February 1, 2006 3:04 PM   Subscribe

So, most people know that Friday was the 250th birthday of some musical dude you might've heard of. But! Did you realise that this year also marks the 100th birthday of Dmitri Dmitrievich Shostakovich? Debate over whether Shostakovich was a tortured artist, rebelling against Stalinist Russia, or a Soviet Sympathiser continues, but the fact remains he was a brilliant composer who left a lasting impression on film music, and composed complex works from 2 cello concertos, 15 string quartets, 15 symphonies Warning!: Last four links are direct to the BBC "Discovering Music" Real player streams.
posted by coriolisdave (14 comments total)
Crap - forgot the obligatory wikipedia entry.
posted by coriolisdave at 3:08 PM on February 1, 2006

Several people I know describe Shostakovich's pieces as "Schizophrenic" personally I think they are just plain great.

Beats that Emo crap any day.
posted by public at 3:10 PM on February 1, 2006

Great post. Nobody writes really great protest symphonies anymore.
posted by JekPorkins at 3:15 PM on February 1, 2006

Shostakovich was a genius. His mastery of the craft meant even his most commercial or propagandic stuff was great, and his string quartets and other deeply personal works are sublime.
posted by Protocols of the Elders of Awesome at 4:04 PM on February 1, 2006

Cheers for the links/content. I got my father the collected String Quartets (performed by the Brodksy Quartet) for Christmas, and the eighth is one of my favourite pieces of music.

I also like the fact that my crazy uncle insisted that his name was pronounced ShostAKovich rather than ShostaKOvich ...
posted by Len at 4:14 PM on February 1, 2006

Far out. I'm just winding up Vollmann's Europe Central, which has been a standby on my bedside table for nearly a year now. The heart of the book is a deeply interiorizing biographical impression of the man.
posted by mwhybark at 5:03 PM on February 1, 2006

Thanks for the BBC "Discovering Music" link - that will keep me busy for weeks. It's always great to get some educational stuff - this is the best of the web. Dankeschön!
posted by homodigitalis at 8:00 PM on February 1, 2006

I'm always surprised that most avid listeners don't get that his (oh so famous) fifth symphony is in large part a parody of nationalist sentiment. ("Like someone holding a gun to your head and saying 'laugh!'")

When I was 19 or so, the National Symphony came through town on tour. I was lucky enough to sit in on a rehearsal and watch Shostakovich's good friend Mstislav Rostropovich rehearse the fifth, and then to speak with him for a little while afterward. VERY illuminating, about that piece and Shostakovich in general. And Rostropovich is one of the kindest, most sincere human beings I've ever met, and so generous to share about his friend to some aspiring musician kid.
posted by LooseFilter at 12:01 AM on February 2, 2006

I didn’t know he would’ve been 100 this year—thanks for the reminder, coriolisdave—I hope there’ll be at least a modest swell in media attention about him, & concerts, recordings etc. of his music. Personally I’ve struggled in vain to appreciate his symphonies and the cello & violin concertos, and find his very late works (such as the 15th quartet & the viola sonata) to be despetately grim, but I love some of the string quartets (esp. the 4th, 8th & 10th), the manic piano concertos & the piano trios.
posted by misteraitch at 2:52 AM on February 2, 2006

misteraitch: Any idea why you struggle with the symphonies and string concertos? If you haven't already, do check out the BBC links above -- they're really very illuminating.
posted by coriolisdave at 1:35 PM on February 2, 2006

I came to Shostakovich through his 4th Symphony, of all things, and I still love it best. (I was also reading Lord of the Rings for the first time, so it sort of became a soundtrack in a weird kind of way.)

Anyway, I soon sought out more, and when I first heard the 5th and read the description of the final movement on the liner notes, I distinctly remember thinking, "This music is not celebrating—it's panicking!"

I became a huge fan and actually remember the premieres of the 14th and 15th Symphonies, eagerly awaiting their availability via recordings with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Eugene Ormandy.

A couple of summers ago, I was making my rounds of the music building in the summer program I work at, and I recognized the Quartet No. 8 coming from a practice room. I popped in and found that a bassist had convinced a quartet not only to work on the piece but to allow him to join them. He knew everything there was to know about the music, and actually the work sounded great with the additional depth.
posted by ancientgower at 2:57 PM on February 2, 2006

Shostakovich's cycle of preludes and fugues for the piano is possibly my favorite work of music. Wonderful stuff.
posted by straight at 1:24 AM on February 3, 2006

coriolisdave—there’s nothing I can put my finger on, but I’ve listened to at least five of the symphonies & have yet to be drawn into any of them. It could be that the recordings weren't the best, or that I wasn't in the right frame of mind at the time. In any case, it’s not unusual for me to grow to love some of a composer’s work, and be left cold by the rest of it. I daresay I’ll give these works another shot at some point.
posted by misteraitch at 3:47 AM on February 3, 2006

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