Shostokovich Essay

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Shostokovich

Born: Sept. 25, 1906, St. Petersburg, Russia
Died: Aug. 9, 1975, Moscow
Shostakovich was a Russian composer, renowned particularly for his 15 symphonies, numerous chamber works, and concerti, many of them written under the pressures of government-imposed standards of Soviet art.
Shostakovich was the son of an engineer. He entered the Petrograd (formerly St. Petersburg, subsequently Leningrad) Conservatory in 1919, where he studied the piano with Leonid Nikolayev until 1923 and composition until 1925 with Aleksandr Glazunov and Maksimilian Steinberg. He participated in the Chopin International Competition for Pianists in Warsaw in 1927 and received an honorable mention but made no subsequent attempt to pursue
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Not surprisingly, Shostakovich's incomparably finer second opera, Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District (later retitled Katerina Izmaylova), marked a stylistic retreat. Yet, even this more accessible musical language was now too radical for the Soviet authorities.
From 1928, when Joseph Stalin had inaugurated his First Five-Year Plan, an iron hand fastened on Soviet culture, and in music a direct and popular style was demanded. Avant-garde music and jazz were banished, and for a while even the unproblematic Tchaikovsky was out of favor. Shostakovich did not experience immediate official displeasure, but when it came, it was devastating. It has been said that it was Stalin's personal anger at what he heard when he attended a performance of Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District in 1936 that precipitated the official condemnation of the opera and of its creator.
Shostakovich was bitterly attacked in the official press, and both the opera and the, until then, unperformed Fourth Symphony (1935-36) were withdrawn. The composer's next major work was his Fifth Symphony (1937), which he described as "A Soviet artist's reply to just criticism." A trivial, dutifully "optimistic" work might have been expected; what emerged was compounded largely of serious, even somber and elegiac music, presented with a compelling directness that scored an immediate success with the public and even the authorities.
With the Fifth Symphony,

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