Shakespeare and Soviet Music

Michelle Assay

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Despite recurrent mutual suspicion between the Soviet Union and the West, Shakespeare was almost as sacrosanct to the Soviets as their own canonical authors were. Many of the greatest Soviet (and post-Soviet) adaptations and appropriations of Shakespeare’s works have been enhanced by musical scores provided by the most prominent composers of the time. During the Soviet regime, several of the most famous Shakespearean musical works were introduced to the repertoire, from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet ballet to Shostakovich’s setting of Sonnet 66 and his film music for the screen adaptations of Hamlet and King Lear. Soviet composers were also active in the field of operatic adaptation of Shakespeare, though in this regard their works have received less international attention. Soviet musical responses to Shakespeare have inevitably been intertwined with the cultural-politico climate of the country, and in many ways they could be used as a means of understanding that context and the vacillations of artistic freedom. Disregarding boundaries between ‘learned’ and ‘popular’, this chapter offers an overview of the wide range of musical responses to Shakespeare and his works in Russia and the Soviet Union, covering works in which music has been central (as in symphonic poems, operas, ballet, songs) or accompanying (theatre and film music).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of Shakespeare and Music
EditorsChristopher R. Wilson, Mervyn Cooke
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages29
ISBN (Electronic)9780190945176
ISBN (Print)9780190945145
Publication statusPublished - 19 May 2022

Publication series

NameOxford Handbooks
PublisherOxford University Press


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