Discourses in Music: Volume 4 Number 3 (Summer 2003)

Symphonic Marxism: Sovietizing Pre-Revolutionary Russian Music Under Stalin

By Jiri Smrz

During the Stalinist period one of the main goals of Soviet musicology became the rehabilitation of the pre-1917 heritage of Russian music. The theory and practice of socialist realism needed some grounding in the previous history of Russian music, so that critical standards could be established. Three generations of Russian creativity were claimed for Soviet music under the label of the "national realistic school" - that of the founders (Glinka, Dargomyzhsky, Serov); that of the masters who brought the national tendency to its fullest flowering (Chaikovsky on one hand, the members of the Mighty Handful - Balakirev, Borodin, Musorgsky, Cui and Rimsky-Korsakov - on the other), and that of the upholders of the school against modernist decadence (Taneev, Glazunov, Rachmaninov). The older members of the academic compositional (Miaskovsky, Glière) and musicological (Asafiev, Andrei Rimsky-Korsakov) establishment, restored to positions of authority after 1932, belonged themselves to the third generation, and provided an organic link to the late Romantic nationalist tradition, which became an integral part of socialist realist culture. Richard Taruskin, who came to the Soviet Union during the Brezhnev period, remembers that by that time "a Soviet researcher devoted to such a topic was assumed to be either unimaginative or old-guard, which is to say Stalinist."1

Soviet musicology of the Stalin era found in this heritage an art that was both national and popular. By the 1930s this music had demonstrated its staying power, its hold on the imaginations of its audiences. The Soviet state saw art above all as an educational tool, as an instrument to mould the consciousness of the individual Soviet citizen. This utilitarian approach formed the foundation of the aesthetic of socialist realism, and indeed continued aesthetic trends present in Russian culture (including musical culture) from the mid-nineteenth century. Consequently, the creative practice of the national school also became a model for Soviet composers. It was the job of the musicologists to analyse the creative methods of the composers of the past, in order to establish their membership in the realistic school, and in order to present model compositional procedures to Soviet musical creators. Soviet musicologists, applying at least the rudimentary tenets of the methodology of historical materialism, developed an entire family of signifiers of musical realism. For them realistic composers write music that is above all concrete, grounded in the nation. They seek to communicate to a wide audience by drawing on the resources of popular melody. At the same time, in order to be coherent, and to avoid superficial imitation of folk and popular music, they utilize the flexible forms of European art music. The presence of popular intonations,2 for its part, democratizes these forms, and helps the composer to avoid abstract formalism. As many of these forms are based on juxtaposing heterogeneous materials, composers can use them to express the dialectical nature of the reality that they exist in, and indeed the dialectical tensions within their own psyches (shaped, just like those of the individual members of their audience, by this dialectical reality). Because of the close connection between the composer's consciousness and his art, assessing that very consciousness becomes a part of the critical endeavour. False consciousness creates false art. Since it is the function of art to educate, it follows that such false art must be identified, so that it can be properly condemned.

The Soviet state funded the publications of scholarly editions of the works by the national classics, and of primary documents relating to them. The presence of leading Soviet composers on editorial boards of these ventures, side by side with the musicologists who were (partially by analyzing the works of these great figures from the past) setting out the parameters for their creative endeavours, underlines the canonizing nature of these publishing activities. All of these publications were furnished with extensive prefaces and commentaries, which were designed to establish the realistic credentials of respective pre-revolutionary composers. Contextualization emerges as a key appropriation strategy for this sort of material.

It is in the editions of primary documents, adorned pages of editorial intervention, that the art of Sovietizing the classics reaches its apogee. The voice of the composer is rarely allowed to speak without the accompaniment of the editor. After all melody cannot make a powerful impact without appropriate harmonies. Introducing his critical edition of Glinka's Notes as a part of that composer's "literary heritage," Valerian Bogdanov-Berezovsky lays claim both to the text itself and to its meaning. He argues that the previous editions (both Russian and Soviet) have misrepresented the document, since Glinka's writing is so laconic that even small changes can give substantially different readings of some passages. In the present edition, not only is the authentic text being established, but the entire Notes are being presented within the context of Glinka's other writings, which often supplement statements therein. Bogdanov then moves on to argue with earlier editors up to and including Andrei Rimsky-Korsakov in 1930. He commends the latter's philological work, but criticizes him severely for constructing Glinka as an apolitical and instinctual composer, and also as a creator who went into premature decline. Bogdanov finds that offensive, and in contradiction to all the "facts established by Soviet musicological science" and overturned by akademik Asafiev's authoritative 1947 study of the composer (rewarded with the Stalin prize).3 The interesting implication here is that faulty commentaries can invalidate an otherwise acceptable edition. Bogdanov's attack also suggests the distance travelled by Soviet approach to the classics in twenty years.

Bogdanov gives user-friendly hints about how to read the Notes. He points out that the throwaway phrase "in my youth I've worked on Russian themes," easily overlooked by a casual reader, provides a key to the creative biography of the composer by suggesting that his mature output had a "wide intonational base" in his earlier efforts; in other words, that he wrote national music from the start. "Such is the style and character of Glinka's Notes," remarks Bogdanov. Consequently, it is crucial to "penetrate the text thoughtfully," and to listen actively to "the intonation of Glinka's talk about himself." Accordingly, Bogdanov emphasizes the "sharply satirical" tone of Glinka's descriptions of his dealings with Nicholas I's officialdom. There are also traces of animosity in some of these encounters, which Bogdanov offers as evidence that Glinka offended by turning towards the music of the people, and by refusing to be co-opted into the culture of official nationalism.4 In the best Russian tradition, Bogdanov here attempts to make the case that Glinka is engaging in Aesopian discourse, in order to endow the composer with impeccable progressive credentials.

Aside from his political stance (and very much above it), the ultimate marker of the progressivism of a pre-revolutionary Russian composer (a necessary condition for his admission into the Soviet pantheon) is his creative method. The Soviet musicologist's main task in claiming a composer from the imperial past is to establish that the latter belongs to the "national realistic school." Perhaps the most pragmatic aspect of the realistic composition method is to be concerned, in the truest mid-nineteenth century manner, with providing the correct "couleur locale." Introducing his critical edition of Chaikovsky's Queen of Spades, Anatoli Dmitriev points out the research that the composer felt compelled to carry out into the "intonations of the period depicted," looking through collections of Russian and French romances of the late eighteenth century. The anachronism of using a Grétry aria posterior to the times of the Countess' youth passes unmentioned. Dmitriev makes sure to emphasize the sense of identification that Chaikovsky feels with this material. "Sometimes it seemed to me," confides the composer to his diary after putting the finishing touches on the pastoral intermezzo, "that I lived in the eighteenth century, and that there was nothing after Mozart."5 By doing this, Dmitriev hints that in order to write communicative music, the composer has to suspend his own disbelief, as much as his audience does. Realism and reality can quite easily become confounded.

Chaikovsky's enchantment with all manner of utilitarian music counts heavily in his favour. The editor of his critical essays, V.V. Yakovlev, praises him for his positive attitude regarding "progressive" "democratic" domestic urban music making, with due caveats about bad taste.6 By the same token, Mikhail Pekelis claims that the influence of salon vocal music gives Dargomyzhsky's piano pieces "organic and national character."7 The rich Russian tradition of middle class domestic music making is thus claimed as both national and popular, and consequently as the stuff of realistic musical art.

Aside from the intonations of society music, a composer can also ground his work in reality by turning to folk music. Folk intonations give concreteness to art music by rooting it in the national soil. And as they emanate from the people, they also endow the language of art music with simplicity and accessibility, which in turn assures universal communicativeness and validity, cutting across time and space. Commenting on the correspondence between Chaikovsky and Taneev on this subject, Yuri Shaporin, an important composer himself, points out that the latter sees the unbreakable tie of Russian composers to the creativity of the Russian people as the key to the success of the national school both home and abroad. Indeed, according to Shaporin Taneev asserts that an intimate knowledge of folk song is essential to forming a creative consciousness. As Taneev puts it in one of the letters: you have to speak the language of your people in your music. Shaporin exhorts contemporary Soviet composers to listen carefully to the "living national speech": "without catching its new intonations, we cannot properly express all the richness of our present."8 By extrapolating this from Taneev's pronouncements on folk songs, Shaporin hints strongly that the creativity of the people is subject to development too, that investigating it does not simply amount to an exercise in musical archaeology, which ties well into the commendation of the use of intonations of urban popular music. The key connection here is between the national and the popular.

Dmitriev, editing Rimsky-Korsakov's Christmas Eve, demonstrates exactly how that composer strives to speak the popular language (if not exactly of "his" people), by devising Ukrainian "colouring" for the opera. First, Rimsky combs through a collection of actual folk songs, writing out a great number of popular tunes, in addition to jotting some down from memory. Often, he will not take down the whole song, but only its "characteristic melodic turns or lively rhythmic pattern, which could provide material for music of this or that representation, scenic situation etc." Moreover, he writes down numerous ideas of his own, developing the intonations of these songs.9 Dmitriev highlights the fact that Rimsky is not really using the folk material intact, but permeates his entire composition with it, moving in this way beyond mere descriptiveness or decorativeness.10

Similarly, Pekelis, preparing for publication Dargomyzhsky's song output, praises that master for always going after the real thing when using folklore. Even when working within the clichéd genre of "oriental air," "so prone to idealization and beautification," Dargomyzhsky will employ "realistically and concretely the stylistic features of eastern song; its diatonic melos, free of ornamentation." He even goes as far as using parallel major/minor keys - quite a daring thing in the 1840s.11 For Pekelis then, authenticity is a marker of realism too, providing the aesthetic with an empirical underpinning. But folkloric empiricism is only the most basic level of authenticity. After all, a realistic composer is above all concerned with developing a living musical speech. Accordingly, Dargomyzhsky's uncanny feel for the authentic extends further. Discussing his piano fantasy on themes from Glinka's A Life for the Tsar, Pekelis admires Dargomyzhsky's ability to "recreate in a deeply personal manner" the "national-stylistic" gestures utilized by his older colleague. Glinka is inspired by the broad melodic development of Russian folk song. Dargomyzhsky seizes on this "significant national-stylistic characteristic" by privileging this melodic material and developing it further. It follows that Glinka's concentration on melody leads him to have recourse to a wide variety of contrapuntal techniques. Dargomyzhsky follows him on that point too, layering Glinka's melodies in the most ingenuous fashion.12 Much like the music of Dmitriev's Rimsky, that of Pekelis' Glinka is seeped in elements typical of folklore; emphasis on melodiousness being one of the distinctive features of this style. The force of his compositional method is such that it attracts Pekelis' Dargomyzhsky to an extraordinary degree of creative identification. Here then we have another layer of authenticity - one centring like Chaikovsky's immersion in eighteenth century music on personal response; on living, virtual realistic reality. Or to revert to Soviet terminology, the composer is "being true to life in an unmediated way."13

N.N. Zagornyi, prefacing his complete edition of Glinka's piano music, gives us an insight into the interaction between the empirically "found" material and the composer's imagination. He too notes approvingly Glinka's partiality to counterpoint, and, much like Pekelis, insists on the national origin of that contrapuntal technique. According to him, the tissue of Glinka's music is thoroughly impregnated with the intonations of Russian popular tunes and of "democratic" salon music, which shows just how deep his process of appropriating "the national song-culture" is. Glinka then marries this intonational underpinning to the counterpoint-oriented German compositional technique that he absorbed in Berlin under Dehn's tutelage. And - most importantly - he explores thoroughly the expressive potential of this fusion by engaging in what Zagornyi elegantly calls "contrapuntal dramaturgy." For example, in Capriccio on Russian Themes (a sort of preliminary study for Kamarinskaya), Glinka explores the potential for spinning a "symphonic-developmental" form out of a peasant tune by "humanizing" his counterpoint. This he does, according to Zagornyi's ingenuous description, by creating a fugato in which he allows each of the voices exposing its single subject to "intone in its own way," with each voice coming in "as a character, not as a formal construction element." Ultimately, Glinka adapts the "living sound of the folksong" (since folk music is unmediated expression), its "real intonation."14 Zagornyi performs a very Russian dialectical synthesis. In this analysis the national element goes hand in hand with imported compositional technique. He puts a high value on Glinka's mastery of his craft, while being at considerable pain to highlight the expressive potential of such technical command. That expressivity comes from the concreteness of Glinka's creative strategies. Through individualizing the separate components of his piece, he humanizes abstract compositional processes - makes them "real" and therefore "realistic." Here is an example of formal mastery that most emphatically is not formalistic. There is another dimension to the activist marriage of the living music of the people with the abstract, international music of the concert room. As Bogdanov-Berezovsky reminds us, Glinka said that "the people make music, we just arrange it." That, the musicologist insists, confirms the "popular democratic axis of [the composer's] worldview." Indeed, this "worldview" is a part of Glinka's "creative method," distancing him from any striving for self-serving effects. This "village-maiden"-like reticence and moderation invests his music with its authenticity. But, he is no archaist, no primitive. Holding in highest esteem the classical heritage of Western music, he seeks to unite sophisticated form with folk content - or as he himself writes, "to tie together western fugue with the habits of our music."15 Bogdanov-Berezovsky makes it clear that writing popular music does not equal writing primitive music. In this invocation of the essential role of the classical component of the realistic diad, the debates from the 1920s over proletarian art still echo, the argument with those who sought to annihilate academic art as irrelevant to the new proletarian society resound. And so no doubt does a warning against "decadent" primitivism of a bourgeois artist in search of the exotic, like Stravinsky. The authority of the "classical heritage of Western music" provides a protective blanket against both extremes. It is by having one foot in each camp - the immediately expressive folk tradition and the form-giving classical heritage - that a composer can aspire to genuine mass appeal. That is what writing democratic music is about.

A realistic composer not only draws upon the people's creativity to make his musical images concrete, he also acts as their bard, giving expression to their aspirations. Addressing contemporary concerns is ultimately yet another way of making the abstract concrete (or of giving it a realistic dimension). Vasili Kiselev defends Taneev's choice of a remote antique subject for his opera Orestea by arguing that he chooses it to address moral dilemmas of his time and does so in the musical language of the national classics.16 Contemporary relevance is also something that (much like the mastery of western forms) tempers any danger of giving in to atavism when dealing with folk material. As Dmitri Kabalevsky writes in a preface to a collection of Rimsky-Korsakov documents, right after praising the older artist's "high professional mastery," his multifarious operatic output, while reflecting the multiplicity of popular creativity, always addresses contemporary issues.17 Traditionalism and contemporariness stand in a dialectical relationship in realistic art.

But then reality in the historical materialist view is dialectical, a result of historical processes. Yuri Keldysh discusses how Musorgsky in his Boris Godunov transforms this fact into art, by building the drama around the juxtaposition of tsarist authority versus the will of the people, absent in Pushkin's original play. The two crowd scenes in the 1869 score (the superiority of which to the 1874 reworking Keldysh is trying to establish) develop this conflict. In the prologue, the crowd engages in nothing more than vague ramblings; in the St. Basil scene the simpleton, who in confronting the tsar acts as their spokesman, shows them off as a more conscious mass. Yet the tension between the ruler and the ruled is actually concentrated in Boris' psychology, for example in his monologue set against the mechanical coronation ritual. His tragedy is that he is unable to "resolve the contradictions in his situation," and it is by being a part of these contradictions that the people become an active element in the opera. That is why the Kromy scene that Musorgsky added in 1874, and where the crowd engages in revolutionary violence, feels like an inorganic appendix to Boris Godunov, and more a harbinger of the composer's treatment of popular masses in his next work, Khovanshchina. The crux of Musorgsky's dramaturgy in Boris, then, is to provide an analysis of the tsar's psyche. He moves away from Pushkin's tragic pageant. His Godunov reaches "hyperbolic dimensions"; the historical moment becomes concentrated in him. This case study approach proves to Keldysh that Musorgsky is an empiricist, and demonstrates the concreteness of his psychologism. But since Musorgsky is an artist, and consequently strives for the universal, he is able to inform Boris' psychic pathology with symbolic meaning. Throughout the opera, he creates psychological drama by exploring the tension between two musical ideas - one associated with the tsar's official ruler image, the other with Boris the murderer. It is the former motive that eventually gains the upper hand in the death scene, hinting at redemption from sin, and so making the tsar's demise into a wider representation of the tragedy of human existence.18 Keldysh shows us that dialectics can be personalized, that by focussing on the psychological make up of an individual, an artist can explore larger realities. A work of art can concentrate on the inner life of an individual without compromising its realistic concreteness, or narrowing its message unduly. Once again the point is brought home that by no means is the realistic method exhausted by engaging in mere descriptiveness.

Focussing on the inner life of a "living person" has another consequence for a work of art. By humanizing it, it makes it more expressive and therefore more communicative. Truly popular art - and popularity is the deeper meaning of realism - seeks to speak "from heart to heart." In Pekelis' eyes, it is this psychological expressivity that gives special power to Dargomyzhsky's art. He insists that in his mature period from the 1840s on the composer in his songs develops a new, non-lyrical melodic style out of expressive intonations discovered while declaiming the text. Through such "speech melody," he is able to capture "the conflicts of life in all concreteness" in the tough emotional worlds of his genre scene songs.19 Note how neatly Pekelis brings together the key characteristics of realistic art: specificity-inducing empiricism (study of speech inflexions), accessibility (Dargomyzhsky's declamatory style remains melodic) and dialectic dynamism, and how Dargomyzhsky's powerful expressivity is another way how to move beyond mere descriptiveness, another way to sublimate empiricism.

Indeed, the dialectical dynamism inherent in any multifaceted portrayal of a human individual is something that distinguishes a genuine realistic art from static naturalism. Keldysh criticizes the one-dimensional nature of some of Musorgsky's earlier songs, such as "The Seminarian." He finds them mosaic-like and fragmentary, since they merely translate assorted schematized psychological states into literal-minded sound gestures. A song like "Gopak" offers a way out of the impasse, since in it the composer creates specifically musical images out of speech intonations (instead of trying merely to imitate them). Throughout he actually develops a handful of characteristic rhythmic and harmonic turns, and brings the singer's line into a close relationship with the accompaniment by using changes in piano texture to underline changes of vocal intonation and changing images in the text. The mounting excitement of the dance "plays both an external-descriptive and psychological-expressive role."20 We are right back into the polemic against proletarian culture, and we can see why this emphasis on the internal, psychologically probing dimension of musical realism remains so important - it is both a form-creating and form-confirming element. Psychological dynamism gives a piece of music a sense of direction, at the same time as it makes the form communicative.

Pekelis discusses how the psychological expressivity transcends even "the neutral components of musical orthography." Whenever Dargomyzhsky uses ligature, he entrusts them with a meaningful function. For example, portamento markings in his vocal parts "add intonations of a specific emotional, psychological shading."21 Arguing that re-establishing all the details of Glinka's notation is the crucial task of the critical edition of his piano works, Zagornyi makes the same point. According to him, Glinka's notation is always "intonational," a complex transcription of music in its "live sound." Consequently, he points out, one must make a strict distinction between ligature put in as phrasing suggestions, and those that refer to articulation. Glinka often puts a tie at the end of a bar which goes over a pause mark, in this way hinting at an intonational bridge between the last "tone" before the pause and the first note following it.22 For Zagornyi the piano music editor, then, no component of music is abstract. Putting music down on paper is ultimately a process of attempting to capture, with as much exactitude as possible, the living multiplicity of human feelings. Even purely instrumental music presents a psychological drama.

This psychological realism becomes something quintessentially Russian. Evgeni Makarov, the editor of Chaikovsky's Manfred symphony, shows that the composer expands Balakirev's original outline for the programmatic symphony by adding references to Faust and Hamlet. This, according to Makarov, shows that Chaikovsky seeks to broaden the impact of Byron's figure by focussing on the "fundamental questions of existence." Makarov offers this as evidence that Chaikovsky remains a deeply Russian composer even when dealing with a foreign subject.23

Turning realistic art into a marker of national identity is not without its political consequences. Assessing Cui's contribution in his role as a critic, Izrail Gusin writes that the fight for "realistic, ideologically weighty, popular and national art" is an integral part of the growth of the Russian democratic culture of the second half of the nineteenth century. Despite his numerous errors in judgement, Cui supports the progressive principles of the new Russian school: juxtaposing realism to romanticism, materialism to idealism, ideological relevance to hedonism, patriotism to cosmopolitism. In this way Cui defends and elaborates the progressive musico-aesthetic programme of the New Russian School nourished by the idea of realism, by unshakeable love for the Motherland and faith in the might of the Russian people. This democratism confirms the "leading role" of Russian music in the "historical development" of art in nineteenth century Europe.24 The Stalinist concepts that Gusin uses are rather striking. His Cui is confirming the role of Russia as the vanguard of human development. In this grand framework, the progressive, the democratic and the popular become automatically the national and reconfirm the validity of the national. National identity becomes the repository of universal attributes in an imperatively imperialist manner. After all, we are now in the post-World War Two period, and Soviet culture of socialist realism is being exported assiduously. In the wake of Andrei Zhdanov's famous 1948 call to aesthetic arms, Bogdanov-Berezovsky emphasizes how important it is to uphold the values of "universal musical culture" by promoting the heritage of the father of Russian music.

M. I. Glinka, who was acknowledged by the "genius-leader of the Soviet people and of the workers of the entire world" I. V. Stalin to be among the best representatives of "the great Russian natio [sic]."25 The Leader used this remarkable expression in a speech to the Central Committee of his party during the time of greatest national danger in November 1941. The leading Soviet musicologist repeats it seven years after the victory over the invaders. His stunning identification of the two father figures reveals the patriarchal underpinning of the rehabilitation of the past heritage of Russian culture. Glinka becomes as much a figure of paternalistic authority as Stalin. A life for the tsar indeed.

Of course, if the notion of realistic art is to be used as a critical tool, the realistic classics themselves cannot stand entirely above critique. Keldysh notes that Musorgsky's "artistic intentions" for his sprawling operatic fragment Khovanshchina are full of contradictions. These contradictions in the composer's creative outlook, he argues, are the result of "objective contradictions of his social-class nature." He is a declassé member of minor nobility, limited by the worldview of the "educated classes" (as Chernyshevsky called them). The result is that he often lets his tendency toward ardent social protest (conditioned by the "democratic" spirit of the 1860s) degenerate into spontaneous rebelliousness. Even in the 1860s, as his songs from that time demonstrate, Musorgsky, not being entirely conscious of the class-conditioned nature of his society, often takes an "unclear neutral-humanistic stance" towards the characters represented by him. This leads him often to one-dimensional descriptiveness or naturalism, which in turn leads to formal incoherence, described by Keldysh above.26 In the 1870s, the pessimistic climate of the time helps to move Musorgsky away from "citizen ideals" to lyricizing subjectivism, that can result in a descent into conventional forms and formulaic expressivity, as evidenced by his romances to A.K. Tolstoy's texts.27 Keldysh performs for us a classic exercise in historical materialist music criticism. The flaws in the composer's consciousness translate themselves directly into flaws in his work. This proposition presents the creative process as a chain of dynamic, dialectical interactions: between the composer's psyche and his social environment, between the composer's psyche and the aesthetic object that he is creating, between the content and the form of that object. Flawed form reveals an incompletely grasped content. If an artist is to be an engineer of the human soul, he must be fully conscious himself. It is this degree of consciousness that in music, like in all other spheres of human activity in Soviet Russia, becomes the ultimate yardstick for evaluating the social worth of an individual and that of whatever he or she produces. And of course this qualitative exercise uses the quantifying language of social science ("objective contradictions" of Musorgsky's class identity etc.).

While Keldysh's programmatic (in the context of the fight against the naturalistic aesthetics of the proletarian art) criticism of Musorgsky is particularly sharp, assessing the consciousness of the national classics forms an integral part of the process of appropriating them for Soviet culture, and therefore of Soviet musicological research. An analysis of consciousness is particularly valuable when dealing with figures whose cultural-political development render them "problematic" for Soviet musicology. Taneev, with his leanings towards academism, presents one such case. Vasili Kiselev acknowledges that while the Moscow master's world view has limitations which do not allow him to absorb all the most progressive intellectual and artistic trends of his time, he stands close enough to realistic aesthetic principles never to cease striving towards the ethically elevated and to communicate this quest with profundity. As an example he cites the cantata John of Damascus. Despite the retrograde use of ecclesiastical intonations, Taneev has a recourse to "Russian song lyricism." This lyricism pervades the first part of the work. The main themes from this opening section return (in a satisfyingly dialectical manner, one may add) in the finale. According to Kiselev, this reaffirmation of folkloristic elements confirms the realistic character of the cantata.28 The realistic principles of nationality and popularity here act as checks on the limitations of a composer's consciousness.

Izrail Gusin's examination of Cui's consciousness takes us to an even more interesting area. He insists that one of Cui's "gross errors" as a critic is not to have recognized the "vast talent" of his great contemporary Chaikovsky, whose polished professionalism he mocks, calling him a musical "tradesman." Gusin counters that Cui's own catalogue of compositions provides the best example of how deficiencies in musical technique can limit the scope of a composer's output. Similarly, Cui criticizes Rimsky-Korsakov and Glazunov for being more concerned with technique than with content. According to Gusin, Cui is justified in emphasizing the "leading role" of content (and as a composer does exhibit a "realistic musical gift"), but he undervalues consistently (both in theory and in practice) the importance of "professional mastery." That is why, despite his ability to give them a "marked national colouring," his works have not stood the test of time. Gusin links Cui's savaging of the three masters of musical form with his consciousness of his own weakness on this count, and offers it as evidence of just how far Cui was from their "sovereign" abilities to make their technique work in unity with their ideological ends.29 The most remarkable thing about Gusin's discussion of Cui's shortcomings is the implication that Cui's deficient technique fosters false consciousness in his responses to other composers' music, and in consequence in his ideas about music in general - and that this same false consciousness regarding technique in his compositional praxis invalidates the better part of his musical output (so his advance of the cause of the national music in his capacity as a critic remains his main claim to "classic" status).

We have to turn to Boris Asafiev, the official musicologist of the Stalin era, a prolific composer and a link all the way back to the 1860s through his contacts with Stasov at the beginning of the twentieth century, to probe the link between a composer's consciousness and his professional skills at depth. Not surprisingly, his case study is the correspondence between Chaikovsky and his publisher, Pyotr Jurgenson. Asafiev sets up the dialectics of the relationship by contrasting the composer; always in financial need and "exploited and possibly blackmailed" by other people; with the publisher; not quite an exploiter in the "time-honoured high-culture tradition" of the West, but a paternalistic caretaker in the Moscow merchant tradition. Asafiev's Chaikovsky is fighting for his right not to "serve," but to "live only through creative work," but realizes that without the tsarist bureaucracy and his semi-capitalist publisher he is nothing, that "his music, his work is not his property." In consequence, this modest business correspondence becomes "a terrible drama of the life of a major Russian musician, endowed with a feeling soul." In such a context, Chaikovsky's 1877 marriage becomes for Asafiev a disastrous attempt by the composer to conform to his surroundings, and the subsequent flight from Moscow a flight from the ways that the social and economic structure of tsarist Russia oppresses his creativity, even if the insufficiently conscious, "naive monarchist" Chaikovsky does not quite realize this. Through a dark struggle, he eventually finds his way out of the impasse of such spontaneous rebelliousness: he turns himself into a free-lance musical professional. The grounds for this consciousness-moulding realization are laid during the times of his study at the Moscow conservatory. Indeed, by systematizing the Russian musical education in the previous decade (the 1860s), the brothers Rubinstein make a crucial step in fostering musical professionalism in Russia. Hand in hand with this goes the contemporaneous creation of organizations like the Russian Musical Society, making music more accessible by putting on public concerts. By becoming the "first independent professional Russian composer," Chaikovsky paves the way for a flowering in Russian musical culture that transforms the "psychology" of Russian musicians. The aristocratic dilettante à la Glinka gives way to the "master-craftsman." This transformation of Chaikovsky's awareness of his position in society is paralleled by the development of his compositional practice. Asafiev argues that he appropriates the symphonic tradition of central European classicism and romanticism of Beethoven and Schumann, and combines it with the heritage of the great Russian realist classic, Glinka. Moreover, to give his symphonism a wider appeal he synthesizes the penetrating psychologism of these two traditions with the descriptive-programmatic style of Berlioz and Liszt, and gives full reign to his gift for dramatic melody and lyricism of the Mozart-Donizetti-Verdi type. This dynamic stylistic synthesis, continues Asafiev, reflects and is reflected in the tensions within Chaikovsky's psyche. His great creative triumph is that he is able to channel this spontaneity into a disciplined musical form (just as he is able in his maturity to discipline himself as a citizen by emancipating himself professionally). Asafiev concludes by calling Chaikovsky an engineer of vast, sweeping musical architecture.30 In this analysis of Chaikovsky's consciousness, Asafiev betrays that he is writing in the 1930s, at the time of the discovery of Marx's early manuscripts, by constructing the composer's alienation from his labour as the trigger for his acquiring what amounts to class consciousness. On the basis of this emancipated consciousness, Asafiev then builds a superstructure of interlocking dialectical relationships - between the composer's self-awareness and his compositional technique, between the dazzling stylistic synthesis that he achieves and the inner conflicts in his psyche (that do not entirely disappear with his achievement of consciousness), between his personal and his creative emancipation - in dialectical relationships that provide Chaikovsky's art with realistic content and realistic form (Asafiev includes all the indicators, right down to melodiousness). In the end, Asafiev produces a synthesis of the Marxist analysis of consciousness and the obsession with musical form that permeated the Belaev circle (Rimsky-Korsakov, Glazunov et al.) to which he belonged in his pre-revolutionary youth. We have already seen how Gusin uses their creative practice to invalidate some of Cui's critical claims. Here Asafiev infuses this notion of mastery with larger social meaning - the emancipated musical professional Chaikovsky becomes an example of an intelligent who can co-operate with class conscious proletariat and agricultural workers in building a new society (from beyond his grave in this case) by acting as an "engineer of human souls." Chaikovsky does this by becoming an engineer of his own soul, and by giving this process an expression in his creativity. In this way he can mould the consciousness of other individuals through his music.

It is within this dialectic of consciousness versus false consciousness that the meaning of one of the great exercises of political power in Soviet culture - Zhdanov's anti-formalistic crusade of 1948 - must be sought. Soviet writing about music of the late 1940s and of the 1950s is suffused with the language of this Kulturkampf. Even a composer who left Russia after the October Revolution could be assured a place in the Soviet pantheon, as long as he adhered to nineteenth century compositional technique and aesthetics; in other words to the heritage of the "realistic school," in face of the modernist challenge. Such is Rachmaninov's case. In the years immediately following the end of World War Two (and Rachmaninov's death), this composer was a subject of a publishing flurry in the USSR. His hitherto unpublished youthful works were printed, as were primary materials concerning his life and works. The fact that he kept in touch with home, and made efforts in his American exile to support the Soviet war effort even before USA entered the hostilities in alliance with Stalin, did not hurt. The editor of his letters, Z. Apetyants, emphasizes that Rachmaninov's creative outlook was formed in the "difficult, contradiction-ridden" epoch around the turn of the twentieth century. His "historical role in the development of Russian music" lies in his participation in the struggle to defend "the progressive ideals" of the classical Russian realistic school, "the profound nurturing of which provides the backbone for his output," notwithstanding the deep contradictions of some of his creative periods. Apetyants calls on the evidence of the letters and of an interview that the composer gave to the New York Times in 1919 to argue that Rachmaninov detests modernism for its negation of musical thinking that was adhered to for centuries, and for its striving after cosmopolitism. As he says in the interview, the modernists turn their back on simple folk songs of their motherlands, and in consequence create art that is forced and anaemic. Rachmaninov remains a musical humanist, concerned with the spiritual life of human beings. In this search for heart to heart communication he cannot conceive of music without melody. Indeed, in Rachmaninov's books, the abandonment of melody is one of the reasons for the lifelessness of modernist music. In this way he is able to gain genuine popularity as a composer. The contradictions in his psyche are the contradictions of his time. Apetyants quotes from a 1945 article by Asafiev, who argues that the "emotional sound atmosphere of Rachmaninov's lyricism" is nourished by an intuitive understanding of the psyche of the Russian individual of the pre-war era, "when, together with the outer trappings of life, its very foundation was beginning to be shaken up." Of course, Rachmaninov, continues Apetyans, can follow historical developments only up to a point - he is sympathetic to the 1905 revolution, but, like so many others, becomes a victim of the liberal dream. Consequently, in 1917 he chooses to leave. In exile, as he himself admits, he is cut off from the sources of his creativity, but through a terrible struggle manages to write several "strongly dramatic pieces, with his eyes turned towards the Motherland." For example, his third symphony is a declaration of a continued allegiance to the Russian realistic symphonic school, and one of its masterpieces, presenting a "tragic confession" of a national artist far from his homeland.31 Once again, Apetyants goes through the markers of realism, and constructs Rachmaninov's adherence to them as a sign of the basic healthiness of his art, even if he, like many of his predecessors, does not reach the highest level of political consciousness. And yet again it is his nationality and his loyalty to it that the post-WWII Soviet musicologist lays a special claim to. Modernism, being rootless, is for Apetyans (relating strongly to Rachmaninov's statements along similar lines) a false identity, leading to false art. In Rachmaninov's case, his strong Russian identity provides him with clear enough consciousness to produce valid (that is communicative) art. The conflict that the subjectivist modernist tendencies bring into his creativity provides the dialectical underpinning to this art, without blasting it to incoherent pieces. And in this he provides a document of the state of Russia's public mind at the beginning of the twentieth century, still palpitating with life for the Soviet audience. For Soviet musicologists the national realistic school (and those European composers who inspired its members) represents the end of musical history - the ultimate synthesis of desirable influences, compositional techniques and aesthetic principles. Consequently, the founders of the school can remain permanent role models, and the adherents to the school can forever remain progressive (or at least substantially progressive), even when reacting against subsequent developments. Commitment to realistic principles and the presence of signifiers of realism in musical compositions are the fundamental criteria by which Soviet musicologists evaluate the worth of past artistic accomplishments for the Soviet culture. The realist musical heritage can forward the goal of Soviet art - to mould the conscience of the Soviet individual by engaging his or her experience of the dialectic reality that surrounds them, and thus heightening his or her awareness of the dialectical nature of their own psyche. The reclaimed national classics act not only as educators of Soviet audiences, they also educate Soviet composers. Appealing to the practices of the classics, Soviet musical critics can police Soviet musical creativity by offering a counterweight against the pernicious influence of modernism. The realist classics provide the culture of socialist realism with critical yardsticks.


ASAFIEV, Boris Vladimirovich (Igor Glebov, 1884-1949), leading composer and musicologist, from 1925 taught at the Leningrad conservatory, from 1943 in Moscow, member of the USSR Academy of Sciences, 1948-49 president of the Composers' Union.

BOGDANOV-BEREZOVSKY Valerian Mikhailovich (1903-1971), composer and musicologist, a close friend of Shostakovich at the Petrograd conservatory, from 1940 taught Russian music history at that institution, held positions in the Composers' Union.

DMITRIEV, Anatoli Leonidovich (1908-?), violinist and musicologist, pupil of Asafiev, 1926-36 concertmaster at Leningrad's Maly Theatre, 1937-1941 editor for Muzgiz, taught at the Leningrad conservatory from 1932, 1949-53 head of the theory department there.

KABALEVSKY, Dmitrii Borisovich (1904-1987), leading composer, editor at Muzgiz during the 1930's, member of the party from 1940, active at the Moscow conservatory.

KELDYSH, Yuri Vsevolodovich (1907-1995), major figure in Soviet musicology, 1930-57 lectured at the Moscow conservatory, 1946-9 head of Russian musical history there, 1950-59 lecturer at the Leningrad conservatory, from 1950 deputy director of Leningrad's Institute for Theatre and Music.

KISELEV, Vasili Aleksandrovich (1902-?), pianist and musicologist, taught at the Moscow conservatory 1937-51, worked at the Glinka museum 1949-1960.

MAKAROV, Evgeni Petrovich (1912-?), composer and musicologist, started as a military bandmaster, taught score reading at the Moscow conservatory from 1950.

PEKELIS, Mikhail Samoylovich (1899-1979), leading Soviet musicologist, during the 1930's taught Russian musical history at the Moscow conservatory, 1943-1955 taught at Sverdlovsk, Kiev and Gorky, severely criticized in 1948.

SHAPORIN, Yuri Aleksandrovich (1887-1966), composer and writer on music, in 1926 one of the founders (together with Asaf'ev) of the Russian chapter of the Association for Contemporary Music, after its dissolution a proponent of socialist realism, taught instrumentation at the Moscow conservatory from 1939.

(compiled from the on-line edition of Grove Dictionary and the Soviet Musical Encyclopaedia from 1970)

Jiri Smrz is a PhD student at the University of Toronto history department, specializing in the cultural history of the Stalinist era. His dissertation examines how the heritage of nineteenth century Russian music was appropriated for the culture of socialist realism.


1. Richard Taruskin, Opera and Drama as Preached and Practiced in Russia in the 1860s, (University of Rochester Press, Rochester, New York, 1993; new edition) IX.

2. The term "intonation" is Boris Asafiev's major contribution to the vocabulary of Soviet musicology. He borrowed it from the slightly older musical theorist Boleslav Yavorsky. It refers to the smallest musical unit capable of carrying semantic significance. For biographical information on Asafiev and other writers quoted, see the glossary.

3. M.I. Glinka, Literaturnoe nasledie, tom I, avtobiograficheskie i tvorcheskie materialy pod redaktsiei V. Bogdanova-Berezovskogo, (Gosudarstvennoe muzykal'noe izdatel'stvo, Moskva/Leningrad 1952) 12; 17-20.

4. Ibid., 22-23; 25-27.

5. P.I. Chaikovskii, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, tom 9A: Pikovaya dama, partitura; Anatolii Dmitriev ed. (Gosudarstvennoe muzykal'noe izdatel'stvo, Moskva, 1950) XVII.

6. P.I. Chaikovskii, Muzykal'no-kriticheskie stat'i, vstupitel'naya stat'ya i poyasneniya V.V. Yakovleva (Gosudarstvennoe muzykal'noe izdatel'stvo, Moskva, 1953) 20.

7. A. S Dargomyzhskii, Sobranie sochinenii dlya fortepiano, redaktsiya, vstupitel'naya stat'ya i primechaniya M.S. Pekelisa (Gosudarstvennoe muzykal'noe izdatel'stvo, Moskva, 1954), 6.

8. P. I. Chaikovskii/S. I. Taneev, Pis'ma, V. A. Zhdanov ed. (Goskul'tprosvetizdat, Moskva, 1951) III.

9. N.A. Rimskii-Korsakov, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, tom 5A: Noch' pered Rozhdevstvom, partitura; Anatolii Dmitriev ed. (Gosudarstvennoe muzykal'noe izdatel'stvo, Moskva, 1951) XII.

10. Ibid., XIII.

11. A.S. Dargomyzhskii, Polnoe sobranie romansov i pesen, tom I; redaktsiya, vstupitel'naya stat'ya i komentarii M.S. Pekelisa (Gosudarstvennoe muzykal'noe izdatel'stvo, Moskva-Leningrad, 1947) 4-5.

12. Dargomyzhskii, Sobranie sochenenii dlya fortepiano, 11.

13. M.I. Glinka, Literaturnoe nasledie, tom II: pis'ma i dokumenty; pod redaktsiei V. Bogdanova-Berezovskogo (Gosudarstvennoe muzykal'noe izdatel'stvo, Leningrad, 1953).

14. M.I. Glinka, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii dlya fortepiano, N.N. Zagornyi ed. (Gosudarstvennoe muzykal'noe izdatel'stvo, Leningrad, 1952) IX-X.

15. M. I Glinka, Literaturnoe nasledie, tom I, 29-31.

16. S. I. Taneev, Materialy i dokumenty, tom I: perepiska i vospominaniya; V.A. Kislev, T.N. Livanova and V.V. Protopopov eds. (Izdatel'stvo akademii nauk SSSR, Moskva, 1952) 8.

17. N.A. Rimskii-Korsakov, Muzykal'noe nasledstvo v dvukh tomakh--issledovaniya, materialy, pis'ma, tom I; D.B. Kabalevskii, S.I. Levit, A.V. Ossovskii and I.V. Tumanina, eds. (Izdatel'stvo akademii nauk SSSR, Moskva, 1953-54) 10.

18. M. P. Musorgskii, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, tom 2: Boris Godunov, full score of the 1874 version, Pavel Lamm ed., introductory essay by Yurii Keldysh, Muzgiz, Moskva (1932) X-XII.

19. Dargomyzhskii, Polnoe sobranie romansov, 4.

20. M. P. Musorgskii, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, tom5, vypusk 3: romansy i pesni (from the 1860s), Pavel Lamm ed., introduction Yurii Keldysh (Muzgiz, Moskva, 1932) V-VII.

21. Dargomyzhskii, Polnoe sobranie romansov, 8.

22. Glinka, Polnoe sobranie fortepainnykh sochinenii, VIII.

23. P. I Chaikovskii, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, tom 18: Manfred, partitura, Evgenii Makarov ed. (Gosudarstvennoe muzykal'noe izdatel'stvo, Moskva, 1949) XV.

24. Ts. A. Cui, Izbrannyie stat'i, sostavitel' i avtor vstupitel'noi stat'i i primechanii I. L. Gusin (Gosudarstvennoe muzykal'noe izdatel'stvo, Moskva, 1952) XIII; VII.

25. Glinka, Literaturnoe nasledie, tom 1, 49.

26. Musorgskii, Polnoe sobranie: tom 5, vypusk 3, V.

27. M. P. Musorgskii, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii: tom 5, vypusk 8: romansy i pesni (from the 1870s); Pavel Lamm, ed., introductory essay by Yurii Keldysh (Gosudarstvennoe muzykal'noe izdatel'stvo, Moskva, 1935) I.

28. Taneev, Materialy i dokumenty, tom I, 6-7.

29. Ts. A. Kyui, Izbrannye pis'ma: sostavitel', avtor vstupitel'noi stat'i i primechanii I.L. Gusin (Gosudarsvennoe muzykal'noe izdatel'stvo, Leningrad, 1955) note 1: 566; note 4: 642.

30. P.I. Chaikovskii, Perepiska s P.I. Iurgensonom 1877-1883, V.A.Zhdanov and N.T. Zhegina, eds., introductory essay by Igor' Glebov [i.e. Boris Asaf'ev] (Muzgiz, Moskva, 1938) 7-11.

31. S.V. Rakhmaninov, Pis'ma, redaktsiya, vstupitel'naya stat'ya i komentarii Z. Apetyants (Gosudarstvennoe muzykal'noe izdatel'stvo, Moskva, 1955) 5-8; 10; 14-15.