In 1919, on the recommendations of A.K. Glazunov, Shostakovich enrolled in the Petrograd Conservatory and took piano lessons with A.A. Rozanova and a special composition class with M.O. Steinberg.
Meeting A. Glazunov.
Entering the Petrograd Conservatoire.
Composing ‘Scherzo for Orchestra’ (op. 1).
“Ziloti’s conclusion was categorical: ’The boy won’t make a career of of it. He has no musical ability’. I cried all night after that... It was very hurtful. Noticing how desperate I was, my mother took me to see A. Glazunov...”
“Glazunov said that it was essential for me to take up composition. Glazunov’s authoritative opinion convinced my parents that I should study composition along with the piano.”
“Every day I had to go a long way there and back to the Conservatoire on foot. The trams were not running and, when they did, you could never rely on them and squeezing into them was very difficult.
<...> The Conservatoire at that time was cold and unheated. In the classes and in the concert hall everybody used to sit in their coats... In spite of the difficulties of those hard times, the place was throbbing with active, creative life...”
“To my little friend, Mitya Shostakovich from the author. 1919.”
“Shostakovich enrolled at the Leningrad State Conservatoire in September 1919. He was only thirteen years old at the time. He came to the exam in a child’s jacket accompanied by his mother, carrying a folder of music containing eight Preludes, which he played for the exam.
That autumn was a very tense one. The times in general were hard. Everything was in ruins, the Civil War was ranging and on the day of the exam and in the waiting room in front of the Director’s office, where the exam for would-be composers took place, the window-panes kept shaking and jangling. It was the very day when the Kronstadt Fort and the ships of the Baltic Fleet were shooting at the Yudenich bands approaching Petrograd.
If you look at the pictures of Shostakovich from those years, you would never have guessed his true age, you would have been bound to think he was much younger.
He still looks a mere boy, but the expression on his face ... belies concentrated thoughts and his pensive character...
Even in those days you could sense that this person would be the architect of his own life. He is planning it, building it, determing the sequence of his actions... all this is what you would associate with an adult, mature person.”
“1919, the second year of the Great Revolution, hungry, cold, typhoid, the whole country in battles, bloody battles ... And at that time the conservatory.
Imagine a conservatory that does not drown, ice classes, in the Great Hall of the conservatory angels rattle on a lyre covered with hoarfrost, all portraits in hoarfrost, walls in hoarfrost.
The classes were held in a rather fantastic setting: both Professor M.I. Steinberg, from whom we studied, and students sat in a coat, gloves that were removed only to write a musical note on a slate board or to play the chorale on ice keys.
And gradually the class began to decline. Many of the students in this class began to drop out. And only Shostakovich was distinguished by exceptional regularity in attending classes.
From the very first school year, Shostakovich showed a very special zeal for comprehension, knowledge of music. I must say that then he immediately, from the first year, became the common favorite of the conservatory.”
“It was marvellous to be among the guests, when a skinny boy with thin tight-pressed lips, a narrow slightly hooked nose, in glasses with old-fashioned shiny metal frames walked across the room. Without a word and surly he had to get up on tip-toe to install himself in front of the huge piano. It was marvellous because, in accordance with some strange law of contradictions, this skinny boy at the piano was suddenly transformed into a bold musician with a man’s firm fingers and with an astonishing grasp of rhythm. He would play his own compositions imbued with the spirit of new music: they were startling and made you take in sound as if it was theatre, where everything is on display from laughter to tears. His music talked and bubbled away, sometimes very cheekily. Suddenly from among its uneven dissonances, there would emerge a tune, that took us all aback. Then the boy would stand up from the piano and quietly and shyly rejoin his mother, who was blushing and smiling as if the applause was for her and not for her timid son. When people came up to the musician from all sides and demanded he should go on playing, he would sit there, looking down angrily from behind his glasses, with his hands resting on his knobbly boy’s knees, while his mother used to say: ‘Go on, Mitya, do play some more’. Mitya would meekly get up at once and with angular childish steps go back to the piano. As he touched the keys, he turned into a man once more, filled with that vibrancy, without which great music is unthinkable. Those with the ability to see into the future, could already sense the Dmitrii Shostakovich to come in the tapestry of his whimsical quests.”