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Humanities Honors Program

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The View from an Open Window: Soviet Censorship Policy from a Musician’s Perspective

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Under the leadership of Joseph Stalin from 1924 to 1953, censorship notoriously became a central aspect of Soviet society.  As citizens were rewarded for exposing any possible opposition to the government’s policies, no sector was left unmarked by what scholars now call the “Great Purge.”  While music was not an obvious victim of this movement, the Soviet music scene nonetheless found itself at the forefront of government criticism and reform.  In this thesis, I conduct case-studies of Shostakovich’s opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District and his Fifth Symphony, as well as Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky film soundtrack and his cantata Zdravitsa.  Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District brought its composer, and Soviet music as a whole, to the disapproving eye of Soviet censorship policy, while Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony saved him from further consequences.  Alexander Nevsky and Zdravitsa played instrumental roles in Prokofiev’s reintegration into Soviet society after spending years abroad.  I examine the Zhdanov Affair of 1948, in which both prominent and upcoming composers were called into a government conference concerning the unsavory music production in the Soviet Union, as a central event in the history of censorship.  Music magnifies the inherent futility of censorship, and as such, I use this investigation in conjunction with the case-studies to evaluate censorship practices within society: past, present, Soviet, and beyond.   

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