Dmitry Dmitriyevich Shostakovich, born in Saint Petersburg, Sept. 25 (N.S.), 1906, d. Aug. 9, 1975, was one of the foremost 20th-century Soviet composers. He showed no bent for music until age nine, when he started lessons with his mother, a piano teacher. In scarcely a month he was playing simple classics and trying to compose, and at 11, he performed Bach's entire Well-Tempered Clavier. Accepted into the Petrograd Conservatory in 1919, he studied piano with Leonid Nikolaev and composition with Maximilian Steinberg. The sensational premiere in 1926 of his First Symphony and its subsequent successes abroad identified him as the leading young composer in Russia after the Revolutions of 1917.
Drawn into a semiofficial role as representative of Soviet music, Shostakovich's career evolved in the constant glare of publicity. He responded by composing many works of a topical character, among them 4 of his 15 symphonies--the 2d, To October (1927), the 3d, May First (1929), the 11th, The Year 1905 (1957), and the 12th, The Year 1917 (1961).
An interest in modernist devices, love of irony (both in choice of subject and its treatment), and commitment to personal creative vision brought him repeatedly into the center of controversy. His opera The Nose, produced in Leningrad in 1930, was withdrawn under attack for its "bourgeois decadence." In 1936, Pravda declared Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, another of his operas, "a mess instead of music." He was chastised along with Sergei Prokofiev in 1948 for "formalistic excesses" counter to the spirit of Socialist realism. His Thirteenth Symphony (1962), which memorialized the Jews massacred by the Nazis at Babi-Yar during World War II, angered Communist officials by implicitly criticizing residual Soviet anti-Semitism.
Following Prokofiev's death in 1953 and his own admission into the Communist party in 1960, Shostakovich was widely acclaimed the foremost Soviet composer--a position still unchallenged at the time of his death. His musical language remained rooted in tonality, despite free dissonance, intricate counterpoint, and even transient dodecaphony (12-tone style). A refined eclecticism and flair for musical satire survived even the dark subjectivism of his last works, as in the references to Rossini's William Tell overture and Wagner's Ring and Tristan in his Fifteenth Symphony (1971). His autobiography, Testimony: The Memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich, was published in 1979, but the authenticity of the work was disputed by Soviet officialdom. His son Maxim Shostakovich, b. May 10, 1939, a pianist and conductor of the Moscow Central Radio and Television Symphony Orchestra, decided to stay in the West while visiting Europe in 1981.