Challenging The Silence

The BBC's former Moscow correspondent, Martin Sixsmith, presents a series examining the relationship between artists and the authorities in Soviet era Russia between 1917 and the death of Stalin in 1953.



From the October Revolution of 1917 until after the death of Stalin in 1953, a poem, as Boris Pasternak observed, could 'explode with the force of a bomb'.

Martin Sixsmith reveals how writers and musicians who stayed in Russia - such as Pasternak, Anna Akhmatova, Osip Mandelstam and Dmitri Shostakovich - used their creative work to challenge the regime.

In the words of Shostakovich, 'art destroys silence'.

With contributions from Yevgeny Pasternak, Irina Shostakovich, DM Thomas, Elaine Feinstein and Simon Sebag Montefiore.


Millions fled Russia following the Bolshevik Revolution, including many artists, such as the poet Marina Tsvetaeva, not prepared to step on the throat of their own song.

Others like the composers Stravinsky and Prokofiev and the celebrated writer and Bolshevik 'fellow traveller' Maxim Gorky were almost professional emigres.

However, each in turn was tempted to return and how they were then treated is the story of this programme.

With Sviatoslav Prokofiev, Stephen Walsh, Gerard Mcburney, Simon Sebag Montefiore and Elaine Feinstein.

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Many poets and musicians loved - or tried to love - the revolution.

But even for them, relations with the regime were not easy.

Vladimir Mayakovsky, whose verses were the soundtrack of the revolution, took his own life, as did the peasant genius Sergei Yesenin.

Others did the regime's bidding.

As head of the Writers' Union, Aleksandr Fadeyev signed the death warrants of his colleagues.

And the head of the Composers' Union, Tikhon Khrennikov, publicly humiliated and repressed all Russia's finest composers - Prokofiev, Khachaturian and, above all, Shostakovich.

Khrennikov and Shostakovich's widow, Irina, share their accounts of the turbulent post-war years.