17 Oct 2017

Soccer mad: Shostakovich's other passion


It’s easy to think of the great classical composers as serious human beings dedicated every minute of the day to their craft, but of course they had hobbies and other interests when they took a break from their manuscripts.

Dvořák was a trainspotter, Mozart loved skittles and billiards, and Wagner’s hobby seemed to be having illegitimate children. Shostakovich followed ice hockey, chess, boxing and tennis, but his greatest passion was football.

He supported the Dynamo team and also Leningrad Zenit, a club founded in 1925. He was obsessed. Maxim Gorky said ‘He comported himself like a little boy; leapt up, screamed, gesticulated.’

Symphony No.6, Shostakovich (Leonard Bernstein / Wiener Philarmoniker). At the premiere of the Sixth Symphony, some complained that the final movement was basically just a football match in music.

Sometimes he put football ahead of music. When he was meant to be teaching composition at the Leningrad Conservatory he would cut his lessons short and disappear out a back door in order to go and see a match. He had a season ticket and if he was out of town at the family’s dacha, he would hitch a ride on a cart in order to see the game.

Shostakovich Festival

Ashkenazy's Shostakovich Tribute

Gripping Shostakovich

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Shostakovich loved the intricacies of football and followed the play intensely. So much so that once when a sports reporter was running late on a deadline, he rang up the composer who was able to give a blow by blow account of the match. Shostakovich himself wrote match reports, one ending with a comment to his own team: “May they have success in the field of sport and bring fame and honour to the heroic city of Leningrad.” Shostakovich was even a trained referee with the official certificate of ‘A Referee of the Republican Category’.

He took his football seriously and his passion even seeped into his music. He wrote a three-act ballet, The Golden Age, about a heroic Soviet football team, which premiered in 1930 at the Kirov and was later banned (because people dancing about football is obviously very dangerous to the fabric of society).

Later in 1939, at the premiere of the Sixth Symphony, some complained that the final movement was basically just a football match in music, with each side of the orchestra battling for supremacy. He was even said to coin the phrase “football is the ballet of the masses”.

Shostakovich died in 1975, so unfortunately he wasn’t around to see his beloved Leningrad (St Petersburg) Zenit win the UEFA cup in 2007, but I’m sure he was there in spirit, barracking from the stands.

See the Sydney Symphony Orchestra perform Dramatic Shostakovich and Gripping Shostakovich at the Sydney Opera House this November.

Soccer mad: Shostakovich's other passionSoccer mad: Shostakovich's other passionSoccer mad: Shostakovich's other passion