When Dmitri met Walt Disney

I’m trying to reconstruct the conversation in my head, but it just won’t go.

I can see DSCH thinking, ‘What kind of Mickey Mouse stuff are they making me do?’

source: Dmitri Shostakovich: Pages of His Life in Photographs/Olga Dombrovskaya

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  • Eisenstein was a great admirer of Disney, and he had his films scored by… Prokofiev. So Dmitri is surely thinking “If only I could have written the music for ‘Alexander Nevsky’ and ‘Ivan the Terrible’!”.

    • Speaking of Prokofiev:
      When the homesick composer was in Denver during his 1938 U.S. tour, his hostess decided to cheer him up by taking him to the movies. He was entranced by Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” and became determined to meet “Mickey Mouse’s papa” (as Harlow Robinson quoted him in a book about Russians in Hollywood). Visiting Disney’s home, Prokofiev sat at the piano and played through “Peter and the Wolf.” Walt was delighted, and the seeds were planted for the 1946 full-length film. This is how Disney recalled the scene, according to Robinson: “I remember how his fingers flew over our battered old piano, how his face glistened with perspiration as he concentrated on the music. And all the time I could see pictures. I could see his lovely fantasy coming to life on the screen.”

  • ‘I really liked your Concerto for Orchestra, that Intermezzo is perfect cartoon music!’
    ‘It’s not my wo.., umm, yeah, good, thank you’

  • DSCH must have been introduced to all sorts of people he had no interest in. Michael Tilson Thomas as a teenager apparently played to him whilst the composer was on a US tour. I mean, what was the purpose of that, other than to say ‘I met Shos’ ?

  • Unless he was living under a rock (or in the Soviet Union), DS would have been thrilled to meet WD. I love the music of Shostakovich, but the creative vision of WD and his legacy is truly astounding.

  • Remember the fit Nikita Krushchev threw when he was prohibited from visiting Disneyland? His wife had wanted to visit what was called “the happiest place on earth.” Perhaps DS wanted to know what that was like as well.

    I found it fascinating to learn that Mischa Elman had tried very hard to commission a violin concerto from Shostakovich — imagine a third DS violin concerto tailored to the Elman tone!

    • I believe Elman corresponded with DSCH in 1940s, before the first violin concerto
      was composed. But mostly for political reasons (after all, the Zhdanov decree came in 1946), the composer couldn’t even contemplate working with a US soloist.

    • Beautiful fantasy, David….
      Having loved both Elman and Shostakovich since I first knew music, now I can’t get that fantasy out of my head!

  • DSCH: “Thank you, comrade, but I must now return to glorious people’s republic and compose music for cartoon red guard revolutionary mouse that summarily executes bourgeoise enemies of the people. The episode is called “Goofy in the Gulag.”

  • In the 1935 Walt Disney sent several cartoons, including “The Three Little Pigs” to the Moscow Film Festival which were very well-received and very influential to Soviet animation.

    I imagine Walt Disney would have been both a desirable and a safe Western celebrity for traveling Soviet artists to snare a visit with.

  • “If you make a second Fantasia you must include something from my fourth symphony. I am thinking of penguins…”

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