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Hamlet and Shostakovich

Pushkin Club

Language: In English

A talk by Michelle Assay and David Fanning

‘Hamlet should have been a Russian not a Dane’, noted William Morris at the dawn of the 20th century. Many Russians, it seems, would agree. The 1964 screen version of Hamlet directed by Grigori Kozintsev is merely the best-known of a host of Russian adaptations (and indeed one of comparatively few Soviet films on any subject to have made a significant impact in the West). The film and its stirring score by Shostakovich have been widely studied and praised. What remains little appreciated, however, is the two centuries of Russian engagement with the play on which they rest. This talk gives an account of the journey of Russian adoptions and adaptations of Hamlet, from its arrival in the country in 1748 to Shostakovich’s various encounters with Shakespeare’s multi-faceted hero in his 1932 and 1954 theatre music, his late songs, and of course the 1964 film itself.


David Fanning is Professor of Music at the University of Manchester and has a varied career as scholar, pianist and critic. He studied in Manchester on the Joint Course run by the University and the Royal Northern College of Music and for 25 years was chamber-music partner of The Lindsays, the University’s quartet-in-residence, a role he has since continued with the Brussels-based Quatuor Danel.

Author and editor of books on Nielsen and Shostakovich, David Fanning’s ongoing research projects include a historical survey of the Symphony in the Soviet Union and completion of the late Per Skans’s life-and-works study of the Shostakovich disciple, Mieczysław Weinberg, both in collaboration with his wife, Michelle Assay. His 2010 book Mieczysław Weinberg: In Search of Freedom, is a concise ‘advance’ version of the Weinberg study. He is also active as critic for Gramophone and The Daily Telegraph, and as a BBC broadcaster and public speaker.

Michelle Assay was born in Tehran and studied in Kiev at the Tchaikovsky Academy, graduating with a masters degree in performance, musicology, pedagogy and criticism. After a year in Canada, working mainly as actress and piano teacher, she returned to Europe to work with Carine Gutlerner at the Erik Satie Conservatoire in Paris, where she recently obtained her DE (Diplôme d’Etat) and was laureate in the Concours international musical de France. Her multi-cultural background is reflected in the breadth of her taste and repertoire, and in her innovative approach to teaching.

Michelle Assay is currently studying at the Sorbonne, where she recently completed her Master 2 with a dissertation on Mieczysław Weinberg’s relationship with Shostakovich, and where she is now beginning doctoral study on the topic of Hamlet in Russian Music and Visual Arts. She is also collaborating with her husband, David Fanning on a biography of Weinberg and on a major survey of the Symphony in the Soviet Union.

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