The Legacy of Dmitri Shostakovich

Through my high-school years, the music of Shostakovich dominated my musical thoughts.  His energy, contrasts, and seriousness were irresistible to me.  I haven’t listened to much by him recently.  Perhaps I got “burned out” after listening through his entire oeuvre.  Perhaps I grew out of my fascination with the raw energy.  Perhaps I was disillusioned by some of his monotony and militaristic themes.  Whatever the case, he still holds an important place in my consciousness.

Because of this, I thought it would be worthwhile to research his students and other composers directly influenced by him.  I was deeply rewarded by the undertaking.

Of all of Shostakovich’s students, Boris Tishchenko sounds most like him.  I don’t think he added anything irreplaceable or genius to music, but he more than aptly continued and maybe expanded the aesthetic of Shostakovich.

It’s difficult to say whether Sofia Gubaidulina, another of Tishchenko’s teachers, was significantly influenced by Shostakovich, but regardless, she gained his approval, despite being blacklisted by the Union of Soviet Composers.  Her second violin concerto in particular is worth every neuron it takes to understand it.

Galina Ustvolskaya studied with Shostakovich for ten years, during which he fell in love with her. (She rejected his marriage proposal).  Ustvolskaya was greatly respected  by her teacher.  He not only highly praised her work but also valued her opinions on his own compositions.

Ustvolskaya’s music does not sound like Shostakovich’s.  It doesn’t sound like anyone else’s.  It is a world unto itself.  Very harsh.  Very direct.  No ornamentation.  Her work is not for the musically faint of heart.  When I listen to her piano sonatas, I feel as if the hammers are pounding on my soul as well as the strings.

Alfred Schnittke was known for incorporating various styles and quotes into his work, so it is no surprise to hear Shostakovich in some of his pieces, especially early in his career.  Schnittke loved using musical acronymns such as BACH and DSCH.  He even wrote a Prelude in Memoriam Dmitri Shostakovich.

Although most of the music of these four composers is very dense, philosophic work and difficult listening, there is a handful of compositions by each that are pleasant and accessible:

Tishchenko’s String Quartet No. 5 This sunny, sarcastic quartet could easily pass for early Shostakovich.

Schnittke, Suite in the Ancient Style Modern-day baroque music.  Contradiction?  Perhaps, but such is Schnittke.  He could and did compose in every classical style.

Gubaidulina, Chaccone  Written for a piano competition, the Chaccone is approachable because of its impressive techniques and familiar form.

Ustvolskaya, Piano Concerto – This is a very early composition and, to my ears, the only one that bears the mark of her teacher.

Which composers will I explore next?  Probably Scandinavian composers Kalevi Aho and Lars-Erik Larsson and Russian composers German Okunev and Sergei Slonimsky.


~ by falleninparadise on July 13, 2011.

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