We have excerpted this sample from a longer paper that discusses both music and science. We reproduce here only the section on music.
The Russian Revolution of 1917 marked one of the greatest political changes in modern history. With Stalin's subsequent rise to power, the revolution marked the beginning of one of the most repressive and generally frightening episodes in modern history as well. During and after Stalin's era, all aspects of Soviet society, from education to manufacturing to the arts, were appropriated and mobilized to serve the Party--controlled state. Under this system, the ability of the Party to advance careers for adherence to Party ideology, independent of ability at one's profession, in some cases resulted in the corruption of entire disciplines. Among the most notorious examples of this were the subjugation of musical creativity, with its purges of Soviet composers, and the parallel rise of Lysenko to transform Soviet biology from a scientific discipline to a personality cult. The parallel corruption of the two fields was marked by purges of high--ranking figures, replacement of core principles with Party ideology, and, ultimately, the crippling of each discipline.
The initial goal of the Revolution was to create a workers' state in which the downtrodden, uneducated masses who formed the true backbone of the country's economy could take their place in power and share in the knowledge and benefits of society. As Paul Dukes states, "The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was the first major society to announce its creation according to a coherent ideology" (203). While there was to be no sudden and complete transfer of power to the proletariat as a whole, the process was well planned in theory and promised to bring the ideas of Marx to fruition. However, only a year after the official founding of the U.S.S. R. in 1922, attempts to impose on the populace a cooperative, collective economy had already turned disastrous. Industry was nationalized, government rationing replaced free trade, and compulsory labor in industry and agriculture was introduced (Dukes, 237). In the face of starvation and economic disasters accompanying this transition, the road to Paradise suddenly proved much more difficult than anticipated, and a partial return to capitalism seemed necessary (Dukes, 239). Lenin died in 1924, and in the resulting void of power Josef Stalin succeeded in using his position as General Secretary of the Party to seize complete control of the Soviet government. In the space of five years, he successfully eliminated all opposition and potential threats to his position (Dukes, 234--6). The period from Stalin's rise in 1929 to his death in 1953 was marked by the "cult of personality" surrounding him, in which he was effectively revered as a hero and father figure. A Soviet citizen's alternative to glorifying him was to be arrested and executed. The effect of this idolization was that Stalin's word was law, and no published work could contradict it or Party policy in general.
The new ideology of the Revolution, with its emphases on production for and education of the proletariat, quickly came to have a huge effect on the musical community. Lenin was of the opinion (borrowed from Marx) that the arts, as with every other aspect of society, could be treated essentially as commodities and should be pressed into the service of the Revolutionary ideals (Schwarz, 18). The new goals for the musical community, as dictated to Anatol Lunacharsky by Lenin, were to educate the "vast, untutored mass audience," to convince the leading figures of the "artistic intelligentsia" to accept this new social responsibility. Conversely, the community was to convince local political leaders to support the arts as on of the areas in which the Soviet people must be educated (Schwarz, 12).
While performing institutions with Lunacharsky's help fared no worse under these new guidelines than did any other societal institutions - which is to say, they were severely overworked and underfunded - the composers of the time quickly ran into trouble. Initially, under Lunacharsky's influence and the general theme of social experimentation, there had been a new renaissance in musical composition, as Russian composers such as Miaskovsky brought the experimental styles of the West into their own works. These composers formed the Association of Contemporary Music (ACM), dedicated to bringing modern music into Russia (Schwarz, 49) and aiding the careers of young, experimental composers such as Shostakovich (Schwarz, 53). However, with the revolutionary ideas fermenting at the time came a vastly different, ideologically--driven school of composition. This group, the Russian Association of Proletarian Musicians (RAPM), believed and stridently argued that music's goal in the new regime was to be completely proletarian, to be both understood and performed by the masses, and essentially represented the anti--intellectual view that would later pervade Soviet culture. Their stance, in practical terms, meant that only the mass song was considered ideologically acceptable (Schwarz, 54--6). Eventually, Lunacharsky was removed from power, and the ACM lost all support. RAPM quickly came to dominate, and music became a tool of revolutionary propaganda. The RAPM soon brought about its own downfall, however, as its rigid ideology split with that of the Party, and it was dissolved along with all other artistic unions in the 1932 collectivization of music (Schwarz, 60). This collectivization, while freeing composition from the statutes of the RAPM, caused problems in its own right in the enforced application of Party ideology. In the new workers' collective, society was of course run by popular consent, so there could be no dissent in the new state--run Composers' Union. In the absence of Lunacharsky, however, there was no clear guiding light to determine what the new Soviet face of music would be. Therefore, the conclusions, dictated by the official journal of the Composer's Union and required of the composers and musicologists of the time, were an odd melange of Party policy, new ideas, and ideas dating from the time of the Kuchka (Schwarz, 113).
In practice, while restrictions were now placed on what Soviet music could be, a fair amount of latitude could be taken in discussing theory and writing musical works. The ideologically proletarian composers could co--exist relatively peacefully with what "modernists" (primarily Shostakovich) remained after the battles with RAPM. This equilibrium lasted for only a few years until Stalin, now in near control of the U.S.S.R., began to exert his influence over the musical culture. Schwarz writes that while "Lenin was reluctant to be drawn into artistic controversies ... Stalin knew no such modesty" (122), and Stalin did not hesitate to express his thoughts on the state of Soviet music, especially opera. Stalin's control over music was established in 1936, when an official Party announcement entitled "Muddle instead of Music" was printed in Pravda, attacking Shostakovich, one of the few remaining "avant--garde" composers still in the country. The announcement established that refusal to go by State--dictated guidelines for proper composition could be fatal. "Proper," according to its text meant the use of "simplicity, realism, clarity of image, and the unaffected spoken word," and required that "all coarseness and savagery be abolished" (Seroff, 319--20). With this, Russian composers as a whole were forced to drop out of the avant--garde music scene of the West. The musical works written afterwards failed to attract attention outside the U.S.S.R., and as Soviet leaders came to realize the failure of the new Soviet music in the worldwide musical scene, they simply redefined their expected goals for music. Instead of directing Soviet music outward to proclaim the greatness of the nation to the world, it became an inwardly pointed tool of propaganda, intended to keep the Soviet people in a properly optimistic and patriotic frame of mind (Schwarz, 135).
The situation remained essentially static for over a decade, until an even more vicious attack was made by Andrei Zhdanov. Zhdanov came to power in 1934, replacing Sergei Kirov, a potential competitor to Stalin, as Party head of Leningrad. He quickly became one of the most feared officials of the Soviet government, being heavily involved in the purges of the 1930s (Dukes, 250). In the general destruction of the post--WWII years, Zhdanov essentially took control of the arts and used them to maintain the popular view of the Workers' Paradise, or at least to forbid alternate views. In 1948, he, perhaps at Stalin's urging, attacked Muradeli's opera The Great Friendship, and went on to criticize a laundry list of composers, including Shostakovich, Prokofiev, and Khachaturian for "formalist" tendencies (Scwarz, 214, 218--9). This triggered perhaps the lowest point in Soviet music. Composers, now in fear of the very real threat of arrest by Soviet authorities, quickly removed all complexity from their compositions, and those high on Zhdanov's lists found their works no longer performed. In effect, composers were forced to write music that ran to the rather simplistic tastes of Party officials. Dubinsky of the Borodin quartet describes the situation:Festivals of Russian music in the Soviet republics were meant to cover up the destruction in Soviet music caused by the Party and the government in 1948 ... Soviet composers, many with a Party card in their pocket, quickly responded to the Party's call to create 'masterpieces,' accessible to the people and reflecting their 'heroic feat of labor in the building of Communism.' From the concert stages onto the stupefied listener poured a flood of primitive and empty music, for which the government generously handed out Stalin prizes.(113)
Attacks on composers proved a reliable means of achieving power, with Tikhon Khrennikov proving the most adept and shameless in its use. After Pravda's 1936 strike at Shostakovich, he took the cue and made a point to be the first to assault Prokofiev, proclaiming that "at the time [when] we ... were striving to be the true Soviet composers, the true sons of our epoch, Prokofiev arrived with a declaration that Soviet music is provincial and that the only worthy contemporary Soviet composer was Shostakovich" (Seroff, 187). This tactic became a standard one in his repertoire, as he kept a keen sense of where Party favor did and did not lie and would change his opinions and statements with great facility to match them. After Zhdanov's 1948 announcement Khrennikov attacked composers from Shostakovich on back to Mosolov, and extended the attack to Stravinsky and essentially all the significant Western composers alive at the time (Schwarz, 225). As of 1986, Khrennikov was still in power and denying any serious conflict between himself and Shostakovich (Spiegelman, 55). ...
... In the ideologically--driven Soviet Russia, a correct match to social philosophy had become more important than traditional experimental justification. Ideology in music could be fairly flexible in the long term, though many composers, such as Nikolai Roslavets, who refused to adapt found themselves starving, without a forum for their music, and were ultimately, officially forgotten (Schwarz, 86). The great composers, however, could find a way to adapt and change the system from within. Shostakovich was forced to succumb to and accept the tenets of Socialist Realism, but in a way was vindicated, succeeding in forcing more and more modern innovations into the framework of Socialist Realism until the term lost its restrictive power (Schwarz, 577). Science, however, is not so flexible: a theory is either right or wrong, and there was no way to move smoothly from the ideologically correct theories of Lysenko to the factually correct theories of modern genetics. So, where the great Soviet composers survived, the great Soviet scientists did not, and modernization in biology required the support of people new to the scientific scene. Still, at the height of Stalinism the effects on the fields, whether altered or remade, were the same. Just as science, with its rational, experimentally--based system of checks and balances loses its value, music without freedom of expression is merely a shadow of its full potential. Neither has much value when its conclusions are predetermined.
Last Updated: 11/29/12