Dmitri Shostakovich and Johann Sebastian Bach Essay

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Dmitri Shostakovich and Johann Sebastian Bach

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) was one of the greatest composers of Soviet Russia. Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) is regarded today as the father of Western music. They came from opposite ends of music history and lived in entirely different environments, but Shostakovich was undoubtedly influenced by Bach’s music, and their respective musical styles came from the same core tradition of Western music. But most importantly, underneath the obvious differences and the subtle similarities, these composers shared the same artistic spirit.

Before looking more closely at the composers’ works, they must be placed in their proper historical contexts. Bach was a great composer of the
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Baroque music tends to be complex, but with a very organized system of forms and harmonies that is the basis for almost all music from what is called the “Common Era,” the period between 1700-1900. The Common Era developed throughout the nineteenth century, but after 1900 music entered an age of experimentation; music perhaps became a postmodern art genre very early on. Baroque music all sounds similar, although the educated listener can tell Bach from Handel without difficulty. In the realm of contemporary music, however, entirely atonal music from Schoenberg and Webern can easily exist alongside French Impressionism and Copland’s American neo-Romanticism. Today’s composers are similar only in that their styles, and entire musical languages, are radically different.

Neither Bach nor Shostakovich was a musical innovator. Bach was the ultimate Baroque composer; his pieces are models of perfected compositional techniques, filled with the smoothly flowing harmonies and complex polyphony characteristic of the time. His numerous dance suites, both for solo instruments and orchestra, merely stylized the popular dances of the time. His six suites for unaccompanied cello are beautiful examples, predictable and perfected, but in a way that never grows old.

If the 20th century is indeed the age of experimentation, then Shostakovich is no ideal. Perhaps, if the Soviet government had been more tolerant, his

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