Dmitry Shostakovich belongs to the generation of composers trained principally after the Communist Revolution of 1917. He graduated from the St. Petersburg Conservatory as a pianist and composer, his First Symphony
winning immediate favour. His subsequent career in Russia varied with the political climate. The initial success of his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District, based on Leskov, and later revised as Katerina Ismailova, was followed
by official condemnation, emanating apparently from Stalin himself. The composer's Fifth Symphony, in 1937, brought partial rehabilitation, while the war years offered a propaganda coup in the Leningrad Symphony, performed in the
city under German siege. In 1948 he fell foul of the official musical establishment with a Ninth Symphony thought to be frivolous, but enjoyed the relative freedom following the death of Stalin in 1953. Outwardly and inevitably conforming
to official policy, posthumous information suggests that Shostakovich remained very critical of Stalinist dictates, particularly with regard to music and the arts. He occupies a significant position in the 20th century as a symphonist
and as a composer of chamber music, writing in a style that is sometimes spare in texture but always accessible, couched as it is in an extension of traditional tonal musical language.
Katerina Ismailova remains the principal opera of Shostakovich, with the early opera The Nose, based on Gogol, and the ballet The Golden Age. Incidental music for the theatre includes scores for Shakespeare's Hamlet and for King Lear,
the same two plays being among the films for which he wrote scores.
The fifteen symphonies of Shostakovich range in scope from the First Symphony of 1925, a graduation composition, to the embittered Thirteenth using Yevtushenko's poems. The Fourteenth, which contains settings of various poems came
two years before the Fifteenth and last symphony of 1971. The Fifth Symphony, the immediate post-war Ninth and the Tenth of 1953 are most often heard, while Nos. 2 and 3, with Nos. 11 and 12, have more overtly patriotic suggestions
Shostakovich wrote an early concerto for piano, trumpet and strings, and a second piano concerto, a vehicle for his son Maxim, in 1957. He wrote two violin concertos and two cello concertos.
Choral and Vocal Music
Choral music by Shostakovich include The Execution of Stepan Razin, a setting of a text by Yevtushenko. His solo songs are generally less overtly political, evidence of a private rather than public voice.
The fifteen String Quartets by Shostakovich form a remarkable body of work, lucid in texture, often moving in musical content. The intensely felt Viola Sonata of 1975 is the third of his duo sonatas, preceded by the 1934 Cello Sonata
and the Violin Sonata of 1968. To these may be added the second Piano Trio and a G minor Piano Quintet, written in 1944.
The piano music of Shostakovich includes, in addition to two piano sonatas, an ingenious set of Twenty-four Preludes and Fugues, as well as an earlier set of Twenty-four Preludes.
Biography selected from Naxos, the World's Leading Classical Music Label.
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