Shostakovich is regarded as one of the greatest symphonists of the mid-twentieth century. His works range from broadly tonal and in the Romantic tradition to atonal, chromatic and modernist. Political measures cut short his potentially exceptional operatic corpus and although his work was increasingly censored and needed to stay in line with the Soviet approval, it was also marked by irony and very often, his real sentiments are cryptic. He wrote symphonies on a grand scale, ballets, film scores and incidental theatre music of fascinating diversity, string quartets, concertos and vocal works that are astoundingly impressive.
Dmitry Shostakovich was born to well-educated middle class parents and grew up in pre-Revolutionary St. Petersburg in privileged conditions. His parents and older sister all played music at home and the young Shostakovich saw an opera for the first time - Rimsky-Korsakov’s Tale of Tsar Saltan in 1915, aged 9. It was at this stage that he took up piano and after a year he was already able to play simple Mozart and Haydn pieces and compose and improvise illustrated pieces, which he performed with a running commentary. In 1919, he was admitted to the Petrograd Conservatory, with the help of his mother who had studied there in her youth. In the conservatory he learned harmony, orchestration, fugue, form, composition, counterpoint, history, violin and conducting. During the term time of his study years, he earned money playing piano for silent movies.