Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Music History Monday: Shostakovich’s Death

Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich in 1973
Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich (1906-1975) in 1973

We mark the death on August 9, 1975 – 46 years ago today – of the composer Dmitri Shostakovich at the age of 68, in Moscow. He was born on September 25, 1906, in St. Petersburg.

Does Stress Kill?

If stress kills, Dmitri Shostakovich should never have lived past the age of 30. In his early teens, as a student at the St. Petersburg Conservatory (or what was then called, the “Petrograd” Conservatory), he and his classmates suffered severe malnutrition due to the Russian Civil War (which ran from 1917-1922). But he survived.

In 1936, some eight months before his 30th birthday, he was officially purged on the orders of Joseph Stalin himself during the Great Terror. Few people expected Shostakovich to survive, least of all himself. Later admitting to having been suicidal, he lay awake at night, too terrified to sleep, waiting for the van (the feared “Black Maria”), to take him away. But he survived.

In 1941, he survived the early stages of the Siege of Leningrad and in 1948, he was once again purged for writing music considered to be too modern and too personally self-expressive, music that did not subscribe to Soviet ideologic dicta. Again he considered suicide; again he survived.…

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