Beethoven and Shostakovich: Composers of Revolution
In addition to revolutionary leaders, revolutionary periods produce revolutionary artists, including painters, writers, and composers. Two composers in particular, Beethoven and Shostakovich, gave musical expression to the revolutionary periods they lived in.
In the early 19th century, inspired by the American and French Revolutions, Beethoven carried through what was probably the greatest single revolution in modern music. His output was vast, including nine symphonies, five piano concertos and others for violin, string quartets, piano sonatas, songs, and one opera. He changed the way music was composed and listened to.
Then, from the early to mid-20th century, Shostakovich’s life encompassed the October Revolution, the Civil War, and two World Wars, as well as the horrors of Stalinism. These experiences deeply influenced the course of his life, as it changed the destiny of the Land of October, trampling underfoot the hopes and dreams aroused by the Bolshevik Revolution. Such titanic events call forth music on a comparable scale, and they find a fitting echo in the mighty symphonies of Shostakovich.
Artists cannot remain aloof from life, even if they wish to. Beethoven and Shostakovich were no exceptions to this. Beethoven never ceased pushing music to its limits. Shostakovich was a man determined to make his voice heard at all costs, and he took enormous risks to do so.
By Alan Woods.
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