Born on September 25, 1906, in Saint Petersburg and trained (1919-25) at the city's conservatory, he first attracted international attention with the premiere of his First Symphony (1926). His music is distinguished principally by its rhythmic vitality and its rich melodies, which are frequently reminiscent of the gypsy tunes popular in eastern Europe. Most of his large works are composed in traditional forms, and his mature harmonic style is usually simple and direct. His technical mastery of the orchestra is particularly notable.
Shostakovich's first opera, The Nose (1929), modeled
on the expressionistic and atonal techniques of such Western composers
as the German Paul Hindemith and the Austrian Alban Berg, was well received
by the critics and public but was censored by Communist party officials
as bourgeois and decadent. His next opera, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk (1934;
revised as Katerina Ismailova, 1963), again received both popular and critical
acclaim, but party publications condemned the opera as counterrevolutionary.
Such attacks led him to promise to reformulate his artistic ideas.
Shostakovich's Fifth (1937) and Sixth (1939) symphonies were well received, both by the party and the public, and his Seventh Symphony, Leningrad Symphony (1942), composed during the World War II siege of Leningrad, became a great popular success. In 1948 his music was again attacked on political grounds, and once more he promised to reform his musical style. He apparently did so satisfactorily, for he received the Order of Lenin, the supreme Soviet honor, in 1956. Shostakovich was also awarded the Stalin Prize several times, and in 1966 he became the first composer to receive the accolade Hero of Socialist Labor. He died in Moscow on August 9, 1975.
Shostakovich's 15 string quartets (1935-74) have
won increasing respect as a major contribution to the literature. Among
his other works are the Concerto No. 1 (1933), the Fifteenth Symphony (1971),
ballet music, songs, and scores for motion pictures.