Kevin Bartig on Famous Russian Film Score

MSU musicologist invited to write book for Oxford Press general audience series.

Top: Prokofiev at work with Eisenstein. Bottom: Part of Prokofiev’s sketches for Alexander Nevsky.

Although Kevin Bartig grew up at the end of the Cold War, his fascination with Russia was never chilled by politics or perception.

Instead, Bartig was energized to pursue the study of Russian music, culture, and language, leading him to become a sought-after scholar in the field of twentieth-century Eastern European music.

In December, the associate professor of musicology at Michigan State University was invited by the Oxford University Press to participate in a book series that re-imagines canons of Western music for today’s general audiences. Bartig’s work will focus on the creation and influence of Sergei Prokofiev’s film score for Sergei Eisenstein’s 1939 film Alexander Nevsky.

“The invitation came as a complete surprise and is a great honor,” says Bartig. “It will be both challenging and exceptionally rewarding to write for a broader audience.”

The Oxford Keynote Series is slated to launch in 2016, and is designed to explore how works of music have engaged listeners, performers, artists, and others into the present day. The series will consist of short books and a companion website that enables readers to listen to author commentary and musical passages.

“Kevin Bartig is known as one of the world’s leading researchers and authorities on the music of Sergei Prokofiev,” says James Forger, dean of the College of Music. “Oxford’s selection does not come as a surprise to me. It confirms Bartig’s stature as one of the preeminent scholars in his field.”

Watch video below on YouTube, The Battle of the Ice, from Alexander Nevsky movie.

Bartig’s book will examine how Prokofiev worked with Eisenstein and within state-mandated doctrines to create a musical score that stands as one of the most influential and often performed pieces of Russian music. His book will also examine the musical qualities and characteristics of the composition that engaged audiences and led to its popular reception.

“Prokofiev’s score for Alexander Nevsky was a model for how to write for historical films, including those like Ben Hur and others made by American filmmakers in the ’50s and ’60s,” says Bartig. “You’ll also hear the influence in contemporary or dramatic movies like Jaws.”

Bartig’s book follows his 2013 book Composing for the Red Screen: Prokofiev and Soviet Film, also published by the Oxford University Press. His new work will be based  in part, on research conducted for his previous book, including archival sources accessed in Russian state archives by permission of the Prokofiev family.

“Working on Russian music and history is an interesting endeavor because so many of the primary sources available to historians were off-limits during the Cold War,” says Bartig. “There is still a lot of work to do that involves interpreting things that were not known before.”

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