb. teoreticheskikh statei. Moscow, 1962.
Danilevich, L. Nash sovremennik: Tvorchestvo Shostakovicha. Moscow, 1965.
Sabinina, M. Simfonizm Shostakovicha: Put’ k zrelosti. Moscow, 1965.
Sabinina, M. Shostakovich-simfonist: Dramaturgiia, estetika, stil. Moscow, 1976.
Dmitrii Shostakovich: Sb. Moscow, 1967.
Khentova, S. Molodye gody Shostakovicha. Leningrad-Moscow, 1975.
D. Shostakovich: Stat’i i materialy. Moscow, 1976.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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