Dimitri Shostakovich (1906 - 1975)
Dmitri Shostakovich grew up with Russia’s revolution but, sadly, never lived to see his country return to democracy. He displayed an early talent for music, and, in those first optimistic years of Communism, his skills were encouraged and developed. At that time, the government supported all the arts, and the prodigious young composer soon became one of the Soviet Union’s first heroes.
With the arrival of Joseph Stalin, however, politics took a sinister turn, and the arts became a vehicle for Soviet propaganda. Within a few years, Shostakovich the “golden boy” found himself forced to toe a musical party line and, worse, faced the possibility of total isolation, even execution, when the dictator stormed out of a theater, infuriated by his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtensk. He managed to rehabilitate himself with theauthorities but thereafter had to work under cover, composing formally “approved” works, many of which contained hidden secondary meanings. Following the death of Stalin and the composer’s unquestioned international popularity, he remained at the forefront of Russian music but forever cautious, and it was probably only in his late years that he could compose without Soviet officialdom breathing down his neck.
Shostakovich is perhaps best known as a composer of symphonies and chamber music. Yet his songs, while not as well known, exhibit no less of the wit and passion for which he is so highly esteemed.