Shaporin was born in Hlukhiv in Ukraine, Russian Empire. His father was a painter and his mother a pianist. He received his secondary education in Saint Petersburg. He first studied philology at the Kiev University. He went on to study law at the Saint Petersburg University.
He then turned to music, starting his studies at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory in 1913. His teachers there included Nikolay Sokolov (composition), Maximilian Steinberg (orchestration), and Nikolai Tcherepnin (conducting). He graduated as a composer and conductor in 1918.
After the Bolshoi Drama Theater was established in 1919, he participated, serving as its musical director until 1928. He then worked with the Russian State Pushkin Academy Drama Theater —also known as the Alexandrinsky Theater— until 1934. During this period he composed a significant amount of theater music.
He was a founding member of the Association for Contemporary Music in 1923.
During the 1930s he turned his attention to large scale works. His opera Dekabristi (The Decembrists), with the libretto written by Aleksey Nikolayevich Tolstoy about the Decembrist revolt, had been on Shaporin’s mind already by 1920 —a 1925 interim version, Polina Gyobe, had two scenes staged in Leningrad. He completed a version in 1938, but dissatisfied with it, he decided to revise it. It was only completed in 1953, after collaboration with librettist Vsevolod Rozhdestvensky. The opera was premiered at the Bolshoi Theatre on June 23, 1953.
The Bolshoi Theatre had already by 1938 commissioned a version of the opera. Shaporin also received an offer of a teaching position at the Moscow Conservatory and he moved to Moscow in 1938. In 1952, Shaporin was awarded the Stalin Prize.
Among his students at the Moscow Conservatory were Edward Artemiev and Rodion Konstantinovich Shchedrin.