Reading Group: What Did Cultural Diplomacy Ever Do For Us – and Them?

Pauline Fairclough: What Did Cultural Diplomacy Ever Do For Us—and Them? Performing the Musical State in Britain and Russia

The Anglo-Russian Research Network will be holding its spring reading group at 5:30 on Friday 12 May at Pushkin House, Bloomsbury (www.pushkinhouse.org). We will be reading about and discussing the role of music in Anglo-Russian cultural understanding.

The discussion will be led by Dr Pauline Fairclough of the University of Bristol. The readings can be downloaded here.

At first glance, the mutual showcasing of national musical cultures looks like a diplomatic strategy that cannot fail. As the most superficially ‘harmless’ of the arts, music’s role as a neutral pacifier and conduit for bland cultural admiration has been exploited many times over; yet this apparent innocence has masked many a more dubious strategy, as recent Cold War studies of music exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union have demonstrated. And during the Soviet period, political undercurrents can be found at every level of a composer’s reception, as the case of Shostakovich in Britain makes abundantly clear. Yet Russian and British musical exchanges were well underway before the Bolshevik Revolution, and even in less ideologically fraught times, critical receptions of music within both Russia and Britain reveal ways in which the two cultures regarded each other, at times with condescension, at times with admiration, and at other times with mutual incomprehension. Pauline’s talk will touch on all these issues, looking at pre-revolutionary and Soviet eras to ponder the nature of music’s role in facilitating, or even obscuring, processes of cultural understanding.

Pauline Fairclough is Reader in Music at the University of Bristol. She is a cultural historian specialising in Soviet musical history, and has published widely on Shostakovich and music of the Stalinist era. Her last book, Classics for the Masses. Shaping Soviet Musical Identity Under Lenin and Stalin (Yale, 2016) looked at how Soviet symphony orchestras made the transition from pre-revolutionary bourgeois concert culture to a tightly scrutinised Stalinist administration, yet in many respects consciously preserved the ‘bourgeois’ identity of musical life. Her current project is a century-long look at Anglo-Russian musical connections, focusing on the importance of personal relationships in shaping exchanges and critical reception.

If you plan to attend, it would be helpful if you could let Rebecca Beasley (rebecca.beasley@ell.ox.ac.uk) and/ or Matthew Taunton (M.Taunton@uea.ac.uk) know. The discussion will finish at 7, and anyone available is very welcome to join us for dinner nearby.