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Biography

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Overview (3)

Date of Birth 25 September 1906St. Petersburg, Russian Empire [now Russia]
Date of Death 9 August 1975Moscow, Russian SFSR, USSR [now Russia]  (lung cancer)
Birth NameDmitry Dmitriyevich Shostakovich

Mini Bio (1)

Dmitri Shostakovich, one of Russian culture's most acclaimed intellectuals who was censored under the dictatorship of Joseph Stalin, was an internationally recognized composer whose music was in over 100 films.

He was born Dmitri Dmitrievich Shostakovich on September 25, 1906, in St. Petersburg, Russia. He was the second of three children of Dmitri Boleslavovich Shostakovich, a chemical engineer, and Sofia Kokaoulina, a pianist. Young Shostakovich studied piano under his mother tutelage and at a private school in St. Petersburg. His greatest influences were Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven and Modest Mussorgsky. From 1919-1925 he studied piano and composition at St. Petersburg (Leningrad) Conservatory. He wrote his First "Classical" symphony as his graduation piece. In 1927 he won an "honorable mention diploma" at the 1st International Piano Competition in Warsaw. In 1929 he collaborated with writer Vladimir Mayakovsky, artist Alexander Rodchenko and director Vsevolod Meyerhold.

In 1934 Shostakovich collaborated with Aleksei Dikij on the legendary opera Katerina Izmailova" (aka Lady Makbeth of Mtsensk). Dikij's production of "Katerina Izmailova" had over 100 performances in Leningrad and Moscow, and was considered a highlight in his directing career. However, in 1936, Stalin saw the opera and severely criticized the work of both Shostakovich and Dikij. After Stalin's negative criticism both Shostakovich and Dikij suffered from serious troubles in their lives and careers. During the 1930s and 1940s Shostakovich suffered from ugly political attacks by the Soviet official paper "Pravda". He was censored by powerful Soviet official Andrei Zhdanov and other communist officials. Shostakovich was hurt by the betrayal of his colleagues, such as Dmitri Kabalevsky who, as part of the Soviet bureaucracy, banned his opera and criticized his music for political reasons. Such unfair pressure helped to bring about a nervous breakdown in Shostakovich and he was treated for suicidal thoughts.

In the summer of 1941 Nazi Germany and its allies invaded the Soviet Union, and German and Finnish forces and encircled Leningrad (St. Petersburg). The city of 3.5 million was the fourth largest in Europe and the main industrial center of Russia, producing 11% of the nation's GDP. All roads south of Leningrad were blocked by the Nazis, and all roads north of Leningrad were blocked by the Finnish army by September 1941. Defenders and civilians in besieged Leningrad were doomed, because the besieging forces cut supplies of food and energy to the surrounded city. It wasn't long before the city's population of birds, pets and even rats were eaten, and not long after there were reports of cannibalism brought about by starvation. The siege of Leningrad was so impenetrable that by December of that year an average of 4000 to 6000 residents a day were dying of starvation, disease, shellfire, bombardment and a variety of other causes.

During the first months of the siege Shostakovich was in Leningrad. He survived the first bombardments and joined the "night watch" patrol, helping to put out fires during massive German air bombardments. Shostakovich personally neutralized several incendiary bombs and was actively involved in firefighting. After aerial and artillery bombardments, during the rare quiet moments, Shostakovich was back to his piano composing new music. He was evacuated from the besieged city in the end of 1941.

The Seventh "Leningrad" Symphony, which Shostakovich started composing during the Nazi aerial and artillery attacks during the siege, was the masterpiece that won him national and international recognition. The symphony is a showcase of Shostakovich's musical genius; it also is a document of the composer's personal courage and creativity amidst the deadly war. His music helped lift the spirits of Leningrad citizens in a time when they were struggling to survive.

On August 9, 1942, Karl Eliasberg gave a premiere performance of Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony in Leningrad. That famous concert was made possible because Eliasberg specially created an orchestra of survivors who were still able to perform in spite of starvation and dystrophy. The first rehearsal lasted only fifteen minutes, because the starving musicians were exhausted. Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony is known to be hard to perform, and for the hungry and emaciated Leningrad musicians it was doubly so. Some of them were not even strong enough to hold their instruments. Despite the fact that for the period of the rehearsals which lasted two months the musicians had their food rations increased, several of them did not live to see the day of the concert.

In the Radio Orchestra archive there is a fragment of an order from the Leningrad Communist Party command with instruction to officers: By any means, get a score of the Seventh from Moscow. Transport it to Leningrad as soon as possible". On June 2, 1942, 20-year-old pilot Litvinov, on a light plane flying the perilous route over Nazi lines to bring first aid, also brought the manuscripts of Shostakovich's Seventh. The plane landed in Leningrad safely, and the music score was delivered to Eliasberg. "When I saw the symphony", Eliasberg later told reporters, "I thought, 'We'll never play this'. It was four thick volumes of music". The 's Seventh is a colossal work demanding battalions of strings, but what worried Eliasberg most were the voluminous arrangements for woodwind and brass in a city short of breath. The score had Shostakovich's handwritten instruction: "All instruments must play their parts!" Eliasberg procured a list of Leningrad musicians, on which 25 were already blacked out, dead. Those known to be alive were circled in red and ordered to report for duty. The first rehearsal was a torture: the drummer collapsed on the way to rehearsal and the leading violinist died from starvation. Those who made it to the concert hall were unable to hold their musical instruments longer than ten minutes.

Eliasberg, who was also extremely emaciated, spent some time in the hospital in the Astoria hotel and came to the rehearsals straight from the sick ward. On the score of one of the musicians of that legendary orchestra you can still see a drawing showing hollow-cheeked Eliasberg conducting his orchestra sitting on a chair. The legendary performance was broadcast live from the Radio Hall in Leningrad, so millions of civilians and defenders of the besieged city were able to hear the powerful music. The symphony written in the conventional four movements is Shostakovich's longest, and one of the longest in the repertoire, with performances taking approximately one hour and fifteen minutes. The scale and scope of the work is consistent with Shostakovich's other symphonies as well as with those of composers considered to be his strongest influences, including Bruckner, Gustav Mahler and Igor Stravinsky.

Much had to be done before the Leningrad premiere could take place. The Leningrad Radio Orchestra under Karl Eliasberg was the only remaining symphonic ensemble. The orchestra had survived-barely-but it had not been playing and musical broadcasts had ceased due to deadly bombardments and air-strikes by the Nazis. At the beginning of the siege, only warning signals and political appeals were broadcast. Even then, there were hours of silence because of the lack of surviving radio hosts. As for the city itself, Leningrad surrounded by the Nazis had become a living hell, with eyewitness reports of people who had died of cold and starvation lying in doorways in stairwells. "They lay there because people dropped them there, the way newborn infants used to be left. Janitors swept them away in the morning like rubbish. Funerals, graves, coffins were long forgotten. It was a flood of death that could not be managed. Entire families vanished, entire apartments with their collective families. Houses, streets and neighborhoods vanished."

The official hiatus on musical broadcasts had to end before the symphony could be performed. This happened quickly, with a complete about-face by Party authorities. Next was reforming the orchestra. Only 15 members were still available; the others had either starved to death or left to fight the enemy. Posters went up, requesting all Leningrad musicians to report to the Radio Committee. Efforts were also made to seek out those musicians who could not come. "My God, how thin many of them were," one of the organizers of the performance remembered. "How those people livened up when we started to ferret them out of their dark apartments. We were moved to tears when they brought out their concert clothes, their violins and cellos and flutes, and rehearsals began under the icy canopy of the studio." Orchestral players were given additional food rations that was 250 grams of bread per day, because no other food was available under the siege.

Before they tackled Shostakovich's work, Eliasberg had the players go through pieces from the standard repertoire - Ludwig van Beethoven, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov - which they also performed for broadcast. Because the city was still blockaded at the time, the score was flown by night in early July for rehearsal. A team of copyists worked for days to prepare the parts despite shortages of materials. At rehearsal, some musicians protested, not wanting to waste their little strength on an intricate and not very accessible work. Eliasberg threatened to hold back the additional food rations, quelling any dissent.

The concert was given on 9 August 1942. Whether this date was chosen intentionally, it was the day Hitler had chosen previously to celebrate the fall of Leningrad with a lavish reception for the top Nazi commanders. But instead of Hitler's plan, all loudspeakers delivered the live broadcast of the symphony performance throughout the city as well as to the German forces in a move of psychological warfare. The Russian commander of the Leningrad front, General Govorov, ordered a bombardment of German artillery positions in advance of the broadcast to ensure their silence during the performance of the symphony; a special operation, code-named "Squall," was executed for precisely this purpose. Three thousand high-caliber shells were lobbed onto the enemy. Then the music of Shostakovich came out of the speakers all over the siege perimeter, so the Nazis had to face the music.

The Bolshoi Philharmonic Hall in Leningrad, the famous cultural gem of music, was overcrowded for the first time during the siege of Leningrad. People dressed in their best and attended the concert regardless of starvation and danger. Many notable survivors of the siege were in the audience. Writer Nikolai Tikhonov noted that in the hall over a thousand civilians were joined by several hundred soldiers: the best defenders were rewarded with a short break from the front-lines. The music of Shostakovich brought the much needed support and catharsis to survivors who loved the symphony and applauded to Eliasberg and his orchestra. General Govorov with his staff came backstage to thank Eliasberg and his musicians for their art and courage.

The news about Dmitry Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony premiere in besieged Leningrad spread all over the world. It was an important message to all nations that Hitler's attack on Leningrad failed. Shostakovich who began to write his famous symphony before evacuation from besieged Leningrad in 1941, could not go back to attend its premier performance in 1942. The composer sent the conductor and the musicians who performed his work in the besieged city a telegram with words of gratitude.

After WWII Shostakovich was again attacked by the Soviet communist censorship in 1948, resulting in another ban on his music in the Soviet Union. At that time, Shostakovich gained international recognition in the free world, and received several invitations to participate in music festivals and other cultural events. However, he was censored and was kept in the country up until the death of the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, after which Shostakovich was allowed to travel and perform internationally.

He was awarded the International Peace Prize (1954), State Prize five times (in 1941-1952), State Prizes of Russia and the USSR, and was designated People's Artist of the USSR. From 1957-1975 he was secretary of the Union of Composers of Russia and the USSR. He taught and promoted many talented musicians, such as Andrei Petrov, Georgi Sviridov, Karen Khachaturyan, and Boris Tishchenko among others.

Shostakovich joined poet Evgeniy Evtushenko in protest of the Soviet Union's refusal to recognize Babi Yar, a ravine in Kiev, the site where the Nazis committed a mass murder of 33,000 Jews in September of 1941. Shostakovich and Yevtushenko worked together on the famous Symphony No. 13 titled "Babi Yar", a vocal setting of poems by Yevtushenko. It was first performed in Moscow on December 18, 1962 under the baton of Kirill Kondrashin. Yevtushenko and Shostakovich toured many countries with the performances of "Babi Yar", and made several recordings of the Symphony No. 13. The site of Babi Yar is now an important WWII memorial, that was built with the support from many contributors. This was partly the result of creative cooperation and outstanding artistry of both Yevtushenko and Shostakovich. Among Shostakovich's best known film scores are 'Suite from The Gadfly' from The Gadfly (1955), and the score for director Grigori Kozintsev's acclaimed film Hamlet (1964) starring Innokentiy Smoktunovskiy.

In 1965 Shostakovich raised his voice in defense of poet Joseph Brodsky, who was unfairly sentenced to five years of exile and hard labor. Shostakovich co-signed protests together with such prominent figures as Korney Ivanovich Chukovsky, Anna Akhmatova, Samuil Marshak, Evgeniy Evtushenko, and the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. After the protests his sentence was commuted, and Brodsky returned to Leningrad (St. Petersburg). At that time, Shostakovich joined the group of 25 distinguished intellectuals in signing the letter to Leonid Brezhnev asking not to rehabilitate Joseph Stalin.

Dmitri Shostakovich was a towering figure in Russian music of the 20th century along with 'Sergei Prokofiev (I)' and Aram Khachaturyan. He wrote 15 symphonies, of which the Fifth (1937), the Sevenths "Leningrad" (1942), and the Thurteenth "Baby Yar" (1968) are the best known. His other compositions include cantatas and oratorios, seven operas and operettas, four ballets, twelve musical comedies and other music for stage plays, 36 original motion picture scores, fifteen quartets and other chamber music for, piano, violin, and cello. Shostakovich, who was an awarded pianist himself, had composed outstanding works for piano, such as his Piano concertos No1 and No2. His 24 Preludes and Fugues for piano received numerous awards and recognitions, and were recorded in critically acclaimed performance by Vladimir Ashkenazy.

Shostakovich died of a heart attack on august 9, 1975, in Moscow, and was laid to rest in Novodevichi Convent Cemetery in Moscow, Russia. His legacy is continued by his son, conductor Maxim Shostakovich, and his grandson, pianist Dmitri Shostakovich Jr.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Steve Shelokhonov

Spouse (3)

Irina Supinskaya (December 1962 - 9 August 1975) (his death)
Margarita Kainova (July 1956 - 1960) (divorced)
Nina Varzar (13 May 1932 - 5 December 1954) (her death) (2 children)

Trivia (11)

His Eighth String Quartet, Op. 110, was written from start to finish over the span of just three days.
The father of Galina Shostakovich and conductor Maksim Shostakovich. Grandfather of composer Dmitri Shostakovich Jr.
After Joseph Stalin's death, Shostakovich secluded himself for several weeks to turn out his Tenth Symphony. At a party after the premiere, he told a female confidant that the second movement, a brief but fast and violent movement, was symbolic of Stalin.
First learned piano from his mother. On several occasions, he displayed a remarkable ability to remember what his mother had played at the previous lesson, and would get caught in the act of pretending to read, by playing the previous lesson's music when different music was placed in front of him.
Played piano in movie theaters during the silent film era in St. Petersburg, Russia.
His opera "Lady Macbeth of Mtensk" was savagely denounced in a music review in Pravda, a review that many believe was actually written by Joseph Stalin himself. As a result of this attack, Shostakovich shelved his Fourth Symphony (written at the same time as the opera), and it wasn't premiered until decades afterward. When rehearsals for the premiere began, he refused to have a single note of the symphony altered.
Shostakovich's true feelings about communism are controversial. There are many (including biographer Solomon Volkov) who claim that he secretly inserted anti-communist symbolism in his music. However, this is hard to substantiate, as many of his works (Symphony No. 12, the tone poem "October", numerous film scores) have an overtly pro-Soviet theme. On the other hand, he also wrote numerous works (Symhony No. 13 "Babi Yar") that seem to be highly critical of Soviet life and history.
Had the ability to write music in the midst of a great deal of noise. He would often write in crowded cafés, even when construction was going on outside.
Was trapped in Leningrad for several months while the German army laid siege to it, but was evacuated before the city was liberated by Russian forces and the siege lifted.
Father of Irina Shostakovich.
A fan of the Zenit Leningrad (today Zenit Saint Petersburg) football club. He also had a qualification as a football referee.

Personal Quotes (1)

The climax of joy is not when you're through a new symphony, but when you are hoarse from shouting, with your hands stinging from clapping, your lips parched, and you sip a second glass of beer after you've fought for it with 90,000 other spectators to celebrate the victory of your favorite team.

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