Dmitri Dmitrievich Shostakovich (shahs-tuh-KOH-vihch) was one of the foremost Soviet composers of the twentieth century. His musical works include fifteen symphonies, three operas, eight string quartets, twenty-four preludes and fugues for piano, and sonatas and concertos for violin, viola, cello, and piano. This composer’s prolificacy and genius survived Vladimir Lenin’s October Revolution, Joseph Stalin’s purges, a civil war, and two world wars. In his memoirs, dictated to and edited by Solomon Volkov, Shostakovich tells the story of his struggle between artistic pursuits and obligations to the Soviet state.
Shostakovich’s father, Dmitri Boleslavovich, was a successful engineer and a talented amateur musician; his mother, Sofia Vasilyevna, was a pianist. The young Shostakovich spent many a musical evening with his parents and two sisters, and at the age of nine he began taking piano lessons from his mother. In 1919, in the midst of the Civil War, he began to attend the Petrograd Conservatory and to compose pieces for piano, strings, and orchestra. He wrote his first symphony when he was nineteen years old, in 1925, as his graduation composition from the conservatory, but his studies had been interrupted when his father died in 1922, at which point Shostakovich had helped support his family by playing the piano in silent-movie cinemas.
In Testimony, Shostakovich reminisces less about his family than about his teachers and moments spent at the conservatory. He recounts anecdotes about his involvements with such prominent members of the intelligentsia in the 1920’s as the composer Sergei Prokofiev, the satirical writer Mikhail Zoshchenko, the famous avant-garde theater director Vsevolod Meyerhold, and Alexander Glazunov, the director of...
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