Failure, Death, and Legacy in the Late Works of Shostakovich

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The years 1967-1975 were turbulent for Dmitri Shostakovich, who faced severe health problems and recurring doubts about his life’s work. This led to the development of a preoccupation with mortality during the final years of his life, a subject that was frequently represented in communications with friends, colleagues, and the public. It also became a recurring theme in his compositions written at this time, affecting his choice of texts for vocal works and elements of his musical style. The majority of the compositions from this period are unique in Shostakovich’s œuvre, featuring formal structures that often diverge radically from standard models, a harmonic language less tied to traditional tonality, and a frequent use of dodecaphony. The works of his final four years, though, largely dispense with these elements, pointing to a shift of focus from the tyranny of death to the redeeming quality of artistic legacy.