Dmitry Shostakovich belongs to the generation of Russian composers trained principally after the Communist Revolution of 1917. He graduated from the Petrograd Conservatory as a pianist and composer, his First Symphony winning immediate favour. His subsequent career in Russia varied with the political climate. The initial success of his opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, based on Leskov and later revised as Katerina Ismailova, was followed by official condemnation, emanating apparently from Stalin himself. The composer’s Fifth Symphony, in 1937, brought partial rehabilitation, while the war years saw a propaganda coup in the Symphony No. 7, ‘Leningrad’, performed in the city under German siege. In 1948 he fell afoul of the official musical establishment with his Ninth Symphony, thought to be frivolous, but he enjoyed the relative freedom following the death of Stalin in 1953. Shostakovich outwardly and inevitably conformed to official policy, but posthumous information suggests that he remained very critical of Stalinist dictates, particularly with regard to music and the arts. He occupies a significant position in the 20th century as a symphonist and as a composer of chamber music, writing in a style that is sometimes spare in texture but always accessible, couched as it is in an extension of traditional tonal musical language.
The piano music of Shostakovich includes, in addition to two piano sonatas, an ingenious set of 24 Preludes and Fugues, as well as an earlier set of 24 Preludes.