Alfred Schnittke's Nagasaki: Soviet nuclear culture, radio Moscow, and the global cold war

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15 Scopus citations


This article examines Alfred Schnittke's final conservatory composition, the oratorio Nagasaki (1957-58, revised 1958-59). Both controversial and yet doctrinaire, Nagasaki proves an unexpectedly rich object of study owing to the unusual circumstances surrounding its dissemination. Its radio broadcasts during the 1960s both within the Soviet Union and abroad provide unique insights into Soviet perceptions of the bomb. The domestic broadcast suggests hitherto unexplored aspects of Cold War culture within the USSR, especially the changing attitudes, both official and unofficial, toward atomic weapons (what can be referred to as nuclear culture). The broadcast to Japan on Radio Moscow (Moskovskoye radio, a Soviet equivalent of the U.S. Voice of America, or VOA) indicates the view of nuclear weapons it promulgated abroad. Thanks to records of its 1960 Radio Moscow broadcast in Japan, Nagasaki provides an extraordinary opportunity to chart the use of music in Soviet international propaganda efforts via the airwaves. This article relies upon an unpublished copyist's score and the original, unreleased 1959 recording of Nagasaki, in addition to previously unknown archival documents. It also synthesizes, corrects, and supplements the existing accounts of the work, all of them in various ways incomplete or inaccurate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)413-474
Number of pages62
JournalJournal of the American Musicological Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Alfred Schnittke
  • Cold War
  • Nagasaki
  • Radio Moscow
  • Soviet Union

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Music


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