On February 24, 1922, Dmitry Boleslavovich Shostakovich died of a brain hemorrhage after a brief illness. His family -- his wife Sofia, his 16-year-old daughter Mariya, and his 15-year-old son Dmitry Dmitrivich -- were not only grief-stricken at his sudden death, they were nearly financially ruined as well. Sofia, who had never worked, got a job as a cashier and Mariya, a piano student, took on private students. Dmitry, a piano and composition student at the Leningrad Conservatory who was said to possess "gift comparable to Mozart" (Shostakovich, Laurel Fay. p. 15), got a job as an accompanist for silent films.
Under the stress of his father's death, the young composer began his first truly mature work, the Suite for Two Pianos in F sharp minor, Op. 6, in late February and completed it by the end of March. Although indebted to the Suites for Two Pianos by Rachmaninov, this suite is clearly the work of Shostakovich. The tragic intensity of the work's opening and closing movements, the bitter irony of the second movement, and the dark inwardness of the third movement are all characteristic of the mature composer. The suite echoes Rachmaninov's First Suite in its writing for keyboard and in its simulation of the sounds of bells in three of its four movements. But where Rachmaninov's suite sensually depicts a night of love, Shostakovich's suite is a funeral service performed by two pianos. The opening Prelude starts with tolling bells. The "Danse fantastique" begins in innocence and ends in grievousness pain. The Nocturne is a meditation on mortality. The Finale brings back first the Prelude's bells, transforms them into a nearly symphonic funeral march, and then recapitulates the themes of the Prelude is a closing peroration. While occasionally a bit prolix for its material, the suite is a skillfully composed and deeply felt work which reveals the genius of the young composer.
The suite is dedicated to the memory of Dmitri Boleslavovich Shostakovich and was premiered by his children on June 22, 1923.