Centre for Continuing Education

Russian Music History Course

Music. Learn, enjoy, appreciate.

This course covers the development of music in Russia from the late 18th century to the demise of the Soviet period (1990). Unlike European nations which can date the development of art-music to the Renaissance, political, social and religious aspects of historical Russia curtailed the establishment of an autochthonous tradition until the early 1800s. After the introduction of music education for Russians in the early 1860s, Russian composers quickly and increasingly garnered international attention, arguably culminating in the seminal works of Igor Stravinsky. Yet after the 1917 Revolution, Soviet authorities increasingly sought to control Russian artists, leading to the censure of many composers. As a result, many Russian compositions of the twentieth century, such as the symphonies of Shostakovich, are frequently interpreted as important statements on repression and humanism.


This course aims to provide a thorough survey of historical and cultural contexts necessary for an appreciation of Russian art-music, supported by numerous examples from the repertory. In particular, it aims to demonstrate how Russian music developed within a period of resurgent nationalism, while concurrently battling the attempts of both Imperial and Soviet authorities to impose rules. The biographies of important Russian composers will be outlined to highlight connections between their lives and their most important works.


By the end of this course, you should be able to:

  • identify the historical and cultural contexts for around 20 of the most important Russian composers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and to be aware of their major works
  • place the development of Russian music within its historical context
  • relate the development of Russian music to other cultures, particularly Australia
  • identify the role of politics and censorship in both Imperial and Soviet art-music
  • account for the repression of avant-garde and dissonant styles of music in 20th century Russia
  • define parallels for the development of Russian music with other art forms, such as literature and painting.


This course covers the following topics:

  • early Russian composers
  • development of Russian music education
  • the early St Petersburg group of composers (the ‘kuchka’)
  • the early Moscow school (Tchaikovsky)
  • later St Petersburg composers (Belyayev circle)
  • later Moscow composers (Rachmaninoff, Scriabin)
  • the Revolution and the Soviet avant-garde
  • early Soviet composers (up to 1936)
  • later Soviet composers (up to the death of Stalin)
  • epilogue: late Shostakovich and ‘Testimony’.

Intended audience

Suitable for anyone with an interest in classical music and its history, who wants to increase both their general understanding of the canon of Russian music and learn more about specific works and composers.

Delivery style

Delivered as a series of lectures where active participation is encouraged. You will learn through a variety of methods including:

  • listening to musical excerpts
  • watching short video segments from operas
  • looking at slides of visual art works contemporaneous to the music being discussed.

Recommended reading

Maes, F. 2002, A History of Russian Music: from Kamarinskaya to Babi Yar, (Trans. A Pomerans and E Pomerans.), University of California Press, Berkeley.

Ridenour, R. C. 1977, Nationalism, Modernism, and Personal Rivalry in Nineteenth-Century Russian Music, UMI Research Press, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Schwarz, B. 1972, Music and Musical Life in Soviet Russia 1917-1970, Barrie & Jenkins, London.

Taruskin, R. 1994, Stravinsky and the Russian Traditions: a Biography of the Works through Mavra, University of California, Berkeley.


  • Expert trainers
  • Central locations
  • Small class sizes
  • Free, expert advice
  • Student materials – yours to keep
  • Statement of completion