During the last years of Stalin's life Russian film directors had to be careful (to put it mildly) in their choice of subject matter and the historical biopic was thought an uncontroversial and fairly safe topic for the times. Shostakovich contributed musical scores to three such films; Michurin (1948) based on the life of Ivan Michurin the soviet agronomist, or more accurately on his pupil Trofim Lysenko, Belinsky (1950) on the eponymous literary critic and the earlier Pirogov (1947) on the surgeon Nikolai Pirogov.
Pirogov, directed by Grigori Kozintsev for Lenfilm and with scenario by Yuri German is, unsurprisingly given the constraints of the time, no masterpiece and its main interest now lies in its music. In common with Belinsky also directed by Kozintsev the score is generally low-key or non-existent through the film and only on two or three occasions rises to prominence in the proceedings. Those hoping for new musical experiences outside of the suite later assembled by Lev Atovmyan (Citadel CTD 88135 Belarus RTV Symphony Orchestra, Walter Mnatsakanov 1999) are likely to be disappointed, indeed the suite expands many of the musical cues finally included in the film.
For a more detailed discussion on this and other films with music by Shostakovich see Dmitri Shostakovich: A Life in Film, written by John Riley and published by I. B. Tauris, London and New York in the series Kinofiles Film Companion, 2004.
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