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The Dialectic of Musical Socialist Realism: The Case of Dmitri Shostakovich

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At the time of his death in 1975, Dmitri Shostakovich was widely recognised as the greatest composer of his generation, and the first master of the socialist realist symphony. However, Shostakovich’s successes were hard-won. They came on the back of denunciations in Pravda of two earlier ‘formalist’ works. In an effort to win the support of the Party leadership, Shostakovich subsequently transformed his compositional style to produce his popular Fifth Symphony. This paper examines what changed in Shostakovich’s style from his Fourth to his Fifth Symphonies, to establish precisely what musical socialist realism was, and how it was successfully composed, and the long term influence it had on the generation of Soviet composers who emerged after the thaw.


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