Shostakovich: Art under Authoritarianism

Programme Editor
Making art under the threat of a dictator, confronts the artist with many practical and moral dilemma’s. Is it even possible to work as an artist under autocratic rule? Can culture be seperated from social and political developements? In this programme we discuss this topic by focusing on the Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich who created his music under Stalin’s dictatorship. With Maxim Osipov, the Eliot Quartet, musicologist Saskia Törnqvist and Shostakovich’ expert Lev Akopian, working in Moscow and an outspoken critic of Putin’s regime.

Dmitri Shostakovich, one of the greatest composers of the 20th century, lived during the Sovjet-era and the Second World War. Although he was initially celebrated by the Soviet government as a symbol of Soviet culture, he fell out-  and back into of favor multiple times and faced intense pressure and censorship from the Soviet authorities. 1936 marked the beginning of the Great Terror, in which many of Shostakovich’s friends and relatives were imprisoned or killed.

His life and work demonstrate the complex and fraught relationship between artists and political authority in a totalitarian society. Lev Akopian will guide us through his work, the Eliot Quartet will engage in his lecture by playing examples and the evening will end with a concert. 

About the speakers

Saskia Törnqvist is a musicologist, publicist, and teacher. She graduated in 1995 at the University of Amsterdam with a research into the Dutch reception of the work of Dmitri Shostakovich. In this programme, she will share her findings about the Dutch reception of his work.

Lev Akopyian is Doctor of Art Criticism. Born in 1953 in Yerevan, Armenia; graduated from Yerevan State University and Komitas Yerevan State Conservatory. Current positions: Head of the Music Theory Department at the Russian State Institute for Art Studies, edi­tor of the electronic peer-reviewed journal “Art of Music: Theory and History,” member of the editorial staff of the New Collected Works by Dmitry Shostakovich.

The Eliot Quartett was founded in 2014 and has become one of the most engaging and promising string quartets of the next generation. Hailing from Canada, Germany and Russia, the quartet’s members formed the group in Frankfurt am Main and have since gone on to win prizes at major national and international music competitions.


Maxim Osipov De Balie
Maxim OsipovWriter in exile
Lev AkopianDoctor of Art Criticism
The Eliot Quartett
Saskia TörnqvistMusicologist, publicist, teacher.
Sjeng ScheijenModerator
Image: Marit Breuker
The Eliot Quartett