Shostakovich, deeply loyal to his Russian homeland, “belonged to the first generation of Russian composers educated entirely under the Soviet system,” (The New Grove Dictionary). After the end of World War II, Stalin charged Shostakovich with writing a triumphant ninth symphony similar in magnitude to Beethoven’s last symphony. Instead, Shostakovich decided to compose a brief and somewhat whimsical piece, which received official state disapproval. Stalin’s death in March 1953 heralded a gradual political and cultural liberalization, “rehabilitating” Shostakovich who, in 1948, had been denounced in a Communist Party resolution for “‘formalistic distortions and anti-democratic tendencies alien to the Soviet people,’” (quoted in ibid.). During the next thirteen years, he created many new works, including six string quartets; the cantata Kazn’ Stepana Razina, a collaboration with the poet Yvgeni Yvtushenko; the score for a film version of Hamlet; and four symphonies, Nos. 10, 11, 12, and 13. In 1960, Shostakovich joined the Communist Party in order to accept a government appointment as first secretary of the Russian chapter of the Union of Soviet Composers. In the late 1960s, however, his fragile health began to show increasing signs of stress, and while he continued to work after a serious heart ailment in 1966, he never fully recovered, resigning as first secretary two years later.
Among the last and greatest of 20th-century Russian composers, Shostakovich remains “alone in having composed his entire oeuvre within the framework of Soviet aesthetics,” who, “through the strength of his genius…overcame the limitations of socialist realism to the point where it no longer inhibited free musical creation” (ibid.).
Nina Borisovna was the wife of Russian violinist and composer Vasily Petrovich Shirinsky and Nina Vasilyevna was their daughter. Shirinsky was a founder of the Beethoven Quartet and dedicatee of Shostakovich’s Eleventh Quartet, completed after Shirinsky’s 1965 death. Our letter acknowledges the recipients’ namesake, the 4th-century Christian Saint Nino who brought Christianity to the country of Georgia and whose feast day is celebrated on January 27 by the Eastern Orthodox Church.
After the date, Shostakovich wrote Moscow and then crossed it out to correct the location to Bolshevo, where Shostakovich had his dacha, or country house. In overall fine condition. Uncommon.