What was "Shostakovich," and what came next?

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The title of this article is borrowed from anthropologist Katherine Verdery's 1996 study What Was Socialism, and What Comes Next? In her book Verdery surveyed the recent changes in Eastern Europe, and specifically Romania, from her vantage point in the uncertain period following the momentous events from 1989 to 1991 in the former Soviet bloc. Similarly, this article explores how Shostakovich, widely perceived in 1975 as the musical representative of socialism, influenced what came after him. It details how Soviet composers from the younger generations, including Edison Denisov, Mieczysław Weinberg, Boris Tishchenko, Alfred Schnittke, and Valentin Sil'vestrov, dealt with Shostakovich's legacy in their compositions written in his memory, including Denisov's DSCH, Weinberg's Symphony no.12, Tishchenko's Symphony no. 5, Schnittke's Prelude In Memoriam Dmitri Shostakovich and Third String Quartet, and Sil'vestrov's Postludium DSCH. In their memorial works, as they wrestled with the legacy of Shostakovich and his overwhelming influence, these composers also grappled with the shifting nature of the Soviet state, changing musical styles both foreign and domestic, and fundamental issues of aesthetic representation and identity associated with the move from modernism to postmodernism then affecting all composers in the Western art music tradition. The 1970s came at the heels of a decade of remarkable change in Soviet music and society, but at the time of Shostakovich's death, change in Soviet life began to seem increasingly unlikely. Despite recent interpretations by scholars such as anthropologist Alexei Yurchak that emphasize the fundamental immutability of the 1970s, however, these memorial compositions show that audible and significant developments were indeed occurring in the musical styles of the 1970s and early 1980s. Examining Shostakovich's legacy therefore also reveals the larger changes of the Soviet 1970s and early 1980s, both musical and otherwise.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)297-338
Number of pages42
JournalJournal of Musicology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Alexei Yurchak
  • Alfred Schnittke
  • Dmitri Shostakovich
  • Edison Denisov
  • Valentin Silvestrov

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Music


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