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Dmitri Shostakovich

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St Petersburg, Russia (1906 – 1975)

Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich (Russian: Дмитрий Дмитриевич Шостакович) (September 25 [O.S. September 12] 1906, (St Petersburg, Russia) – August 9, 1975) was a Russian composer of the Soviet period.

Shostakovich had a complex and difficult relationship with the Soviet government, suffering two official denunciations of his music, in 1936 and 1948, and the periodic banning of his work. At the same time, he received a number of accolades and state awards and served in the Supreme Soviet. Despite the official controversy, his works were popular; he is now held to be, as Grove’s judges him, the most talented Soviet composer of his generation.

After a period influenced by Prokofiev and Stravinsky (Symphony No. 1), Shostakovich switched to modernism (Symphony No. 2 and The Nose) before developing a hybrid of styles with the opera “The Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk “and the ill-fated Fourth Symphony. This hybrid style ranged from the neo-classical (with Stravinskian influences) to the post-romantic music (with Mahlerian influences). His tonality involved much use of modality and some astringent neo-classical harmonies à la Hindemith and Prokofiev. His music frequently includes sharp contrasts and elements of the grotesque.

Shostakovich prided himself on his orchestration, which is clear, economical, and well-projected. This aspect of Shostakovich’s technique owes more to Gustav Mahler than Rimsky-Korsakov. His greatest works are generally considered to be his symphonies and string quartets, fifteen of each. Other works include operas, six concertos, and a substantial quantity of film music.

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