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Music and Soviet Power, 1917-1932

Music and Soviet Power, 1917-1932

Marina Frolova-Walker
Jonathan Walker
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 432
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  • Book Info
    Music and Soviet Power, 1917-1932
    Book Description:

    The October Revolution of 1917 tore the fabric of Russian musical life: institutions collapsed, and leading composers emigrated or fell into silence. But in 1932, at the outset of the 'socialist realist' period, a new Stalinist music culture was emerging. Between these two dates lies a turbulent period of change which this book charts year by year. It sheds light on the vicious power struggles and ideological wars, the birth of new aesthetic credos, and the gradual increase of Party and state control over music, in the opera houses, the concert halls, the workers' clubs, and on the streets. The book not only provides a detailed and nuanced depiction of the early Soviet musical landscape, but brings it to life by giving voice to the leading actors and commentators of the day. The vibrant public discourse on music is presented through a selection of press articles, reviews and manifestos, all supplied with ample commentary. These myriad sources offer a new context for our understanding of Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Myaskovsky, while also showing how Western music was received in the USSR. This, however, is only half the story. The other half emerges from the private dimension of this cultural upheaval, traced through the letters, diaries and memoirs left by composers and other major players in the music world. These materials address the beliefs, motivations and actions of the Russian musical intelligentsia during the painful period of their adjustment to the changing demands of the new state. While following the twists and turns of official policies on music, the authors also offer their own explanations for the outcomes. The book offers unprecedented access to primary sources that have been unavailable in English, or which lay unknown on archival shelves. ‘Music and Soviet Power’ offers cultural history told through documents - both colourful and representative - with an extensive commentary and annotation throughout. MARINA FROLOVA-WALKER is Reader in Music History at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge. JONATHAN WALKER, who has a PhD in Musicology, is a freelance writer, teacher and pianist.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-023-1
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-v)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vi-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xix)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xx-xx)
  5. Note on transliteration
    (pp. xx-xx)
  6. Chronology of Political and Musical Events
    (pp. xxi-xxviii)
  7. October 1917–1918 Out of Chaos
    (pp. 1-22)

    We shall begin with two stories of the October Revolution, as recalled by Russian musicians then at the peak of their careers. The first was provided by Fyodor Chaliapin, who was on stage as King Philip II in a performance of Don Carlos at the moment when a great thunderclap threw singers and audience alike into disarray. As all present later understood, this was the shot fired by the battleship Aurora, the designated signal for the insurrection to begin. Reliving the moment, Chaliapin reports:

    From the cathedral steps, I see that my people have lost their nerve. The third and...

  8. 1919 Depression and Fever
    (pp. 23-36)

    The Music Section of Narkompros (MUZO) continued in its attempts to organise the country’s disparate and chaotic musical activities, and to direct these towards the needs (as it perceived them) of the working classes. In June, to minimise the duplication and confusion that was rife among the many fledgling organisations, Lunacharsky approved a statute that pronounced MUZO to be the sole body responsible for managing and unifying musical activities across the Soviet Republic. The statute’s insistent language evinces a degree of desperation in the face of anarchy: ‘the resolutions of the Music Section are obligatory for all citizens, organisations and...

  9. 1920 Bureaucracy on the Rise
    (pp. 37-53)

    Musical life here is organised by anyone and everyone. There are no less than four main institutions: MUZO (the Music Section of Narkompros), MONO (the Moscow Department of People’s Education), Proletkult and the Academy Theatres. But to this we must add TEO (the Theatre Section of Narkompros), which is also in charge of music, and all the military institutions, all the clubs, and many others. […] A terrible hostility and competition can be noticed among them, and this is very much at odds with the goals of the Soviet power. We think that the overlaps could be forgiven, if it...

  10. 1921 Should I stay or should I go?
    (pp. 54-66)

    1921 was a pivotal year for the Russian intelligentsia. The most startling event was the death of the eminent poet, Alexander Blok, which came to be regarded within the intelligentsia as a symbol that cultural continuity was now a forlorn hope. Before Blok died, he had petitioned the government for permission to emigrate in order to undergo much-needed medical treatment abroad. The permission was granted, but too late to save him, and he died shortly afterwards, still in Moscow. A few weeks before his death, he left a poignant note in his diary, which saw flashes of beauty amidst the...

  11. 1922 Just Like the Old Days?
    (pp. 67-84)

    The introduction of NEP soon swept away the austerity of War Communism. Great quantities of food were suddenly made available in the shops and at the many private stalls, from staple items through to the most extravagant delicacies. There were queues even for items costing upwards of a million roubles. Those who could not hope to buy were glued to the windows. Luxury goods filled the displays at the newly opened department stores bearing fashionable acronyms: GUM and TsUM. The writer Kornei Chukovsky, walking the streets of central Moscow, observed that ‘everyone wore the same expression – happiness. Men are...

  12. 1923 The Birth of ASM and RAPM
    (pp. 85-99)

    Accounts of Soviet musical life in the 1920s generally select and locate events within the scheme of a conflict between two factions: namely, ASM (the Association for Contemporary Music) and RAPM (the Russian Association of Proletarian Musicians). We intend to show that many significant events fall outside such a scheme; but the conflict itself certainly deserves attention, and above all in our discussion of 1923, the year that saw the emergence of both groups. The moments of their births were, indeed, connected by a remarkable and symptomatic story that sheds much light on the power struggles of the NEP period,...

  13. 1924 ASM in the Ascendant
    (pp. 100-131)

    Lenin’s death in January 1924, among other things, led to a new element of Soviet culture that would remain in place until the collapse of the state in 1991. Although Lenin had become increasingly hostile towards Stalin in his final year, the latter became the chief promoter of a cult of personality that endlessly churned out Lenin imagery and slogans, like a magic porridge pot. While appeals to the future continued as before, Soviet citizens were also now expected to look back to Lenin, and measure everything by his example, or rather by that of the sentimental mythology that soon...

  14. 1925 Equilibrium
    (pp. 132-154)

    1925 saw both the main trends in Soviet musical life gather momentum, but for the moment, they moved in their own separate spheres without serious conflict, even if this was unavoidable in the long run. One of the two trends was the cosmopolitan opening of Soviet musical culture to new European works and ideas, entailing visits by foreign performers and composers, performances of new Western music, and exploratory trips abroad by members of the Soviet intelligentsia. Here, ASM came to the fore, and its leading members now became known to a wide public. The other trend was the establishment of...

  15. 1926 Guests from the West
    (pp. 155-178)

    In 1926, cultural relations with the Soviet Union were restored. Monteux’s visit had been a great success; Szigeti had visited twice, and returned full of enthusiasm. His wife asked me if I would be interested in going there, and I accepted with delight. There were so many contradictory accounts of the Soviet Union that I was fascinated by the prospect of forming my own opinion, and of being the first French composer to restore musical links between the two countries. Wanda then got in touch with the brother of the diplomat Krasin, who took care of the arrangements for my...

  16. 1927 Celebrations
    (pp. 179-196)

    ‘Allow me to greet you in the confidence that for the musical world of the RSFSR, this new year will begin under the sign of Prokofiev’ – such was the stilted flattery Prokofiev would read over breakfast as the time approached for his first return visit to Soviet Russia.¹ And when he finally arrived there, he received the warmest reception of his life so far, which his diary entries record as quite overwhelming. The more challenging pieces, like the Chout suite or the Quintet, were interspersed with lighter and more familiar fare, but the main attraction was the composer himself,...

  17. 1928 At the Crossroads
    (pp. 197-216)

    1928 was a year of great economic and political turbulence. Trotsky’s Opposition had already been destroyed and Trotsky himself expelled from the Party, but far from closing down the Party-wide debates the Oppositionists had demanded, these debates were simply shifted to the upper echelons of the Party. Now Stalin, in a striking about-turn, adopted a policy of rapid industrialisation, which had been the main plank of the Opposition (albeit with very different tactics), while Rykov and Bukharin now found themselves increasingly marginalised on the Party’s right wing for trying to sustain the same policies Stalin had so recently endorsed. But...

  18. 1929 Velikiy perelom – The Great Turning Point
    (pp. 217-260)

    In Soviet historiography, 1929 is known as the year of the Great Turning Point, but Soviet music histories rarely give the year any special mention because there were no significant Party resolutions that had a direct bearing on musical life. Nevertheless, musicians at the time certainly felt the change, as the following passage in a letter from Boris Asafyev to Alban Berg attests:

    Here, victory belongs to those taking music in a different direction – towards the music of the past and epigonism – and so neither I myself, nor the many other friends of Wozzeck will hear it again...

  19. 1930 RAPM’s Glorious Year?
    (pp. 261-283)

    It was the best of times (for RAPM), it was the worst of times (for all others). RAPM started the year by publishing a list of its campaigning successes, couched, as usual, in military terms.

    We have made decisive strikes on the reactionary group of musicians that dominated the most important musical institutions (the concert organisations, the Conservatoire and the opera houses). […] We destroyed a petit-bourgeois music organisation (ORKiMD) […] that was standing on an opportunist platform.¹

    They had also delivered a mortal blow against the NEPmen and their ‘light genre’ music: there was now a ban – so...

  20. 1931 RAPM’s Fortunes Turning
    (pp. 284-313)

    In the first half of the year, RAPM’s domination increased still further, and many of those who had tried to hold out for better times began to succumb. After surviving a purge at the Leningrad Conservatoire, which spared him but resulted in the sacking of his disciple Semyon Ginzburg, Asafyev took a decision:

    Without compunction, I resolve simply to deliver myself into the hands of RAPM, to work solely under their control and according to their instructions (if they accept this, of course). There is no other way out, and alone I won’t be able to reform myself, but one...

  21. 1932 The Rules Change
    (pp. 314-340)

    ‘How did it happen that the whole of RAPM was left standing alone, while everyone else turned to Comrade Stalin for protection?’¹ This was the question thrown at members of RAPM, who had been called to attend a special closed session of the Narkompros Collegium on 26 February 1932. What brought RAPM to this point was the so-called ‘Gnesin affair’, when a fight with Vseroskomdram peaked in an open and bitter confrontation with one man who would not retreat – the composer and Conservatoire professor Mikhail Gnesin. A man of strong views, Gnesin retained his independence and refrained from aligning...

  22. Key to Acronyms and Institutional Names
    (pp. 341-344)
  23. Glossary of Names
    (pp. 345-380)
  24. Bibliography
    (pp. 381-390)
  25. Index
    (pp. 391-404)
  26. Back Matter
    (pp. 405-405)