Dmitri Shostakovich Biography
Dmitri Shostakovich was born on September 25, 1906 in St. Petersburg, Russia. He had two siblings, but stood out as a musical prodigy after taking piano lessons at the age of nine. In 1918, at the age of twelve, he wrote a funeral march in memory of tow Kadet Party leaders who were murdered by Bolsheviks.
In 1919, he enrolled in classes at the Petrograd Conservatory. Due to his lack of interest in politics, he suffered in several classes, but excelled in artistic ones. In 1926, he composed his first symphony, aptly named "1st Symphony", and premiered it that same year.
After graduating from the school, he started working as a concert pianist for money, but also wrote compositions on the side. In 1927, he earned the honorable mention award at the Warsaw International Piano Competition. After the contest, he met a conductor named Bruno Walter, who was impressed by Shostakovich's work and agreed to conduct his "1st Symphony" in Berlin.
In 1927, he finished his "2nd Symphony" and began working on a satirical opera entitled, "The Nose". In 1930, the opera opened, but did poorly and received bad reviews. In 1932, Shostakovich married a woman named Nina Varzar, but they divorced in 1935 after a tumultous marriage. Later, they reunited and had more luck with their marriage.
In the early 1930s, he worked at a youth theatre called TRAM in Leningrad. There, he worked on his second opera, "Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District". The opera opened in 1934 and became a massive success. The Soviet leadership credited the opera and stated that it could only have been written by "a Soviet composer brought up in the best tradition of Soviet culture".
Shostakovich's popularity proved to be short lived, however, and in 1936 he started receiving critical attacks and was denounced by Soviet officials as "formalist". At this time, he was preparing to conduct his "4th Symphony", but the criticism caused him to lose almost all of his funding and the performance had to be delayed until in 1961. 1936 also saw the arrest of many of his friends and peers during the Soviet Union's "Great Terror".
In 1937, he released his "5th Symphony", which lacked the political content of his earlier works and was allowed to be performed. The symphony was a great success and remains one of his most liked works. Following the symphony, he began experimenting with string quartets and also took up teaching musical composition at the Conservatory in Leningrad.
In 1941, Shostakovich began working on his "7th Symphony" and continued, even after war broke out with Germany. To aid in the war effort, he posed as a fire warden for a propaganda poster and delivered a radio broadcast to the Soviet Union. In October of 1941, he was forced to move to Kuybishev, where he completed his symphony.
His "7th Symphony" proved to be popular and inspiring to the Russian people. It depicted a heroic struggle against adversity and became a symbol of Russian resistance to German advancement. In 1943, he produced his "8th Symphony", which was entirely different and was very sombre and violent. The symphony was banned in the Soviet Union until 1960.
In 1948, he was denounced for being too formalist in the Zhdanov Decree. His works were banned from public performance and he was forced to publicly repent for his "actions". That year, he lived in great fear of being arrested and would often sit at night outside of his house so his family wouldn't be disturbed if he was arrested or shot.
He was never arrested and he immediately began work on redeeming himself in the eyes of the Soviet leadership. He composed "Violin Concerto No. 1", which proved to be more popular and somewhat helped his situation. In 1949, restrictions on his musical compositions were eased such that he would agree to participate in a delegation of Soviet celebrities to the United States.
In 1949, Shostakovich composed "Song of the Forests", which called Stalin the "great gardener". The praise apparently won Stalin over and, in 1951, Shostakovich was appointed a deputy to Stalin. In 1953, following Stalin's death, Shostakovich released his "10th Symphony", which was widely popular and appeared to be a musical portrait of Stalin as a person.
In 1954, his wife died and he remarried to a woman named Margarita Kainova in 1956. Their marriage proved to be problematic, however, and ended in divorce in 1959. In 1960, he decided to join the Communist Party, an act that he had evaded for most of his life. Although the move made him more popular with the Soviet leadership, Shostakovich reportedly regretted the decision and said that he was blackmailed. That year, he also released his "8th String Quartet".
In 1962, he married for the third time to a woman named Irina Supinskaya. Despite their massive age difference (she was 27, he was 56), they got along very well and remained married until his death. That year, he also released his "13th Symphony", which proved to be very controversial due to its focus on Jewish massacres during World War 2.
In 1965, he was diagnosed with poliomyelitis, a very dehabilitating disorder. In 1970 and 1971, he suffered from a series of heart attacks that further impacted his health. He also suffered from a series of broken limbs after falling. Despite these ailments, he released his 14th and 15th Symphonies in 1969 and 1961, respectively. Dmitri Shostakovich died of lung cancer on August 9, 1975.
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