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Research Forum: Ivana Medić (Institute of Musicology, Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts)

Prokofiev and Shostakovich: the rivalry reconsidered

Tuesday 24 January 2017, 2pm; Lecture Room

Although much has been written on the professional and personal trajectories of Sergei Prokofiev (1891–1953) and Dmitri Shostakovich (1906–1975) — arguably the greatest Russian / Soviet composers of the twentieth century — when it comes to their relationship, a number of writers (in particular those who took Solomon Volkov’s Testimony at face value) have focused on the composers’ alleged personal antagonism and professional jealousies, caused by their individual claims to a title of 'the greatest Soviet composer' — often by relying on the composers’ private musings or witness accounts and anecdotes of a questionable reliability. Being fifteen years younger than Prokofiev, early in his career Shostakovich looked up to his older colleague; but the influence would later become two-way, as the repatriated Prokofiev had to deal with Shostakovich’s status as the foremost Soviet-bred composer — while, of course, both composers were trying in their own ways to ‘serve the system’ and navigate between the often contradictory demands of Soviet cultural life. My presentation starts with a brief account on the two composers’ professional trajectories and their respective status in the Soviet Union. Then, I compare their written assessments of one another’s compositions; finally, I compare their works from which we can discern how one composer might have inspired the other.