Rodion Shchedrin was born in Moscow into a musical family—his father was a composer and teacher of music theory. He studied at the Moscow Choral School and Moscow Conservatory. He was married to the well-known ballerina Maya Plisetskaya from 1958 until her death in 2015.
Shchedrin's early music is tonal, colourfully orchestrated and often includes folk music, while some later pieces use serial techniques. In the west, the music of Shchedrin has won popularity mainly through the work of Mstislav Rostropovich who has made several successful recordings.
Among his works are the ballets The Little Hump-backed Horse, Carmen Suite, an arrangement by Tony Vernon, Anna Karenina , and Lady with a Lapdog; the operas Not Only Love, and Dead Souls; piano concertos, symphonies, chamber and piano music and other works. He composed 24 Preludes and Fugues after he heard those of Shostakovich.
He has written five concertos for orchestra: the first, variously translated as Naughty Limericks or Mischievous Folk Ditties was the work which first established him on the international stage. The second of the Concertos for Orchestra was subtitled Zvony (The Chimes), and was premiered by the New York Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein as one of the many commissions in honor of the orchestra's 125th anniversary. The third Concerto for Orchestra is based on old music of Russian provincial circuses.
As well as a distinguished compositional career (for which he was made a member of the Berlin Academy of Arts in 1989 and received the Russian State Prize from President Boris Yeltsin in 1992), Shchedrin is himself a virtuoso pianist and organist, taking the piano part in person for the premieres of the three of his piano concertos.
On June 11–14, 2008 Shchedrin Days took place in Armenia with the participation of Shchedrin and Maya Plisetskaya as honorary guest.