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Modernism, socialist realism, and identity in the early film music of Dmitry Shostakovich, 1929-1932
Titus, Joan Marie

2006, Doctor of Philosophy, Ohio State University, Music.

Since the publication of Testimony (1979), a book that portrayed the thoroughly politicized Russian composer Dmitry Shostakovich (1906-1975) as a closet dissident, interpretations of his political status have become intertwined with interpretations of his music. Shostakovich has been labeled a “high-art” symphonist, a “light” music composer, a dissident, and a Communist. His eclecticism and the changing political environment in which he lived are in part responsible for these controversial interpretations of his music and character. Recent scholars have challenged the assumed historical narrative that perpetuates these politicized interpretations: the narrative that describes modernist and experimental composers of the 1920s as tragically having been converted to conservative and propagandistic socialist realist trend of the 1930s. My work seeks to continue the recent reevaluation of the modernist/socialist realist narrative, focusing on Shostakovich’s early film music. By analyzing of his early film scores and discussing their reception, I reveal the aesthetic and political motivations for his negotiation of modernism and socialist realism. In so doing, I redefine Shostakovich as a more nuanced and heterogeneous composer of both film and art music.


My dissertation examines the process of Shostakovich’s renegotiation of his musical identity in his first four film scores as he made the so-called transition from the modernist silent cinema of the 1920s to the socialist realist sound cinema of the 1930s. The analyses of each film score, including The New Babylon (1928-1929), Alone (1929-1931), The Golden Mountains (1931) and The Counterplan (1932) are informed by approaches from film theory and musicology and contextualized through the use of Russian archival materials about the production and reception of film music. Through a detailed examination of narrative device, musical and semantic codes, reception, and a thorough discussion of the concepts of modernism and socialist realism outlined in earlier chapters, my analyses show how the variety of modernist and socialist realist traits allowed for diverse categorizations of these films. Nuanced and contextualized analyses of his early film music contribute to the current debates about the politics of “reading” messages in Shostakovich’s instrumental music, challenging efforts to place his music into simplistic categories.


Margarita Mazo (Advisor)
494 p.

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Titus, J. (2006). Modernism, socialist realism, and identity in the early film music of Dmitry Shostakovich, 1929-1932. (Electronic Thesis or Dissertation). Retrieved from https://etd.ohiolink.edu/

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Titus, Joan. "Modernism, socialist realism, and identity in the early film music of Dmitry Shostakovich, 1929-1932." Electronic Thesis or Dissertation. Ohio State University, 2006. OhioLINK Electronic Theses and Dissertations Center. 17 Oct 2017.

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Titus, Joan "Modernism, socialist realism, and identity in the early film music of Dmitry Shostakovich, 1929-1932." Electronic Thesis or Dissertation. Ohio State University, 2006. https://etd.ohiolink.edu/

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