Silents, Sound, and Modernism in Dmitry Shostakovich’s Score to the New Babylon (1928–1929

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Joan Titus, Associate Professor of Musicology (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
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Abstract: Although widely regarded by scholars and general audiences as one of the greatest of the last “silent” films, Novyi Vavilon (New Babylon, dir. Kozintsev and Trauberg, 1929) was initially a surprising failure. Even with its original score by the celebrated composer Dmitry Shostakovich, the film failed to fully satisfy audiences and critics at the time of its premiere. Since then, the musical score has been blamed for this initial failure, even though it was intended to be a significant contribution to a work that was designed to be innovative, properly socialist, and entertaining. This narrative, still spun in recent writings about the score, rarely acknowledges that this failure involved intertwining cultural and political issues related to the restructuring of the Soviet film industry and the establishment of a new relationship between sound and image. The score to New Babylon was created to explore this new relationship, which signaled the reevaluation of the musician’s role in music for cinema. Since New Babylon was the first Soviet film to have a full original score written by a professional Russian composer, Shostakovich’s compositional process was closely observed and necessarily required a collaborative effort between the composer and the directors Grigory Kozintsev and Leonid Trauberg. The composer’s process was therefore a central issue during the film’s production. Examining this collaborative process, through the directors’ and composer’s writings about the music for New Babylon and the film’s reception, reveals much about perceptions of modernism and socialism in the whole work.

Additional Information

Sound, Speech, and Music in Soviet and Post-Soviet Cinema, edited by Masha Salazkina and Lilya Kaganovsky, 38–59. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2014
Language: English
Date: 2014
silent film music, Dmitry Shostakovich, modernism

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