Dmitri Shostakovich started composing early, completing his Symphony No. 1 when he was only 19 years old. For some time, he wrote traditional music that was well received by Russian audiences. He ran into trouble, however, with an opera called Lady Macbeth of Mzensk.
In 1917, the Russian Revolution had taken place and the new leadership of the country, under the direction of Joseph Stalin, had its own ideas as to what appropriate music should sound like. It banned any sort of innovative works and demanded that composers produce bland pieces that had a Socialist theme. The Lady Macbeth opera incensed Stalin, who left the theatre after the first act in a towering rage.
Fearing imprisonment, Shostakovich started composing “safe” music, including his famous Symphony No. 5. However, in so doing he stifled his true creativity. Despite these efforts to conform, the criticisms continued and in 1948 nearly every important Soviet composer was attacked. Most apologized profusely, promising to mend their ways! Russian music became dull, lifeless and boring.
While Shostakovich continued to compose, he became bitter, knowing what he could have done if he had the freedom to write as he had wished. His later years were most unhappy, and he died at the age of 69.