Thursday, July 20, 2006

Stalin's Music

Martin Sixsmith writes about music in the Soviet Union:

The purges of the 1920s and 30s had destroyed the writers: Mandelstam, Babel, Yesenin, Mayakovsky, Tsvetaeva, Gumilyov and many others were dead, executed or by their own hand. Then, in 1948, Stalin turned to the composers. The Great Leader and Teacher had heard an opera that displeased him. His anger spread to all avant-garde music, to all music that didn't fit his own taste for old-fashioned, accessible melodies, easily understood by the people, upbeat and celebrating the superiority of all things Soviet. Stalin ordered his commissars to impose socialist realism in music, and to weed out those who had other ideas. The Central Committee drew up a decree condemning composers of music that was "inimical to the people" and "formalist".

They handed the task of wiping out formalism to the head of the soviet composers union, Tikhon Khrennikov. At the first congress of the union of composers from April 19-25 1948, Khrennikov listed those who were in the firing line: the "elitist, anti-socialist" Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Khachaturian, Miaskovsky and others ... "In the music of Comrade Shostakovich we find all sorts of things alien to realistic Soviet art, such as tenseness, neuroticism, escapism and repulsive pathology. In the work of Comrade Prokofiev ... natural emotion and melody has been replaced by grunting and scraping."

Khrennikov reported that people "all over the USSR" had "voted unanimously" to condemn the so-called formalists and let it be known that those named in the decree were now officially regarded as little better than traitors: "Enough of these pseudo-philosophic symphonies! Armed with clear party directives, we will stop all manifestations of formalism and decadence."
In terms of style of music criticism, Tikhon Khrennikov would feel right at home in a discussion with Stephen and Derek.


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