The remarkable St. Petersburg composer Galina Ustvolskaya died today at the age of eighty-seven. She studied with Shostakovich during the Second World War, and, at first, she imitated her teacher’s music, as did so many young Soviet composers. But in the late forties she forged her own style — austere, hieratic, an intermingling of skeletal counterpoint and crashing cluster chords. Shostakovich was fascinated by her, and, after the death of his first wife, Nina, he proposed marriage to her, without success. He also intensely admired her music, and consciously echoed it in developing his own late style. It was perhaps at the moment that Shostakovich submitted several of his works to Ustvolskaya’s scrutiny that centuries of male dominance of the art of composition finally came to an end. “I am a talent,” Shostakovich said to her, “you are a phenomenon.” In her youth, Ustvolskaya paid her dues by writing works on socialist-realist themes, but, in later years, she defied the official atheism of the Soviet system by addressing religious subjects: her trio of Compositions from the seventies carried the subtitles “Dona nobis pacem,” “Dies irae,” and “Benedictus qui venit.” I wrote more about this singular figure back in 1995. There are dozens of recordings of her music; a good place to start would be with the ECM disc Misterioso.