“Hello” Dmitri Shostakovich – Born 25 September 1906
Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich (25 September 1906 – 9 August 1975) was a Soviet Russian composer and pianist and a prominent figure of 20th century music.
Shostakovich was in many ways an obsessive man: according to his daughter he was “obsessed with cleanliness”; he synchronised the clocks in his apartment; he regularly sent cards to himself to test how well the postal service was working. Elizabeth Wilson’s Shostakovich: A Life Remembered (1994 edition) indexes 26 references to his nervousness. Mikhail Druskin remembers that even as a young man the composer was “fragile and nervously agile”. Yuri Lyubimov comments, “The fact that he was more vulnerable and receptive than other people was no doubt an important feature of his genius”.
In later life, Krzysztof Meyer recalled, “his face was a bag of tics and grimaces”.
In his lighter moods, sport was one of his main recreations, although he preferred spectating or umpiring to participating (he was a qualified football referee). His favourite football club was Zenit Leningrad, which he would watch regularly.
He also enjoyed playing card games, particularly patience. He was fond of satirical writers such as Gogol, Chekhov and Mikhail Zoshchenko. The influence of the latter in particular is evident in his letters, which include wry parodies of Soviet officialese. Zoshchenko himself noted the contradictions in the composer’s character: “he is … frail, fragile, withdrawn, an infinitely direct, pure child … [but he is also] hard, acid, extremely intelligent, strong perhaps, despotic and not altogether good-natured (although cerebrally good-natured)”.
He was diffident by nature: Flora Litvinova has said he was “completely incapable of saying ‘No’ to anybody.”
This meant he was easily persuaded to sign official statements, including a denunciation of Andrei Sakharov in 1973; on the other hand he was willing to try to help constituents in his capacities as chairman of the Composers’ Union and Deputy to the Supreme Soviet. Oleg Prokofiev commented that “he tried to help so many people that … less and less attention was paid to his pleas.”
When asked if he believed in God, Shostakovich said “No, and I am very sorry about it.”