Mikhail Matyushin, Painterly-Musical Construction

Ambivalence and Revolution: Shostakovich, Grossman, and Soviet Art Under Stalin

For the composer Dmitri Shostakovich and writer Vassily Grossman, the experience of making art in Stalinist Russia was fraught, hazardous, privileged—and emotionally, politically, and artistically complex. And the art they made, at times officially lauded and at other times suppressed, resists easy categorization. How can we understand the position of the artist in Soviet Russia, particularly during the period between the Revolution and the final destruction of Nazi Germany? And how can we understand the art Shostakovich and Grossman produced? Is it celebratory, dissident, or ambivalent—and why does it matter?

In Ambivalence and Revolution, co-presented by Carnegie Hall, Brooklyn Institute for Social Research, and New York Review Books, we’ll explore, via listening sessions, readings, and discussion, the music of Shostakovich and the novels of Grossman, as well the context in which they were produced: revolution, modernization, terror, and war. With BISR faculty Nathan Shields, Rebecca Ariel Porte, and Ajay Singh Chaudhary, we’ll ask: under what strictures did Shostakovich and Grossman work, and in what ways did they resist—and conform? Can propagandized art also be successful art? Must great artists also be dissidents?

Ambivalence and Revolution will take place Thursday, April 22nd, at 6:30pm ET. The event is free to attend and will stream live to the BISR public Facebook page. For a reminder and any updates, please RSVP below.

Grossman’s works, including his monumental Life and Fate and Stalingrad, are published by New York Review Books.

“Ambivalence and Revolution: Shostakovich, Grossman, and Soviet Art Under Stalin” is being held in conjunction with Carnegie Hall’s Voices of Hope festival. Also included in the festival schedule is the four-week course Thomas Mann: Doctor Faustus, which starts Wednesday, April 7th. 

Event Schedule

Thursday, 6:30pm ET
April 22, 2021


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