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Dmitri Dmitrievich Shostakovich (1906-1975)

One of the outstanding composers of the 20th century, Dmitri  Shostakovich graduated from St Petersburg Conservatory in 1925, writing his Symphony No 1, which made him world famous at age 19. In 1934, he scored another international triumph with his second opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, the tragic finale of which takes place in a gulag, a taboo subject at the time.

Victim of Stalin’s purges of the late 1930s, he restored himself to government favor after writing his Symphony No 5 (1937) ironically subtitled “A Soviet Artist’s Reply to Just Criticism”.

After WW II, he was accused again, with the nation’s leading composers among whom were Prokofiev and Khachaturian, of writing “anti-people music” and publicly humiliated.  To protect himself, he turned to composing propaganda pieces on “approved topics” and joined the Communist Party in 1961. At the same time, however, he was secretly writing a series of dissenting masterpieces. In 1962, he composed his most outspoken critique of Soviet society, the Symphony No 13 known as Babi Yar, written on five poems by the poet Evgeniy Evtushenko.

From 1965, he suffered unremitting ill health, but still wrote his 14th and 15th Symphonies. He died of lung cancer in Moscow in 1975.

A prolific composer, he wrote 15 symphonies, 6 concertos, 15 string quartets and hundreds of other works for piano and other instruments, for ballets, voice, and film scores.

Romance is part of Shostakovich's score for the very popular 1955 film Ovod (The Gadfly) that tells a story of romance and tragedy.

Shostakovich’s operetta Moscow, Cheryomushki (1959), the real name of a district in Moscow full of cheap subsidized housing built in 1956, deals satirically with the Soviet society’s chronic housing shortages and the problems created by the difficult living conditions.