Boris Asafiev and Soviet Musical Thought: Reputation and Influence

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The theories of Boris Asafiev, including musical process, symphonism, and intonatsiya, proved to be hugely influential in the Soviet Union and beyond. While Asafiev’s ideas were widely adopted by theorists and audiences alike, they were also appropriated by a generation of music critics. As composers struggled to come to terms with what might constitute socialist-realist music, critics built a discourse of projecting meaning onto works via Asafiev’s theories. At the same time, multiple theorists developed and expanded his ideas. The picture that emerges is of a multitude of applications and responses to a multivalent body of work that became a vital part of musical discourse in the latter half of the Soviet Union. In this article, I survey the main theories from Boris Asafiev’s writings on music, and their significance after his death. I begin by defining key terms such as symphonism, musical process, and especially intonatsiya. I then discuss the 1948 Zhdanovshchina and Asafiev’s involvement, and the less well-known 1949 discussions on Musicology. For the remainder of the article, I provide examples of key studies from Soviet music theorists using Asafiev’s terms to illustrate how their usage expanded and, in some cases, moved away from Asafiev’s myriad intentions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)57-74
Publication statusPublished - 2021

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