Alter egos 1 – Shostakovich

Shostakovich was a horse trained by Sylvester Kirk. Over the two seasons he spent in the yard he was kept busy, running 13 times as a two year old in 2010, and 16 times the following year.

In his first season, a couple of placed efforts from seven runs on turf were enough to demonstrate that he was not going to be a great racehorse, and he was entered in a seller. The change to an all weather surface proved the key to getting the best out of him, as he won his first two races racing on the sand at Southwell. That led to a rise in the BHA rankings from 50 to 71, at which point you might expect the handicapper to have got his measure.

Shostakovich signed off the year in style, winning a six-furlong nursery, again at Southwell the day after Boxing Day. The race provided a rare opportunity for Travis Block to ride a winner.

The following year Shostakovich followed a similar pattern in his racing, with three wins from his 16 starts. They included his only success on turf, which came in a four-runner handicap at Ffos Las. His connections picked up just £2,331 for his win, but they saw their horse go down in history, as he set a course record for six furlongs.

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Just as he had the previous year, Shostakovich signed off 2011 with a win, this time at Lingfield. It was enough of an advertisement of his ability for him to be sold at last year’s Horses in Training sales, from where he went off to Kuwait. Not a bad place for what connections called “an OK horse, a bit of a monkey. Not a world beater, but he did alright.”


I followed the racing career of Shostakovich because I really enjoyed the music of his alter ego, Dmitri Dmitryevich Shostakovich (1906 – 1975). Shostakovich was one of the great Russian composers of all time, with a very distinct sound of his own.

Although in his early composing days Shostakovich benefited from the patronage of Trotsky, throughout his life he had a difficult time form the Soviet authorities, and Stalin, in particular, took a strong dislike to his music, especially the opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. Like all Russian composers, he was expected to write only music for the proletariat, composed around Russian traditional styles and without any western influence.

Perhaps the low point in Shostakovich’s life came when he was sent to New York in 1949n as an artistic representative to the Cultural and Scientific Congress for World Peace. Here, he was given a prepared speech to read out, but his voice was so shaky and weak that he was unable to complete. Fellow composer Nicolas Nabokov, cousin of the novelist, said, “To me he seemed like a trapped man, whose only wish was to be left alone, to the peace of his own art and to the tragic destiny to which he, like most of his countrymen, has been forced to resign himself.”

It took the death of Stalin in 1953 to bring about a rehabilitation of Shostakovich in his own country. This was soon followed by his Tenth Symphony, with an absolute whirlwind in the second movement; 120 pages of score for less than four minutes of music. It’s a good place to start, although actually, you almost certainly have done so already.

For years, a piece of his chamber music introduced the Open University programmes. But in this year, it’s worth searching out old videos of the 1980 Olympics, as his Festive Overture, written in 1954, was used as the theme music that year.

Give it a try.

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