Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


School of Music

Document Type



The dissertation explores the music of three major Soviet composers—Alfred Schnittke, Sofia Gubaidulina, and Arvo Pärt—against the backdrop of the ever-changing Soviet rule (after Stalin’s death in 1953). I reevaluate the composers’ religious and spiritual beliefs expressed in their works during the 1970s–1980s. Three works are presented as case studies and analyzed in-depth: Schnittke’s Concerto for Choir (1984–85), Gubaidulina’s Sieben Worte (1982), and Pärt’s Stabat Mater (1985). Although under Nikita Khrushchev’s rule (1953–64), governmental censorship began to slowly loosen, this particular group of composers continued to experience a considerable degree of oppression and censorship from the Soviet government until and including Leonid Brezhnev’s rule (1964–1982). I use the late Soviet cultural landscape to offer a new perspective of examining these three fascinating works with a much deeper understanding of each respective composer’s compositional process.

This project extends the period of the Thaw in the Soviet Union by Peter Schmelz in Such Freedom, If Only Musical (2009) and Maria Cizmic’s in Performing Pain: Music and Trauma in Eastern Europe (2011). I explore the composers’ use of techniques derived from, or influenced by their own religiosity. Schnittke was inspired by Christian and Armenian influences, such as Armenian church and folk monody, as well as musical monograms, and both are used in the development of overall musical form. Gubaidulina expressed dramaturgy through various extended performance techniques and expression parameters of consonance and dissonance. And Pärt turned to musical topics, mantric minimalist procedures, and the thematic use of silence in his expression of a religious text. All of these elements are among the predominant elements of contemporary classical music in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century in both Russia and the West. Additionally, I draw on primary Russian sources and provide translations for all. The three case studies provide foundation for future research of Soviet repertoire, both spiritual and not, by other Soviet composers from the same time period and later.



Committee Chair

Bazayev, Inessa



Included in

Music Theory Commons