My Passion for Shostakovich's Music

Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich (DDS or DSCH, D, Es, C, H, for short) is by far my favorite composer. I have such personal, intense feelings for almost all his works. Consequently, I have a deep interest in him as a person also. To my satisfaction, the more I learn about him as a person, the more amazed and appreciative I become with his music. Well, I don't take this for granted. For example, after I learned more about some other composers, particularly Wagner, and to some degree Mahler, Strauss, and Schubert, (and musicians such as Glenn Gould), I also have to learn to separate the man and the music so that I can still enjoy the music as much as I did before I learned the unpleasant aspects of the composer's life. Sure, many composers had to suffer, had to struggle, but Shostakovich universalized his suffering and struggle so that his music speaks to everyone individually, if we just open our hearts as well as our ears.

I stumbled upon Shostakovich's music because I attended a concert of Prokofiev's "Classical" Symphony by the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra in 1985, and got a cassette of the symphony on a discount label, which was coupled with Shostakovich's 1st Symphony to give buyers a "good value". What great value I received: I discovered a whole new world of Shostakovich! Shortly after that, maybe a few months after No.1 cassette, I attended a Boston Symphony concert (open rehearsal, to be exact -- which I attended quite a few times on a student's budget but what a wonderful experience) of Shostakovich 8th Symphony with guest conductor Bernard Haitink, and became totally blown away.

I was fortunate enough to have the combination of Mstislav Rostropovich and National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) playing Shostakovich at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC while I was studying at the University of Maryland. The "obstructed view" tickets at Kennedy Center Concert Hall are the best view for a student and a music lover. Maybe the it allows us to concentrate more on the music instead of the stage incidentals. I missed him during my stay in Toronto, but was happy to find his protege Andrew Litton named music director of Dallas Symphony when I moved to Dallas, so I could have waited for him to show up in Dallas from time to time. I also followed him to London but missed his Shostakovich Festival at Barbican, and to Chicago where made sure I didn't miss the Shostakovich Festival for the second time. The great cellist/conductor provided me with a most appreciated link to Shostakovich and his music. I was truly saddened when he passed away, but was thankful that I didn't miss my opportunities to listen to him when I had the chances.

What is interesting is that a lot of people seem to have "discovered" Shostakovich recently, and his music is getting a bigger audience and following. I was really surprised to learn from an Internet survey a couple of years ago that ranked him 5th among favorite composers, just after Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, Schubert, and tied with Brahms! Shostakovich also opened doors for me to the music of his students Ustvulskaya, Tischenko, and Vainberg, and people somehow linked to him in spirit, culture, traditions, or some intangible vines. The list include his spiritual predecessor Mussorgsky, his contemporaries and followers like Khachaturian and Schnittke, composers of his ancestral land like Gorecki and Panufnik, and composers he highly praised like Berg and Britten (and he be-friended). Well, no wonder they are among my favorite composers, particularly among my favorite living composers.

I am so interested in Shostakovich and his music, that I bought and read all the books about him, related to him, that I could get my hands on, including biographies of himself and related personalities, musical/cultural background/history of St. Petersburg, Imperial and Soviet Russia, etc. Some of them I love, some I don't care for as much, but all interesting reading about Shostakovich. Increasingly, Internet has become an important source of reference, even for things related to Shostakovich and his music. My Shostakovich book page also included such weblinks too.

I love almost everything that Shostakovich composed, even light stuff such as his "jazz suites", ballet, film music, and patriotic/propaganda pieces such as "October", "Forest Songs", and the like. Lady Macbeth is fun to listen to too from the very beginning, and I gained a much fonder appreciation of her more recently. On the weighty/serious side, I love all 15 of his string quartets, especially the Borodin Quartet recordings of the complete set on EMI (the partially completed cycle on Virgin is nice too), most of his 15 symphonies (with Nos. 1, 4, 5, 8, 10, 13, 14 my personal favorites), as played by Rostropovich/NSO and others, with our local Dallas Symphony turned out some wonderful performances too! The 3 sets of concerti pairs are sublime too, particularly cello concerti played by Rostropovich. Follow this and symphony/quartet links to read my personal opinion about these and many other works, and comments about some recordings/performances.

Prepared by Jeff Tian (
Initially created in 1999. Last update May 17, 2008.
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