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Sonic OverloadAlfred Schnittke, Valentin Silvestrov, and Polystylism in the Late USSR$
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Peter J. Schmelz

Print publication date: 2021

Print ISBN-13: 9780197541258

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2021

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780197541258.001.0001

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(p.87) 4 Kitsch
Sonic Overload

Peter J. Schmelz

Oxford University Press

Chapter 5 explores contemporary Soviet anxieties about mass media and popular culture by detailing Valentin Silvestrov’s shift in the 1970s from avant-garde cacophony to a quiet, nostalgic style that he unironically called “kitsch.” During this dark economic period, when he also was persona non grata in the Ukrainian Union of Composers, Silvestrov hoped to earn money by writing pop songs, a failed venture that resulted in his unpublished Kitsch Songs (1973), a cycle that sounds closer to Schubert and nineteenth-century Russian romances than the Beatles or contemporary Soviet pop. Silvestrov’s next works, including the important cycle Quiet Songs for voice and piano (1973–77), continued his resuscitation of earlier styles, usually involving texts by canonic Russian and Ukrainian poets (e.g., Pushkin, Lermontov, Mandelstam, and Shevchenko). In the preface to his 1977 Kitsch-Music for piano, Silvestrov claimed that he “regard[ed] the term ‘kitsch’ (weak, rejected, abortive) in an elegiac rather than an ironic sense.” In other words, he hoped that by taking “trivial,” overly familiar sources seriously, he might redeem them. His audiences often had other ideas, laughing at what they assumed was a parody. Others were captivated by his meditative evocations of the past.

Keywords:   Alfred Schnittke, Valentin Silvestrov, polystylism, Quiet Songs, kitsch, Kitsch Songs, Kitsch-Music for piano, Simple Songs, Alla Pugacheva, George Rochberg

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