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The Life and Music of Dimitri Shostakovich

            "Music illuminates a person through and through. It is also his last hope and final refuge. And even half mad Stalin, a beast and a butcher, instinctively sensed that about music. That is why he feared and hated it." - Dmitri Shostakovich .
             On November 7, 1917, the Russian Bolsheviks stormed the Winter Palace and created a new form of government they called the Communist Party. In the first years of the revolution, anything and everything seemed possible; not just in politics, but in the arts as well. It was an era of "isms,": symbolism, constructivism, suprematism , to name but a few. Manifestos decreed what truth and beauty should be. Traditional composers were declared decadent and performances of their music forbidden. Only Beethoven, the revolutionary hero, survived the ban. It was a giddy time of experimentation and confrontation as forces in society wrestled with ideas of artistic freedom. The young Shostakovich absorbed this mood of wacky liberty, shocking his conservative teachers with his interest in noise and parody. But esthetic ideals were seen inevitably as tools of political ideologies. .
             By 1930, it was clear that the time of unlimited artistic freedom was coming to an end. Organizations were formed to determine artistic policies and to enforce them. There were signs, books that weren't published, authors who disappeared, theater directors whose plays were cancelled. Then the authority's attention turned to Shostakovich. He awoke one morning to read on the front page of Pravda a review condemning him as an unpatriotic intellectual whose work endangered and corrupted the spirit of the soviet people. Over night, he went from being Russia's golden boy composer, to the border lines of being a non-person. Fearing exile to a Gulag prison camp, Shostakovich was writing for his life. He had to start writing pieces that showed that he could write politically accepted music. The results were his 4th, 5th, 7th, 8th, and 9th symphonies.

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