The Early Film Music of Dmitry Shostakovich

The Early Film Music of Dmitry Shostakovich

The Early Film Music of Dmitry Shostakovich

The Early Film Music of Dmitry Shostakovich


In the late 1920s, Dmitry Shostakovich emerged as one of the first Soviet film composers. With his first score for the silent film New Babylon (1928-29) and the many sound scores that followed, he was situated to observe and participate in the changing politics of the film industry and negotiate the role of the film composer. In The Early Film Music of Dmitry Shostakovich, author Joan Titus examines the relationship between musical narration, audience, filmmaker, and composer in six of Shostakovich's early film scores, from 1928 through 1936. Titus engages with the construct of Soviet intelligibility, the filmmaking and scoring processes, and the cultural politics of scoring Soviet film music, asking how listeners hear and see Shostakovich. The discussions of the scores are enriched by the composer's own writing on film music, along with archival materials and recently discovered musical manuscripts that illuminate the collaborative processes of the film teams, studios, and composer. The Early Film Music of Dmitry Shostakovich commingles film/media studies, musicology, and Russian studies, and is sure to be of interest to a wide audience including those in music studies, film/media scholars, and Slavicists.


In 1954, Dmitry Shostakovich wrote:

There should be a complete mutual understanding between composers and
[film] directors. For this, both [fields] should be studied, for a composer without
knowledge of the laws of cinema cannot fulfill his work so that it may have an
organic blending with the film’s dramaturgy.

Shostakovich was one of the first musicians to formulate and articulate the role of the film composer in Soviet Russia. As his statement indicates, it was a collaborative process, and he had the opportunity to develop his understanding of the cinema through working with multiple directors over the course of his film music career. He began work as a film composer in 1928, after several years of experience in the cinema as a pianist-illustrator, and after having written the opera Nose (1928). Shostakovich had an almost fifty-year working relationship with Soviet cinema; his last score was for Korol’ Lir (King Lear, dir. Grigory Kozintsev, 1971).

Shostakovich’s early scores, which date from the late 1920s to the mid-1930s, reveal his first negotiations with cinema. The opportunity to compose his first film score coincided with the twilight years of silent cinema, and his following scores with the beginnings of sound-on-film in the Soviet Union. He was necessarily a witness to the impact of the Cultural Revolution on the film industry and on music communities. Intelligibility to the masses, the desire to make Soviet film popular, and the intent to create a specific and original role for the film composer were undeniably the issues with which Shostakovich, directors, and sound designers worked.

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