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Unit information: Music in Soviet Russia 1917-1991 in 2012/13

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Unit name Music in Soviet Russia 1917-1991
Unit code MUSI30079
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Professor. Fairclough
Open unit status Not open

none for single honours but joint honours must normally have taken Issues in History I or II at Level C



School/department Department of Music
Faculty Faculty of Arts


From the 1917 Revolution until the fall of Communism in 1991, Soviet Russia produced some of the greatest music of the twentieth century. The changing fortunes of its cultural life prompted bizarre swings from modernism to conservatism and, in its later years, massive upheavals in musical language and form. While Shostakovich is still the central (though controversial) figure of the Stalin years, younger composers such as Schnittke, Part, Ustvolskaya and Silvestrov came to maturity in the 70s and 80s with their own unique ways of dealing with 20th century changes in musical language. This unit will cover core repertoire from the whole Soviet period of a variety of genres including symphony, opera, chamber music and film music.


This unit aims to develop understanding of the complex relationship between art and politics and to acquaint students with a wide range of music from a major non-Western 20th-century culture. It will focus on topics including: music as propaganda, socialist realism, Jewish music, polystylism and spirituality. While there will be a certain amount of factual input from the unit director, the main focus will be on student participation in seminars, founded on specified readings and including an opportunity to engage in oral presentation and counter-argument.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit, students will:

  • be able to recognise and discuss key works of Soviet repertoire
  • be able to understand and explain the relationship between culture and politics in Soviet Russia with sound critical awareness grounded in both Soviet history and major musical works
  • discuss and analyse a chosen work in class discussion and/or assessed essay
  • have a good up-to-date working knowledge of the main English-language secondary sources
  • have a sound grasp of reception issues in the US and UK
  • be able to comment on a range of musical and aesthetic issues such as socialist realism, propaganda and polystylism
  • be able to research and present an essay in a standard musicological format

And additionally (specific to Level H) to:

  • incorporate a consistently strong grasp of detail with respect to content
  • Argue effectively and at length (including an ability to cope with complexities and to describe and deploy these effectively)
  • Display to a high level skills in selecting, applying, interpreting and organising information, including evidence of a high level of bibliographical control
  • Describe, evaluate and/or challenge current scholarly thinking
  • Discriminate between different kinds of information, processes, interpretations
  • Take a critical stance towards scholarly processes involved in arriving at historical knowledge and/or relevant secondary literature
  • Engage with relevant theoretical, philosophical or social constructs for understanding relevant works or traditions
  • Demonstrate an understanding of concepts and an ability to conceptualise
  • Situate material within relevant contexts (invoking interdisciplinary contexts where appropriate)
  • Apply strategies laterally (perhaps leading to innovative results).

Teaching details

Seminars (NB. taught together with Year 2).

Assessment Details

One coursework essay of c.3000 words (50%); 2-hr examination (50%)

NB the essay and examination questions will be specific to this level, as will the assessment criteria.

Reading and References

  • Boris Schwarz, Music and Musical Life in SOviet Russia 1917-1981, Indiana University Press, 1983.
  • Laurel Fay, Shostakovich : A Life, OUP, 2000.
  • Neil Edmunds, The Soviet Proletarian Music Movement, Peter Lang, 2000.
  • Elizabeth Wilson, Shostakovich: A LIfe Remembered, Faber, 1994.
  • Malcolm Hamrick Brown (ed.) A Shostakovich Casebook, Indiana University Press, 2004.