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Mary Neuburger, Director BUR 452, 2505 University Avenue, Stop F3600, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-3607

Fall 2006

REE 325 • Shostakovich: Life and Music - W

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
46390 TTh
9:30 AM-11:00 AM
MEZ 2.124

Course Description

Dmitrii Shostakovich (1906-1975) is considered by many to be among the twentieth century's top three composers. He wrote accessible work with great wit, verve, and profundity in a wide range of genres, from chamber music to opera, from jazz and movie music to art songs based on Russian poetry, from popular songs to cantatas praising Stalins reforestation program. His symphonies and movie music are perhaps best-known, but his steamy and sensual opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk is held in high esteem, and was just performed by the Austin Lyric Opera in its original, banned-in-the-USSR version. He visited the U.S. twice, and was very popular here in the music world and with its audiences. Shostakovich lived in difficult times, including revolution, war, and repression. It remains highly controversial what he really thought of his political world, but his music was in constant dialogue with the environment, often with telling musical quotations ranging from Beethoven to American Broadway songs and Jewish klezmer music.

This course will proceed along three dimensions. First, we will survey Shostakovich's body of music, touching on highlights in the various genres, developing (or applying) your skills in basic musical literacy. Second, we will pay special attention to the important role of literary texts in Shostakovichs works, which encompass both the core literature of Russia (prose, plays, and poetry) and of other cultures (e.g., Japanese, European, and Jewish). Thirdly, both the musical and literary dimensions are viewed in their inextricable connection with the personality and personal life of the composer. At times there was almost a duel going on between Shostakovich and the dictator Joseph Stalin, who carefully followed the composers work and offered both carrot and stick to exploit and discipline him. We will trace his moves and try to use his music and writings to explore what his feelings really were and what the nature of his cultural role was. Ultimately we will investigate questions of conscience and morality in art under harrowing conditions, in which a false move could mean arrest, exile to a Siberian labor camp, or a simple execution in a Moscow prison.

Grading Policy

Two in-class exams: 30% Writing assignments: 50% Class participation: 20%


A course packet will be made available and there will be a course website. Recordings will be made available on reserve.


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