Such Freedom, If Only Musical: Unofficial Soviet Music during the Thaw

Research output: Book/ReportBook

81 Scopus citations


Drawing upon oral history, analysis, and a critical synthesis of secondary literature, this book examines the construction and reception of the "unofficial" music in the Soviet Union produced during the Thaw (roughly 1956-74) by composers including Alfred Schnittke, Arvo Pärt, Sofia Gubaidulina, Valentin Silvestrov, Andrey Volkonsky, and Edison Denisov. This book addresses "unofficial" music in all of its contradictions, and argues for a more refined understanding of its changing meanings during the Thaw (and the cold war). The book traces two interrelated phenomena. The first is the developing social function provided by "unofficial" concert life, which allowed Soviet listeners to congregate and question traditional socialist realist verities, and by extension many other facets of life in the USSR. The second is the shifting nature of the musical styles embraced by "unofficial" composers. Initially, while still conservatory students in the 1950s, they encountered music previously off-limits, including scores by Schoenberg, Boulez, and other Western modernists. They avidly pursued the serial compositional techniques in these "new" scores. However, tiring of the limited expressive possibilities they perceived in these methods, they turned in other directions, first to aleatory devices, and then to quotations from familiar tonal works. The stylistic development of this generation thereby moved from "abstraction" to "mimesis" (borrowing musicologist Karol Berger's terminology). In their mimetic works from the end of the 1960s, the "unofficial" Soviet composers more directly engaged the contemporary situation in the USSR and in so doing received more favorable responses from listeners and Soviet critics alike. Andrey Volkonsky Edison Denisov Alfred Schnittke Sofia Gubaidulina Valentin Silvestrov Arvo Pärt serialism aleatory cold war oral history.

Original languageEnglish (US)
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages408
ISBN (Print)9780199866854, 9780195341935
StatePublished - May 1 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Aleatory
  • Alfred schnittke
  • Andrey volkonsky
  • Arvo part
  • Cold war
  • Edison denisov
  • Oral history
  • Serialism
  • Sofia gubaidulina
  • Valentin silvestrov

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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