The Musical Life in Former USSR

Composers, performers and dancers from the Soviet era

Discover here a selection of concerts, archives and documentaries highlighting composers and performers who have lived under the Soviet system.

At the heart of a system that fixed courses of action and musical themes to the artists, geniuses have emerged within the art community. Some, like Shostakovich, spent their whole life under the Soviet system and composed some of the most beautiful scores of the XXth century. Shostakovich, for instance, a representative figure of the Russian musical production, was successively condemned, praised, denounced, honoured by the Party – he was honoured by receiving the title "People's Artist of the USSR" in 1947. We can here remind us of his Symphony No. 5 that served as a propagand tool of the Soviet Party, contrary to its Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District that was condemned by the Party's newspaper, The Pravda and then banned.

Some of these names didn’t break the Soviet rules but produced their own art within the political constraints. Others, on the contrary, have fled to Occidental country, which represented to them the real meaning of liberty. For instance, Nathan Milstein or Vladimir Horowitz, whose recitals can be seen on Medici, or the famous dancer Rudolf Noureev, "poached" by The Paris Opera Ballet during the 80’s. Others, like Ashkenazy, Ashkenazy, Horowitz, Stravinsky, Rachmaninov or Glazounov developed a great career by chosing to exile.

Kabalevsky, who composed the opera Colas Breugnon, was a great figure of Soviet music. However, he was blamed at the same time than Prokofiev and Khatchatourian of "formalism" under Staline's system. And yet these composers left us great classics of the ballet: Cinderella and Romeo and Juliet by Prokofiev, Spartacus and the famous "Sabre Dance" in the ballet Gayane by Khatchatourian. The choreographer and "diva of dance" Maya Plisetskaya also marked this era, as well as Glazounov with his ballet The Seasons.