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History-Music Collaboration: The Russian Revolution

Joseph Stalin was a ruthless and totalitarian dictator.  He is credited with carrying out one of the most brutal regimes in recorded history.  His dictatorship also stretched beyond the political realm to influence culture and society in multiple ways.  After studying the causes of the Russian Revolution as well as Stalin, students will use that knowledge to examine a case study of Dmitri Shostakovich.  Shostakovich was a world-renowned composer.  However, he lived and worked during Stalin’s reign and was subjected to sacrificing his talents in order to survive.  In this unit, students will be asked to think critically and answer various questions: How does Stalin use cultural figures as propaganda?  Why do intellectuals and other cultural figures threaten Stalin’s rule?  What responsibility, if any, do intellectuals and other cultural figures have to stand up to totalitarian regimes?  In what ways does Shostakovich further Stalin’s agenda, and in what ways does he defy it?  By answering these questions students will be able to connect this example to other historical and present day examples. As part of this unit students had the privileged opportunity of having a member of the Cleveland Orchestra, and Hathaway Brown parent, Martha Baldwin, come to discuss Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony and how her personal understanding affects the way in which she plays the piece.  On January 14, 2016 students, as well as the Hathaway Brown community, were invited to see Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony be performed by the Cleveland Orchestra.  This performance highlights the tumultuous time of Stalin and Shostakovich, and students will be asked to look for the themes studied in class in order to better understand the impact that politics and culture have on one another.   

(Above: Visiting artist Martha Baldwin, Cellist, The Cleveland Orchestra at Hathaway Brown on Thursday, January 14, 2016.)


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