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Dostoevsky and Music: a More Important Connection than People Think

The bold quotation of the title comes from no less an authority than Dmitry Shostakovich

The bold quotation of the title comes from no less an authority than Dmitry Shostakovich, one of the most literary of all Russian composers, although few people would consider Dostoevsky, whatever his other great merits, one of the most musical of writers. Indeed, the pioneer of Russian music in England Gerald Abraham wrote wryly, ‘Dostoevsky’s writings certainly do not cry out for musical treatment; nevertheless they have been given it.’ This talk will describe and discuss in layman’s language and with visual and aural illustrations a few of the eight or so Russian operas from between 1903 and 1985, some of the excellent musical scores to Russian films based on the writer’s works, as well as a sample of a brilliant song cycle by Shostakovich himself. This, like the film version of ‘A Nasty Story’, gains greatly from its musical component. Some of the great novels on the other hand like Idiot and Brothers Karamazov are more of a curiosity, the operas being alternatives rather than embellishments. This talk aims to provide an entertaining view of a wide range of Dostoevsky’s prose set to music by Russian composers.

After graduating with first class honours in Russian Language and Literature (with Latin) at SSEES in 1963, and then having spent a year in Moscow, Arnold McMillin was appointed as Lecturer in Russian Language and Literature at SSEES in 1965. In 1971 he gained a doctorate in Slavonic philology, and in 1976 he was made Bowes Professor of Russian at Liverpool University. He returned to SSEES in 1987, and succeeded Richard Freeborn as Professor of Russian Literature. Professor Arnold McMillin retired in 2007. He has been President of the British Universities Association of Slavists (1984-86), and served as British representative on the International Committee of Slavists (1979-88). He is currently President of the Modern Humanities Research Association.


Professor Arnold McMillin | talks


Date and Time:

1 October 2008 at 7:00 pm


1 hour 30 minutes



Pushkin House
5A Bloomsbury Square
020 7269 9770

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