Event Info

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Revolution, Trauma, and a Transition to Nowhere Thoughts on Russian Music and Culture post-1991

In the studies of post-Soviet space the term “transition to democracy”, so prevalent in the 1990s, has met an early demise. The optimistic narrative of transition first became impatient with the slowness and hesitancy of the process, then suffered from the uncertainty of the moving or even vanishing target, and was finally abandoned by scholars as it became clear that the post-Soviet nation-states were taking shape in some yet unprecedented forms that required unbiased analysis. 

The place of optimistic teleologies has been taken by hindsight-driven narratives portraying the collapse of the Soviet Union as a traumatogenic event and the culture of the succeeding period as trapped in the state of the ‘post-’. In this paper I will take post-socialist theories of cultural trauma as my starting point and test them against a number of case studies, both musical and more broadly cultural. I will then consider the double-edged nature of the “post-traumatic” narrative which can be utilised by both the supporters and opponents of the current political order in Russia, and the difficulties this creates for Western observers. 

About the Artist:

Marina Frolova-Walker FBA is Professor of Music History at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of Clare College, where she is also Director of Studies in Music. From September 2019 she will be Gresham Professor of Music.

"I was born and educated in Moscow. My alma mater is the Moscow Conservatoire College (Merzlyakovka), where I was fortunate to study with legendary teachers such as Ekaterina Tsareva and Viktor Frayonov. My education continued at the Moscow Conservatoire proper, where I was an undergraduate and then a graduate student during the exciting times of Gorbachev, perestroika and the demise of the Soviet Union. In 1994 I defended my PhD thesis on Schumann’s symphonies and their influence on Russian music, and in the same year moved to the United Kingdom (for personal, rather than political reasons). Before coming to Cambridge in 2000, I taught at the University of Ulster, Goldsmiths College London and the University of Southampton.

Emigration caused me to shift my interests more firmly onto Russian soil, while the need to convert from a Russian musicologist into a Western one prompted my interest in the historiography of Russian music and the nationalist/exoticist myths perpetuated in it, which eventually resulted in my book Russian Music and Nationalism from Glinka to Stalin (Yale, 2007). The next project, which I undertook together with Jonathan Walker (yes, he is my husband), shifted my research interests into the 20th century. In the resulting book, Music and Soviet Power, 1917-32 (Boydell, 2012), we translated many primary sources to illustrate the complexity of the transition from pre-Revolutionary to Soviet musical culture, and wrote an essay for each year to forge a new narrative for the period.

The book I consider my magnum opus is Stalin's Music Prize: Soviet Culture and Politics (Yale, 2016). A Major Research Fellowship from the Leverhulme Trust allowed me to concentrate for two whole years on archival research in Moscow. I relished this precious time to work on the hugely exciting project of piecing together the intricacies of the Stalin Prize in the area of composition and musical performance, awarded between 1941 and 1952. Prokofiev was the front runner, with six of the prizes, while Shostakovich received five. But it was generally a high honour to receive even one, and each award has an interesting story behind it. Everyone asks if Stalin himself was involved? Yes, he was, but much less than most people would assume.

Aside from writing books and articles, I continue to enjoy teaching both undergraduate and graduate students at Cambridge. My teaching career stretches back at least thirty years, but every new encounter with young students is always exciting and challenging. I take great delight in meeting former students after a gap of many years, to discover that they remember various comments I made in my lectures (usually the most outrageous asides).

I also love sharing my expertise and my recent research findings with a broader public, which I have done through radio and TV, but also through hundreds of programme notes, and in nearly as many public talks that have taken place in all kinds of venues, from industrial plants in Kazakhstan to Carnegie Hall."