Great Masters: Shostakovich-His Life and Music

Course No. 760
Professor Robert Greenberg, Ph.D.
San Francisco Performances
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Course No. 760
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Course Overview

Discover the extraordinary life, times, and art of Dmitri Shostakovich (1906–1975), great musical master and flawed but faithful witness to the survival of the human spirit under totalitarianism. He is without a doubt one of the absolutely central composers of the 20th century. His symphonies and string quartets are mainstays of the repertoire.

But Shostakovich is also a figure whose story raises challenging and exciting issues that go far beyond music: They touch on questions of conscience, of the moral role of the artist, of the plight of humanity in the face of total war and mass oppression, and of the inner life of history's bloodiest century.

A Soviet Impression

The Bolshevik Revolution took place when Dmitri Shostakovich was a boy of 11. His life and career from then on coincided with, and in a sense mirrored, the rise, tortured life, and eventual failure of the Soviet communist regime.

The premise of Professor Robert Greenberg's approach to this giant among 20th-century composers is that nothing he said publicly about his music ("for official Soviet consumption") should be taken at face value. He lived the great bulk of his career under Stalin, and he knew what that meant. He had seen friends taken away in the purges, never to return.

The crucial aspect on Shostakovich's career, argues Professor Greenberg, is defined by his posthumous book of reminiscences, Testimony: The Memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich, a volume based on a series of extraordinarily frank private interviews that the composer gave to a young Soviet musicologist named Solomon Volkov.

In them, Shostakovich makes clear that he was no hero or martyr—as a friend said, "He did not want to rot in a prison or a graveyard"—but also shows that at the same time he was never willing to become a docile instrument of the Soviet regime.

Shostakovich speaks through his music, which bears messages from a buried life of his experiences during the terror of Stalin, the Nazi destruction of his country, postwar reconstruction, and the arms race. To decode these messages, you study a mix of biographical information intertwined with numerous musical excerpts from the composer's work.

You learn to hear how, in work after work, often composed under circumstances of crushing difficulty and anxiety, Shostakovich used a brilliant arsenal of ironic juxtapositions (a piping piccolo theme in a symphony supposed to glorify Stalin, for instance), musical quotes from such un-Soviet sources as American jazz or Jewish klezmer tunes, and other techniques to assert the integrity of his art in the face of totalitarian oppression, and to pay, as he said, "homage to the dead."

Professor Greenberg provides careful, gripping accounts of the political circumstances amid which Shostakovich composed his masterworks—meaning above all his 15 symphonies and 15 string quartets.

Shostakovich: Portrait of the Artist as Witness and Survivor

The flood of declassified material that has come pouring out of old Soviet archives since 1991 is a rich resource for these lectures. The tale this material tells is harrowing, but it is one we cannot look away from, notes Professor Greenberg.

Certainly, he says, we will never understand Shostakovich unless and until we come to grips with it, for only by knowing this awful history can we hope to grasp anything even approaching "the full and true meaning of the art that this frail, fearful, and outwardly timid but inwardly resolute genius has bequeathed to us, his fortunate posterity.

"Unlike the other musical biographies that I have created for The Teaching Company, this one—Shostakovich's—will have more than its share of controversy," says Professor Greenberg.
"There are two reasons for this. The first is simple enough: Having died fairly recently, and having composed major works almost to the end of his life, Shostakovich is a very 'fresh' figure. We are still coming to terms with his enormously influential compositional output—particularly his symphonies and string quartets, works which are so central to the contemporary repertoire.

"The second reason for the controversy is far more complicated: Shostakovich was a Soviet artist, and the Soviet State used his music as a tool. Art and politics make strange and problematic bedfellows. But they are a coupling that we cannot possibly avoid if we are to talk about Dmitri Shostakovich and his music. These lectures, then, tell the story of a man and his art, a place and a political system, all of them truly indivisible from one another."

Shostakovich knew Stalin personally and was singled out for criticism by him. Shostakovich was not just the single most important composer of string quartets and symphonies from the 1920s to the 1970s, he was a witness to the rise and failure of Soviet Communism, perhaps the defining event of the 20th century.

Biography Presented in Detail

Among what you learn about Shostakovich's life is:

  • After the condemnation of his music by Stalin in 1936, Shostakovich never left home without soap and a toothbrush, so convinced was he that he would be arrested.
  • He included a special set of notes representing a "musical signature" in many of his works.
  • The Quintet for Piano and Strings in G Minor of 1940 comments on the official Soviet preference for upbeat, "accessible" music by sandwiching a movement that quotes the bumptious theme associated with Russian circus clowns between movements that brilliantly pay tribute to J. S. Bach.
  • Shostakovich loved Jewish music—especially klezmer because of the way it combines joy with despair. Defying Soviet anti-Semitism, he "quoted" Jewish music in works such as 1944's Piano Trio in E Minor, wrote a song cycle called From Jewish Poetry (1948), and famously memorialized the plight of persecuted and murdered Jews in his Babi Yar Symphony of 1962.
  • The brutal and vicious second-movement scherzo of the magnificent 10th Symphony was written that way because it was intended as a musical portrait of the recently deceased Josef Stalin.

An Artist for Humanity

When Dmitri Shostakovich died in Moscow on December 9, 1975, he was "hailed as a 'hero of the people,' " says Professor Greenberg. "But we know him as a survivor, a witness, and an artist who spoke for all of humanity."

Works you'll hear in the lectures are excerpted from:

Symphony no. 3 in E-flat Major, op. 20 (1929)
Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, op. 29, (1930-32)
Symphony no. 5 in D Minor, op. 47 (1937)
String Quartet no. 1 in C Major, op. 49 (1938)
Quintet for Piano and Strings in G Minor, op. 57 (1940)
Symphony no. 7 in C Major, op. 60, Leningrad (1941)
Piano Trio in E Minor, op. 67 (1944)
String Quartet no. 3 in F Major, op. 73 (1946)
String Quartet no. 5 in B-flat Major, op. 92 (1952)
Symphony no. 10 in E Minor, op. 93 (1953)
String Quartet no. 7 in F-sharp Minor, op. 108 (1960)
Symphony no. 13 in B-flat Minor, op. 113, Babi Yar (1962)
String Quartet no. 10 in A-flat Major, op. 118 (1964)
String Quartet no. 15 in E-flat Minor, op. 144 (1974)

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8 lectures
 |  Average 47 minutes each
  • 1
    Let the Controversy Begin
    No composer's music seems to mirror world events and the experiences of his own life more fully than does that of Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich. Publicly, the composer explained his work as a tribute to Soviet ideology and people. But privately he detailed the real impetus behind his music: his experiences during the Terror of Stalin, the Nazi destruction of his country, postwar reconstruction, and the arms race. x
  • 2
    The Kid's Got Talent!
    Shostakovich attended the St. Petersburg Conservatory and at age 19 wrote the Symphony no. 1. When it was premiered in 1926, he was vaulted into instant fame. In 1927, he wrote a patriotic symphony celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Revolution, the Symphony no. 2 in B Major, a more modern and dissonant work than the First. x
  • 3
    Lady Macbeth
    In 1927 to 1930 Shostakovich wrote orchestral music, a ballet score, and his first opera, The Nose, which was well received by the public but slammed by critics for lacking Soviet ideology. When Stalin saw his next major work, the opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, he pronounced it "degenerate" and issued threats against those who would perform it. Shostakovich was suddenly sanctioned and threatened as a purveyor of "bourgeois musical formalism." x
  • 4
    Resurrection
    Shostakovich was told that he had to reject his "formalist mistakes" of the past and submit any future work to the Committee for Artistic Affairs for screening. Under that pressure he composed his Fifth Symphony. The first-night audience for the Fifth clearly understood the work as a statement about the Great Terror, but Shostakovich was nevertheless officially declared "rehabilitated." His next project was a string quartet, and although new to Shostakovich, the String Quartet no. 1 in C Major shows that he had already mastered the genre. x
  • 5
    The Great Patriotic War
    Shostakovich became a hero of the people as he worked in the Conservatory fire-fighting brigade, broadcast messages of assurance on the radio, and appeared on the cover of Time magazine. When Symphony no. 7 was finished, the work and the composer became instant symbols of heroism and defiance. Other major works of this period include the Trio in E Minor and Symphony no. 9, a piece that was supposed to glorify Stalin but instead evokes an image of the mouse that roared. x
  • 6
    Repression and Depression
    After the war, Shostakovich composed his first string quartet masterwork, the String Quartet No. 3 in F Major, but again was in the line of Party fire. He faced charges of formalism and was expected to publicly apologize to Stalin and the Soviet people. He was also fired from his teaching jobs and forced to acknowledge speeches denouncing the United States. He withheld from performance his String Quartet No. 4 in D Major, a piece that uses a number of Jewish musical elements. When Stalin died under questionable circumstances, Shostakovich's reaction was relieved but guarded. x
  • 7
    The Thaw
    After Stalin's death, Shostakovich began to release all the works that he had hidden since 1948. In the 1950s his wife died suddenly, and his mother died less than a year later. He was also asked to take a position that would require him to join the Communist Party. He did, but only to ensure his and his family's safety. He continued to compose radically modern music dedicated to the victims of Fascism, and the Symphony No. 13, which is based on a poem decrying Russian anti-Semitism. x
  • 8
    Illness and Inspiration
    The Brezhnev regime, although repressive, essentially left Shostakovich alone, which enabled him to produce extraordinary music. As his health deteriorated he became increasingly an invalid. His last symphony, the Fifteenth, is filled with mysterious musical quotes. It sums up the composer's life, and offers a peek into his bitter, angry, darkly humorous, and powerfully expressive mind. x

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Your professor

Robert Greenberg

About Your Professor

Robert Greenberg, Ph.D.
San Francisco Performances
Dr. Robert Greenberg is Music Historian-in-Residence with San Francisco Performances. A graduate of Princeton University, Professor Greenberg holds a Ph.D. in Music Composition from the University of California, Berkeley. He has seen his compositions—which include more than 45 works for a wide variety of instrumental and vocal ensembles—performed all over the world, including New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles,...
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Reviews

Great Masters: Shostakovich-His Life and Music is rated 4.8 out of 5 by 66.
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Great Masters: Shostakovich I listend to the complete lectures and must say I'm pretty disappointed. I happen to be a connaiseur on Shostakovich. Not only do I own all his works, I enjoyed many of them performed by the greatest Directors alive, I also have read DSCH magazine as well as at least 5 biografies. your course is quite docile to what Salomon Volkov states. the great writers on DDS doubt, scientificaly, the truth of what Volkov has written. especially Fay and Wilson eat Volkov alive, as does Prof. Taruskin. I'm afraid I've heard nothing new, practically. Well, the way of presentation was new to me. sometimes I really thought I was listening to a radio football commentary. I will buy no items Prof. Greenberg anymore. And that's a shame, because I love Mahler and Stravinsky !!
Date published: 2017-06-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A fine course on many levels As Soviet history, as a character study of a great artist under extreme political duress and as music history - this course delivers on all of these subjects. It is a first-rate course. I highly recommend it.
Date published: 2016-11-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An inside view of Russian history I have listened to this course over and over and passed it onto my piano students. It gives a deeply personal view of the mental and psychological aspects of living as a creative genius in a repressive and life threatening environment. Fascinating for musicians and non-musicians alike.
Date published: 2016-10-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Artist's Integrity under Totalitarianism Dmitri Shostakovich's music is extremely complex, varied and sometimes still difficult to understand. In high school, I fell in love with the 4th Movement of his Symphony No. 5, which we played as a symphonic band arrangement. To my younger self, it was just a butt-kickin' finish full of percussion and pyrotechnics -- the heavy metal of classical music. Then, through this course, I learned the back-story from Professor Greenberg. And what had seemed like a bombastic, propaganda soundtrack celebrating Soviet "achievement" was revealed as the sarcastic, biting, bitter denunciation of Stalinism that it really was. My younger self had been hoodwinked, just like the oafish party apparatchiks who saw it as Shostakovich's apology for his previous bourgeoise "formalism." Lecture #4 covers this story in great, stirring detail. The story Prof. Greenberg relates of the symphony's premiere in Leningrad will thrill you, perhaps to tears. The Russian audience understood the coded message, but the Soviet regime did not. It speaks to Shostakovich's personal bravery that he knew there was a real chance he could have been purged by the regime for this work. He managed to sell the bureaucrats the lie that this symphony was a "triumphal story" while somehow getting the real message through to the people. It takes a lot of guts to retain artistic integrity under a totalitarian regime. I'm not aware of any other composer who has managed to pull that off under similar conditions. This will forever make Shostakovich a hero to me. And I have Prof. Greenberg to thank for exposing me to this great truth.
Date published: 2016-08-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Got Russia right As someone with a PhD in Russian literature and history, I can attest to the superb research done by Robert Greenberg. He understands Russian culture and that adds an important element to his learned and entertaining elucidation of Shostakovich's music.
Date published: 2016-07-28
Rated 1 out of 5 by from If interested in Shostakovich, look elsewhere I have loved the music of Shostakovich since I was a child and so was excited and eager to get this course. It was a huge disappointment in almost every respect. From reading other reviews, I know some people find Prof. Greenberg's lecture style appealing, which is great. I found it more irritating, distracting, and self-aggrandizing than any other lecturer I have ever seen. To his credit, he is very enthusiastic. But he seems much more enthusiastic about how wonderful he is than about the topic. Prof. Greenberg gesticulates wildly most of the time; he yells; he repeatedly draws attention to himself by being "cute" in ways some other reviewers have cited. What he does not do is tell us much about Shostakovich's music. Neither does he tell us much about Shostakovich except what is in his book Testimony, from which Prof. Greenberg quotes at great length. When he deigns to mention the music, what we typically get is a very short excerpt with no useful information to help us understand the piece or how it fits into Shostakovich's development or, in fact, anything else interesting or useful. He spends an enormous amount of time chastizing the regime under which Shostakovich lived: a good historical context would be essential to understanding Shostakovich, but most of this is a rant about how horrible Stalin and co. were. I already knew that, and if I had wanted to learn that I would have bought a history set. Even for someone can overlook or finds appealing Prof. Greenberg's lecture style (and responses to lecture style are subjective and personal), the deeply flawed and inadequate content alone is enough to make this set a huge disappointment, one I cannot honestly recommend to anyone.
Date published: 2015-03-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A life on the razor's edge Understanding Shostakovich and his music necessarily requires at least some understanding of the life he lived in the Soviet Union. Professor Greenberg does a wonderful job of teasing out those details that help explain what the great Russian composer did to survive during the times of repression and terror under Stalin. Greenberg cleverly mixes the personal, political and social history surrounding the composer to form a well-rounded portrait of Shostakovich. The Shostakovich lectures are the fourth Greenberg series I've bought. All have been entertaining, even if the professor's delivery is sometimes a bit over the top, and highly educational. I look forward to purchasing other Greenberg lecture series.
Date published: 2015-01-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from More Historical than Musical! In his ‘Musical biographies’ of single composers Professor Robert Greenberg typically strives to strike a balance between biographical components and musical analysis. This short series on Shostakovich is different in the sense that the overall historical context of the musician’s life takes centre stage. Indeed, the lectures may be considered a detailed and well documented illustration of the absurdity of the Soviet totalitarian system, or even of tyrannical régimes in general. In fact, it is not clear that Professor Greenberg would have deemed Shostakovich worthy of eight lectures (like Mozart, Haydn, Tchaikovsky, etc.) had it not been for his specific life circumstances. Professor Greenberg does display his usual energy and enthusiasm and the resulting talks are enjoyable and stimulating. Some listeners may find however that he insists unduly on Shostakovich’s links with Russian Jews and with Jewish musical traditions in general. Overall, this course is definitely recommended and will prove interesting to a wide audience.
Date published: 2014-11-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Musical Genius...and a Survivor! When I was in elementary school, I remember doing a report in music class on the composer Dmitri Shostakovich (he was at the end of his life in the early 1970s). For some reason, I never forgot it. When I saw that there was a course on Shostakovich’s life and music, I knew I would want to take it at some point. I had already taken the courses on Mozart and Beethoven, so I had a good idea of what to expect from Professor Greenberg. Actually, I liked this course more-a lot more. The first lecture sums it up pretty much for me-“Let the Controversy Begin!” Prof. Greenberg develops a major recurring theme right from the start-that Dmitri Shostakovich was NOT Russia’s most loyal son during the 20th century, but a genius of a man who “let his music do the talking” for him. In fact, Shostakovich gives us in the west a little better understanding of what life in the Soviet Union was really like—and it is worse than we thought. During Lecture 2, “The Kid’s Got Talent”, it struck me how even then his musical genius was evident to the masters of his day. It is amazing that this musical genius, warped through living under the iron fist of Stalin (he was almost purged twice!!) and his successors show how much of a survivor he really was. I enjoyed listening to most of the musical excerpts throughout the course. (Greenberg focuses on the 15 Symphonies and 15 String Quartets in this course.) In particular, Symphonies 5, 7, and 10 are outstanding. The interlude from his ballet “The Golden Age” includes a rendition of “Tea of Two” and is brilliant and just plain fun—it is a nice respite at the end of a difficult Lecture 4, ”Resurrection.” I have to admit I am not a fan of opera, and Lecture 3’s “Lady Macbeth” I consider to be both vulgar and difficult to listen to. (This is the piece that gets a young Shostakovich in trouble in 1936.) Some of the Jewish dance music takes a while to get used to as well. Both, however, reflect the emotion and suffering Dmitri went through during his life. I can say that his music is extremely personal, and I think is a reason why people can relate to him. I was stunned by Shostakovich’s musical memory, the speed at which he wrote his compositions (he is very like Mozart in that he could think through a composition, and then write it down from memory with great rapidity), and could play many classical pieces from memory --- the example in one lecture refers to his playing of Beethoven’s “Grosse Fugue” with a friend of his! Professor Greenberg does not gloss over the fact that Shostakovich’s public statements and his trip to the United States in the early 1950s that gave many in the west the impression that he was a “loyal communist.” In fact, it is only at the end of his life via conversations with Solomon Volkov that became the basis for the book “Testimony” that Shostakovich reveals the real meaning behind some of his most beloved works. The fact that his children corroborate what is in this book gives me the confidence that this is what really happened. I have now listened to three lectures from Professor Greenberg. I have to admit that he is not for the faint of heart. He can be quite coarse BUT his depth of excitement and knowledge about his subject is unbelievable. He speaks very clearly and I have to say I realize that I have both learned a lot AND realize I have SO much yet to learn about classical music and Shostakovich in particular. I only wish I had these lectures all those years ago when I did that report.
Date published: 2014-04-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course Opens New Appreciation I have had a very hit-and-miss experience with Greenberg's courses. His opera appreciation course is excellent. His Wagner course abysmal. This course is very good and packed with exactly what I want from a course like this. I have listened to and seen live performances of Shostakovich's music but never much cared for his modernist style. His music seemed confused and convoluted to me. Of course, discordance was all the rage after the turn of the century so I have for years just taken Shostakovich as "not for me". This set of lectures does what great teaching ought to do. It opened my mind to a new experience and instilled an enthusiasm to go deeper. That's what I like about the really great courses. They encourage me to go well beyond what is presented. Dr. Greenberg perfectly balances biography with explanation of the music through stories and music samples. What opened the door for me was knowing what was happening in the composer's life blended with a taste of the music he wrote during that time and completed with some analysis of the music itself. I could see, for the first time, how wonderful and terrible that discordance was that I previously hated. By terrible, I mean the horror that the "circus" sound was expressing. I actually raced through this course in a week all the while spending like the proverbial drunken sailor. This is fantastic, I must have the MP3 now! And I'll need a CD version as well. Wow! I must hear the rest of this. I want more of that. I bought DVDs of the operas, MP3s and CDs of the symphonies and the quartets, CDs of the piano pieces and the cello concerto. Amazon is very pleased that I took this course. The new understanding made the music so enjoyable I just had to have some complete piece IMMEDIATELY. That's good teaching. I do have some criticism of the course. Before I criticize, I want to say again that I absolutely hated Greenberg's Wagner course. That course is packed with awful puns and bad jokes. It's a slap-schtick production. In this course, the corn is scaled back considerably. Greenberg would do well to eliminate his humor completely but at least in this course his poor puns do not detract too much from the course. The other thing I find grating is the pompous use of the words "please" and "we". "Please! We quote,....." Is Greenberg glad to have us listen or is that a composer in his pocket? We wonder. Amusingly, he starts the entire series with an anecdote about someone complaining about the anti-Stalinist content of one of his lectures. The critic says something about others in the audience having the same reaction. Greenberg goes on to say that he immediately dismisses anyone who makes assertions referring to those "others agree with me too" people. He might benefit from listening to some of that criticism. The pompous use of "we" is annoying. Preceding points or quotes with "Please!" is an affectation that I accept as just a bit of artistic flamboyance. Interestingly, about half way, Greenberg simply starts quotes with, "I quote" and it comes off better than when he later reverts back to royal "we". Fewer jokes and a scaling back of the pompous presentation and the course would be perfect. As is, it is still a 5 star, highly recommended course.
Date published: 2013-12-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Expanded my world I have enjoyed every course I have purchased by Prof Greenberg. This one was different, because I really did not know anything about Shostakovich's life and little about his music. This was a fascinating blend of music and history. Knowing the history has made me more curious about the music. Right now I'm listening to my new CD, Symphony No. 7, "Leningrad." Once again, thanks Prof Greenberg for introducing me to music I otherwise would not have listened to.
Date published: 2013-10-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Leaves me wanting more I’ve listened to several of Professor Greenberg’s shorter “Great Masters” biography courses, and this one is my favorite. Dmitri Shostakovich was an interesting character, living in interesting times and writing interesting music, and Professor Greenberg makes the most the material. The course includes an excellent sampling of Shostakovich’s music, emphasizing his symphonies and chamber music, and a little bit of opera. Prof. Greenberg adds just enough analysis of the music to make me wish there was more. There is also quite a bit of politics, but that’s inescapable when considering Shostakovich’s life in communist Russia. Greenberg gives full coverage to the controversy over Shostakovich’s posthumous memoir, Testimony, giving both sides of the issue their say, but coming down emphatically on the side of Testimony’s authenticity. There was, however, surprisingly little on Shostakovich’s marriages and family life. Greenberg’s presentation shows him at his best: engaging, insightful, and funny. I’d buy a more in-depth course On Shostakovich by Greenberg in an instant.
Date published: 2013-08-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Could not stop watching it The content and presentation of this lecture on Shostakovich was addicting. Professor Greenberg's lecture was both joyful and terrifying as he describes the incredible talent and music of Shostakovich with the Soviet machine as a backdrop. This lecture is a masterpiece of story telling.
Date published: 2012-12-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding course I've listened to all of Professor Greenberg's "Great Masters" biographies of composers. They are all superb, but this is my favorite of the series. The saga of Shostakovich's struggle to maintain his artistic integrity in the face of overwhelming political pressure is a moving one, and Professor Greenberg tells it with just the right combination of heart, historical detail, expert musical explication, and just good story-telling. This is a truly marvelous introduction to the joy, wit and determined will of Shostakovich's music. Definitely the jewel in the crown of the "Great Masters" series, and one of the very best "Great Courses."
Date published: 2012-09-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from For both history and music lovers The music of Shostakovich is inextricably tied to the politics and history of 20th century Soviet Union. We get enough of the required background to understand how it not only influenced his music, but also served as the reason for being. Shostakovich was passionate about protesting against the totalitarian regime, and did so through his music. There are periods of dark oppression, and this course shows how even music was censored and controlled by the government. Greenberg is often on the mark with his need to have recordings, and here they include symphonies #5 and #10, and string quartets # 3, 8, 9, 10, and 11 among others. He shows how much of his work is autobiographical (string quartet 8, symphony 10), not just in theme, but also with the insertion of his musical initials. There aren't many composers who would have a premiere of their latest work censored and threatened by the governmental culture minister, and to hear such a story is both fascinating and enlightening. He does such a good job, that one thinks he could have done dedicated courses on Shostakovich's string quartets or symphonies.
Date published: 2012-07-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Musician in the Shadow of the Kremlin I first heard a Shostakovich symphony as a child, watching one of Leonard Bernstein's famous "Young People's Concerts," and I recall reading about his death in the newspaper in 1975. But it took me many more years to become more familiar with his huge musical output: symphonies, quartets, piano music, chamber music, operas, and film scores. I thought I knew quite a bit about the man, but once again, Prof. Greenberg has shown me how much I missed along the way. This 8-part series maintains a good balance between sheer musical analysis (with plenty of listening examples) and biographical information. You'll also learn about life in Soviet Russia, especially the terror that Stalin wielded over creative men and women like Shostakovich. Greenberg delves into some of the mysteries surrounding the composer, especially the debate about whether he was a devout Communist or a musical subversive. As always, Prof. Greenberg's presentation is energetic and theatrical, with plenty of humor and irony. That may irritate some listeners (I bought the audio download) but the bottom line is that you will learn a LOT from this course and gain an appreciation for Shostakovich, a tortured man who wrote timeless music.
Date published: 2012-07-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Masters: Shostakovich-His Life and Music This is an outstanding course in every respect. Professor Greenberg skilfully analyses the musical genius of Shostakovich in the context of the Soviet Union's history of repression and terror. I was totally captivated by the entire series. My only criticism is that the course was too short. I would like to have listened to excerpts that were longer in length. I loved Shostakovich's music before taking the course, but having concluded the final lecture, I am truly moved by both Shostakovich's humanity, and determination to create such great art, in the face of such evil! Congratulations and thank you for creating this wonderful course, Dr Greenberg.
Date published: 2012-03-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This one will stick with you for a while Oh my goodness, do I have a headache. This is one of those courses that tackles very real events that many of really have no true understanding of and probably cannot fathom without having been there. However, Greenberg communicates a deep armchair experience for listeners. The entire course covers various aspects of Shostakovich’s life and times behind the Iron Curtain, where 61,900,000 civilians perished over the course of 74 years. It’s about politics as much as it’s about music. As presented, the combination offers a rare opportunity to immerse ourselves in a very unsettling and disturbing political cycle but at the same time allows us the chance to hear what those circumstances yielded in the way of music magic. I’ve never been a fan of modern classical music with all its discordant harmonies. But after listening to this course, I find myself very much invested in those discordant quartets and symphonies (e.g. String Quartet # 4 or 12). I now have a much greater appreciation for Shostakovich’s work—and that’s the bottom line for me. I do encourage others to the time to listen to the music as you go through the lectures. It makes for a more intense, fulfilling experience. The Guidebook is quite detailed.
Date published: 2012-01-19
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Don't get this All right - I think Great Courses is fantastic. That's why I was shocked when I listened to this garbage. That's really what it is. For starters, Greenberg is about the most obnoxious and pompous person I've ever heard. But presentation isn't that important, content is what really matters. Unfortunately, the content is totally ruined by Greenberg's superior attitude and bigoted views. For example, in the very first lecture, he goes off on a tangent and talks about some student at Berkley that disagreed with him. He goes on to describe Berkley as Bezerkley and the People's Republic of Berkley. Honestly, if you want that, just watch Glenn Beck for free. This is what I'm talking about. I was totally disappointed and I'm warning you: this course is not AT ALL the same quality of the other courses they offer. And, this is basically trash, but I am still going to look at other courses offered. This really is a good site.
Date published: 2011-12-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating After finishing this series, you will not only know the life of Shostakovich, you will get a feeling for life behind the Iron Curtain. The intersection of the Soviet Union with a great composer makes for gripping material, and Greenberg does it great justice.
Date published: 2011-12-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course and Great Music Through this terrific course, I was able to understand how Shostakovich's life with Stalin is reflected in his music. Wow! What an ear-opening course.
Date published: 2011-11-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Respectful As in the other courses of his Great Masters series Professor Greenberg in “Shostakovich” presents a fascinating blend of biographical narrative and musical excerpts cast in their historical context. However, unlike many of his other presentations that exude an infectious exuberance, this one is somber, paying respect to the tragic aspects of Shostakovich’s life lived under circumstances that for someone who has not experienced life under totalitarianism are difficult, if not impossible, to truly appreciate. Professor Greenberg does a superb job of demonstrating through his narrative the absurdities inherent in such a regime and the inhuman choices faced to survive it. As Professor Greenberg concludes, we can only admire the humanity with which Shostakovich faced them.
Date published: 2011-08-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thrilling Experience After completing this course, I realized how little I knew about modern Russia and how Stalin's control permeated everything in the nation. The context of Shostakovich's music brought knowledge of this historical context to light for me. Dr. Greenberg's presentation is masterful. Don't miss this enlightening course.
Date published: 2011-03-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Powerful Usually Professor Greenberg's courses bring me to laughter. This one brought me to tears. It reveals the full catastrophe and beauty in the life of one man, amid the greater tragedy in the life of a nation.
Date published: 2011-01-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Simply Superb Enjoying classical music is taken to yet another level after listening to, and watching, professor Greenberg's lectures on Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich. After attending these lectures, you will have a deep understanding of the torments that befell the composer and how he dealt with them under the iron fist of Stalin. Dr. Greenberg is a masterful teacher who makes these lectures come to life. His presentation style is exuberant and animated, and he delivers every lecture with enthusiasm. A superb companion for our previous purchase- the music of Gustav Mahler, also by Dr. Greenberg.
Date published: 2010-12-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This was one of the better ones from this series. Very interesting and informative.
Date published: 2010-09-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Tremendous course on Shostakovich Not only did I learn a lot about Shostakovich's life, music and times, I fell in love with his music as a result of Professor Greenberg's masterly presentation. And I have tried to listen to as much of Shostakovich's music as possible: Music which I hardly knew before save for his Piano Quintet. I don't know if it is the raw emotionialism ahd honesty of Shostakovich's music written in the face of political oppression or what Professor Greenberg's course has led me to seek out and start reading Laurel E. Fay's biography of Shostakovich. I can't say enough about this course, and highly recommend it. Marc
Date published: 2010-07-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beyond Wonderful It would be hard to do justice to this class. The content is fascinating and Professor Greenberg is beyond wonderful. We literally rearranged our schedule to view all 8 lectures almost straight through. This class really grabs you! I had recently read the book, "City of Thieves," which describes the siege of Leningrad and includes the account of a Shostakovich symphony performance under the most dreadful imaginable circumstances. That book made me want to learn more about music that has that kind of power to inspire. If you've read that book, this course would be a nice complement. If you haven't, it doesn't matter. Buy this course.
Date published: 2010-03-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from History and Music This was a great overview of Shostakovich's music, life, and 20th Century Russian history. Professor Greenberg continues his passionate discourses on the life and times of great conductors bringing you into the struggles and wonder of composing in a tightly controlled society. You will understand the music and appreciate more our freedom to listen to what ever we want.
Date published: 2010-03-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Terror and Triumph Dimitri Shostakovich lived through an extended period of state terror that devoured millions of his countrymen. He survived by saying and doing what he was told, and when he protested elliptically through his music, he was repeatedly punished. But ultimately he produce a prodigious number of powerful compositions in direct response to and defiance of the nightmare that engulfed his country. Prof. Greenberg tells this story with a perfect blend of biographical anecdotes, historical background, consideration of the appropriate moral response to terror, and of course extensive knowledge of and selections from the composer's music. I gained more knowledge of Shostakovich's symphonies and was introduced to his magificent string quartets and other chamber works. This was perhaps the best of the many course by Prof. Greenberg that I have heard.
Date published: 2009-11-29
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