Galina Ustvolskaya Outside, Inside, and Beyond Music History

Simon A. Morrison

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Journal of Musicology 
Volume 36; Issue 1
Winter 2019
Simon Morrison

Even among devotees of her music, Galina Ustvolskaya is often reduced to an intersectional victim of gendered and political repression, a fearful casualty of the Soviet system. Her percussive scores, including the Sixth Piano Sonata, have earned Ustvolskaya the nickname “lady with the hammers.” This article reviews the literature about this composer alongside scores from the beginning, middle, and end of her career, asking: Should her life and work be considered from a less empathetic perspective in order to take greater account of her craft, and to avoid the gendered, cultural, and political furrows that would narrow our conception of her music? Instead of defining Ustvolskaya’s life and work against our own expectations, this essay questions our assumptions.

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