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Dmitry Shostakovich and His World

Shostakovich is viewed today as recognized Soviet classic, whose music is performed wider than any other composer of the 20th Century – according to the Hans Sikorski catalogue.

Notwithstanding (or maybe because of) this fact, he appears to be in the center of ardent debates that are currently held about Soviet music all over the world. Praised and challenged by Soviet government during his life, even after his death Shostakovich evokes controversy, evidenced in constant attempts to overthrow his authority and fame due to his compliance with (or – inefficient resistance against) the Stalinist dictatorship.

The course is aimed at establishing a systematic knowledge and understanding of music in the USSR during its history, with particular emphasis on Shostakovich’s life and work. Not an isolated figure, Shostakovich will be analyzed as well as his circle of friends and his milieu – which include various composers (Sergei Prokofiev, Nicholas Myaskovsky, Aram Khachaturyan) and critics. This indeed sheds more light on his artistic, aesthetic, and even political predilections, providing a deeper understanding of his creative aspirations and his comprehension of himself as a Soviet artist.

The course will therefore explore not only the music of Shostakovich, but of other composers – highlighting mutual influences and contextual tendencies. Additionally, many other artistic and public domains will be considered such as literature, the film industry, and politics. Viewing Soviet art from the perspectives of anterior strategies and the resultant cultural products is absolutely necessary for today’s art historians and critics as they wish to provide an informed view on Soviet culture. This approach to music within the framework of ‘cultural studies’ will nonetheless involve getting acquainted with the most significant compositions by Shostakovich on the one hand, and unique and relatively recently discovered works on the other.

The course progresses in chronological order, covering the most significant periods of Shostakovich’s epoch: the decade of Soviet avant-garde of the 1920s, Shostakovich’s operas, ballets, and symphonies of the 1930s, war years of his famous 7th Symphony, post-war rise of Stalin’s oppression against the arts, the Cold War, and the Thaw. The material of the course is in no small part based on archival discoveries, and is strongly related to the current debates on Soviet music in academic institutions and in media in the United States, Europe, and Russia.

The course is designed for music students and anyone interested in Soviet music and culture.


Credits: 6/3

Course ID: MUS_E_203

Profile Music

Semester: Fall

Complies with general requirements: No

Course Type: Elective Course

Language: English