Gabrielle Cornish is a PhD candidate in Musicology at the Eastman School of Music. Her research broadly considers music and everyday life in the Soviet Union. In particular, her dissertation traces the intersections between music, technology, and the politics of “socialist modernity” after Stalinism. Her research in Russia has been supported by the Fulbright Program, the Glenn Watkins Traveling Fellowship, and the Cohen-Tucker Dissertation Research Fellowship from the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies. For the 2019-2020 academic year, Gabrielle will be supported by a Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowship as well as an honorary Alvin H. Johnson AMS-50 Fellowship from the American Musicological Society.

Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in the Journal of Musicology, Sounding Out!Slate, and The Washington Post. She has appeared as a guest to discuss Russian history, culture, and politics on NBC Nightly News, BBC World Service Television, and BBC Radio Newsday. In her free time, she performs Russian-to-English translation, does freelance graphic design, and makes loud (and soft) noises on drums.


PhD in progress, Musicology, Eastman School of Music

MA, Musicology, Eastman School of Music

BA, Russian Studies and Music, University of Rochester

Blog Posts


    Sounding Socialist, Sounding Modern: Music, Technology, and Everyday Life in the Soviet Union, 1956-1975

    My dissertation examines the ways in which sound and music helped to shape the lived experience of late socialism. While scholars of sound studies have looked at the way communities interacted with sound in the twentieth century, they have largely focused on capitalist countries in Western Europe and North America. In contrast, musicological scholarship focusing on Eastern Europe has largely privileged composer- and work-centric narratives by looking at big names and compositional transformations, rather than ordinary people. As a result, the material, sonic, and consumer networks around late socialist music have thus far been overlooked. This absence of socialism from broader discussions of technology and post-war consumerism perpetuates myths of the Soviet Union’s isolation from global strains of modernity.

    “Sounding Socialist, Sounding Modern” intervenes in these discussions to argue that the Soviet government strategically deployed both sound and music as part of the nationwide mission toward “socialist modernity.” Sound and music, officials believed, was a foundational material in building socialism in two ways: first, it was an ideal medium through which to reinvigorate the utopian underpinnings of Marxist-Leninism; and second, it was instrumental in distinguishing Soviet socialism from Western capitalism. Amidst the backdrop changing networks of official and unofficial cultural dissemination and a rapid increase in massive modernizing projects, music and sound help us to recontextualize the changing relationship between the state and individual during and beyond the Thaw. Through archival research, musical analysis, historical sound studies, and oral history interviews, I augment existing work that considers the politics of socialist modernity as well as present a model for rethinking aesthetic modernism in the socialist context. In doing so, I reintroduce the Soviet Union into broader discourses of musical modernism, invention, and the “new” in twentieth-century music history.

    Upcoming Talks and Conferences

    “Soviet Power in Two Channels: Toward a Socialist Realist Sound Fidelity.” Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies Annual Convention, San Francisco, CA. November 23-26, 2019.

    “Synthesized Socialism: Soviet Modernity, Electronic Music, and the Politics of Timbre in the Early Cold War.” American Musicological Society Annual Meeting, Boston, MA. October 31-November 3, 2019.


    American Musicological Society

    Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies

    Gabrielle Cornish

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