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Publication - Professor Pauline Fairclough

    Was Soviet Music Middlebrow? Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony, Socialist Realism, and the Mass Listener in the 1930s

    Citation

    Fairclough, P, 2018, ‘Was Soviet Music Middlebrow? Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony, Socialist Realism, and the Mass Listener in the 1930s’. Journal of Musicology, vol 35., pp. 336-367

    Abstract

    Symphonic music composed under Stalin presents us with an ethical, as well as an aesthetic, problem. Often assumed to have been composed in a compromised style by composers who were either coerced into abandoning their “real” modernist inclinations, or who were in any case second-rate, these works have been labelled variously socialist realist, conformist, conservative or even dissident, depending on the taste and opinion of those passing judgement. I argue that picking and choosing which symphony is socialist realist and which is not cannot be logically or historically justified, and that we should no longer attempt to define any non-texted or non-programmatic music in this way. The Anglophone term “middlebrow” holds out the possibility of describing this repertoire without implying ethical or artistic compromise on the composers’ part, acknowledging that, in the absence of any elite or “highbrow” musical culture, composers shared the aim of reaching a mass audience.

    Full details in the University publications repository