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The Early Film Music of Dmitry Shostakovich. By Joan Titus. pp. xv + 253. Oxford Music/Media Series. (Oxford University Press, New York and Oxford, 2016. £32.99. ISBN 978-0-19-931514-7.)

The appetite for Shostakovich's film music is evident from the number of available CD recordings containing his film suites and 'complete' film scores. For the vast majority in the West, this is the only way to engage with his film music, since it is still impossible to obtain many of these Soviet-era films in a commercial format (with or without subtitles), although some can be viewed illegally via the Internet. Given this barrier, it is perhaps unsurprising that only a handful of writers have published on this topic in English. Chief among these is John Riley, who has written extensively on the subject in a wide variety of publications but is best known for his succinct, comprehensive survey Dmitri Shostakovich: A Life in Film (London, 2005). This ground-breaking survey quickly became an essential reference source. Of the other writers, the most prominent include two American scholars, Erik Heine—whose Ph.D. dissertation (University of Texas at Austin, 2005) focused on three late scores (The Gadfly, Hamlet,and King Lear)—and Joan Titus. Her Ph.D. dissertation 'Modernism, Socialist Realism, and Identity in the Early Film Music of Dmitry Shostakovich, 1929–1932' (Ohio State University, 2006) examined Shostakovich's first four film scores (New Babylon, Alone, The Golden Mountains, and The Counterplan) and forms the basis of this volume.

According to an endnote (p. 234 n. 1), the author intends The Early Film Music of Dmitry Shostakovich to be the first in an ambitious three-volume survey of the composer's film scores. This first volume has six case studies on scores for feature films selected from the period 1928–36, namely the four from her Ph.D. dissertation supplemented by Youth of Maxim and Girlfriends. The initial part of the survey is therefore already incomplete: two films from this period—the feature film Love and Hatred and the cartoon The Tale of a Priest and his Servant Balda—were omitted 'due to a significant lack of resources at the time of research' (p. 197 n. 25). The book is structured chronologically in eight chapters, a chapter per case study framed by an introduction and epilogue. There is also a companion website ( containing video clips from the five sound films discussed, but none, alas, from the silent classic New Babylon.

The author had extensive access to Russian archival materials, allowing her to provide close narrative analyses of each film, with pertinent examples illustrating Shostakovich's own original material, the copious borrowed material (such as revolutionary songs, folksongs, and extracts from the classical repertory), and how the composer used these borrowings within his own musical language. These analyses are supplemented by discussions of each film's genesis, [End Page 663] based on a selection of documents from the film studios and personnel, and from Shostakovich's personal documents and writings on film. Thus Titus is able to assess the composer's differing degrees of involvement in the soundtracks of the five sound films discussed, for example with regard to the choice and handling of purely diegetic material. (There is much a cappella singing of revolutionary and folksongs in these sound films.) She also discusses aspects of each film's promotion and reception in the contemporaneous press. This is therefore an important study and one that begins to put a wealth of much-needed detail into Riley's framework.

The decision to add two extra case studies neatly brings the survey to the first major flashpoint in Shostakovich's biography, the publication of 'Muddle instead of Music' at the end of January 1936. (This infamous Pravda attack on Shostakovich's hugely successful opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District appeared between the composition of his score for Girlfriends and the film's release in early February 1936.) On the negative side, the inclusion of the extra case studies does appear to have been at the expense of some essential contextual material from the opening chapters of her original dissertation...


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