His music provides many awesome moments. Most notably, his Symphony No. 5 in D minor moved his audience to tears because it evoked to them vivid images of their oppression under the Soviet dictatorship. Somehow, at the same time, that same dictatorship praised the symphony for being patriotic and pro-communist; the censors never picked up on the subtle musical subversions.
Tropes that apply to him and his works include:
- All Issues Are Political Issues: In common with the Soviet Union's politicization of art, Shostakovich had to tread very carefully, even with fully-instrumental works, lest he do something to offend the Culture Police.
- Dramatic Timpani: The finale of Symphony No. 5 in D minor went to town on this trope.
- Early Installment Weirdness: The style of the young Shostakovich is vastly different from the older one, for obvious reasons.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: Plenty of examples, though they're more subversive politically than sexually. For instance, it probably wasn't a coincidence that his String Quartet No. 8, written after being coerced into joining the Communist Party in 1960 and 'dedicated to the victims of fascism and war', was littered with his four-note musical signature, incorporated the tune of an old Russian prison song, and featured short, sharp bursts of "Psycho" Strings that strongly resembled the infamous early-morning knock on the door by the NKVD.
- "Psycho" Strings: Shostakovich was particularly fond of these, using them to create an atmosphere of unsettling tension even where one would not expect to find such.
- Sanity Slippage: He struggled pretty hard to keep himself on the party line - to the point where his wits almost eroded. Consider that Shostakovich pre-1930 was out of reins in a fashion that would surprise any member of the party after The Purge.
- Sell-Out: Many of his western contemporaries considered him to be this, as he lived as good a life an artist could in the Soviet Union, writing what are effectively Soviet and Stalinist propaganda pieces. It didn't help that he refused to leave the Soviet Union despite being given the opportunity to.
- Stealth Parody: Symphony No. 5 in D minor, 'An Artist's Creative Response to Just Criticism', was hurriedly composed to curry favour with the Party apparatchiks through the sort of simple, heroic classical music that they preferred, after Pravda's slamming of Lady Macbeth left Shostakovich on very thin ice indeed. They happily lapped it up, too, not noticing the little details that he had slipped in to convey his own opinion of the project, like the "Psycho" Strings in the grand, triumphant finale.
- Take That!: After Pravda denounced Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, forcing him to adhere more closely to Soviet-approved forms of music or face dire consequences, his work became littered with these. One good example is his Festive Overture, written very shortly after Joseph Stalin's death.
- Symphony No. 9 in E-Flat Major shows him in full-on Deadpan Snarker mode, with victory celebration music (this was just after World War II ended) vying (hopelessly) with a Circus of Fear theme representing the Soviet leadership. Also, Wagnerian motifs are used hint at the fact that Utopia Justifies the Means regimes are Not So Different from each other.
- Theremin: Shostakovich pioneered the use of the Russian-invented electronic instrument in a film score as early as 1931.