Week Four Musical Scandals

Sydney Kightlinger

HIS-315 Blog Post

September 17, 2019

Much like our discussions previously in this unit, the music scandals of the Late Stalin period deal with the issue of what music is good socialist realism? The definition given by the party lacks direction. Arguably, the definition was left intentionally vague so that musician could figure out what soviet music ought to be, and though RAPM had lost their power by the time period we read about today, many of the issues that floated around after the civil war were still very relevant in this post-World War II moment.

In chapter four of Creative Union, however, we get the feeling that for the first time, there starts to be a real push to decide what could be considered “good” art, “Rather, they established the broad contours of a campaign, identified what were considered unacceptable examples of Soviet art, and instructed disciplined and unscathed artists alike to direct their efforts towards fixing newly identified problems,” (Tomoff, 98). As expected, this resulted in what Tomoff refers to “professional politics.” Orgkom used this new urge to align a musical excellence to purse a “purge” in the Composers’ Union, but the attempted works did not work out as intended. Moreover, the Alesksei Ogolevets’ Affair highlighted the lingering issues between party musicians and ambiguous Left musicians.

  • In reference to Tomoff’s assessment of Ogolevets on page 110 and the piece we listened to today, do you think that there is still an emphasis on Western Musical traditional? Granted that the piece we listened to comes after Ogolevets, how do you think these can be weighed against each other?

Moreover, in chapter five, we get this very interesting debate on “formalism.” This is further enhanced with the supplementation of one primary source that Tomoff used in his argument. In “Against Formalistic Tendencies in Soviet Music,” we are presented with a scathing review of the opera, Great Friendship, that the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party calls “feeble and inexpressive” (Sovetskaia muzyka, No. 1 (1948), pp. 3-8) which led to the resolution of four tenets that music and it’s keepers need to adhere to:

1. To condemn the formalistic tendency in Soviet music as against the people and as actually to the liquidation of music.

2. To propose to the Administration of Propaganda and Agitation of the Central Committee and the Committee on the Arts that they endeavor to correct the situation in Soviet music, liquidate the shortcomings set forth in the present resolution of the Central Committee, and ensure the development of Soviet music in the direction of realism.

3. To call upon Soviet composers to become aware of the lofty demands made on musical art by the Soviet people, to clear away everything that weakens our music and hampers its development, to ensure that upsurge of creative work which will advance Soviet musical culture rapidly and lead to the creation of finished works of high quality, worthy of the Soviet people, in every branch of music.

4. To approve organizational measures of the appropriate Party and Soviet organs directed toward the improvement of musical affairs

(Sovetskaia muzyka, No. 1 (1948), pp. 3-8).

  • With these new resolves in mind, how do you think Shostakovich’s Song of the Forests is responding to it? What elements are playing to these new rules? Are there elements that are not in accordance with them?

Blog Post 09/12

The one idea that I found interesting in both readings for Thursdays class was how nations can be manipulated and molded into exactly what the leader, Stalin in this case, wants. In the article “National in Form, Socialist in Content” the author comments on Stalin’s influence on music by saying “Had he remained in obscurity, his interpretation would have been of no consequence, but he had every intention of seeing his definition reflected in the republics of the Soviet Union. And Stalin, unlike other men, had the power to adjust the world to match his words,” (Frolova-Walker, Marina. “”National in Form, Socialist in Content”: Musical Nation-Building in the Soviet Republics.”). I found this quote interesting, and very telling of Stalin’s power because if he could control the music in this way then he could easily control the nation as well. Especially because as we had already discussed in class music is a powerful tool for human control. We see this idea of using culture as a way to control and amass nations again in the article “Soviet Music and Society Under Lenin and Stalin”. This article discusses the creation and perpetuation of socialist nation states, but the key point that I found related to my earlier point, and the bulk of the class, was why culture and music were the ways Stalin’s government choose to control its nation. In the paragraph entitled “Why Culture, Why Music” the author tells us that culture and music were the preferred way to spread ideology because they allowed a message to be widespread, but it also then became inherent to society and a part of one’s identity (Edmunds, Neil. “Soviet Music and Society Under Lenin and Stalin.”). For class we should discuss if others found this interesting as well. We also prepared for class by watching the “Dance of the Kurds and Sabre Dance”. I found that this was one of the more interesting pieces that we have been assigned so far. The music wasn’t too repetitive, like “Life is Better Now”, but it was also simple enough that the average everyday person could enjoy it. I think this piece shows the balance of nationalism versus socialism that was discussed in the articles we read. I felt that is was a happy medium compared to other things we watched and listened to. One question I have is does everyone else think that this is a balanced musical and performance piece? 

Soviet Realism Wk3

Mason Secreti

HIS315 Blog Post

September 9, 2019

These readings for the 12th of September were concerned with the formation and the spread of socialist content of Asian and Soviet-influenced satellite states throughout Europe. Music nationalism and soviet realism, perpetrated by the Soviet government, infiltrated Kazakhstan. They wished to spread their influence and the Soviet culture. “Moreover, pro-worker, pop-opera, and mass dance themes presented socialist realism as a legitimate aesthetic that reached deep into the collective consciousness of the Kazaks (Rouland, 200).” This is interesting because previously soviet realism rejected anything remotely relevant to the West. But now, as the Soviet reputation engulfs eastern Europe, Western ideologies and culture are now seen as acceptable and part of Soviet repertoire. The fall of the radical RAPP and RAPM groups allowed for a breath of fresh air in Soviet creativity, however, music and art must still be “Socialist in content,” which proved to be difficult to execute as an artist. It was also notable, to me, that Azerbaijan was formed because borders were drawn around it – and great composers, who acted as musical crusaders throughout these Soviet satellites, marched in and forced a change in culture. For instance, Soviet composer Gajibekov spent time studying Azerbaijani folk music, in an attempt to more completely understand their culture to further assimilate them into the Soviet sphere. Lots of cultural shifting – such as the kobiz, an instrument reserved for shamans, was “therefore transformed into an instrument of mass choir (Rouland, 193).” This man was heavily anti-orientalist, saying that  “Augmented seconds in music, images of the nightingale and rose in po- etry, flower-bud ornaments in the visual arts, multicolored costumes and ceremonious bows in the theater: all this pseudo-Eastern style can only jar on an Eastern people and violate their spirit and tastes (Frolova-Walker, 353).”

  1. What do you think was the greatest obstacle for the Soviets to spread their influence?
  2. What do you personally believe Stalin meant, “Socialist in Content?” 
  3. Why do you think Lenin said, “A culture designed to educate the masses was an essential foundation of socialism?” Do you think he succeeded in this?
  4. Andrey Olkhovsky said, “The musical creative life of other Soviet republics is extremely weakly developed. These republics have neither national composer of their own nor a sufficient basis for their development, since their artistic consciousness has not yet been developed.” What do you take from this? Do you think this is true, or is he belittling the other Soviet states?
  5. Ultimately, was the spread of Soviet culture successful? Are the effects still seen today?
  6. A nation’s position in the hierarchy determined the rate at which they became “soviet-alized.” Do you think this hindered certain nations development? 
  7. Do you think the dakada, international displays of Soviet art at the Bolshoi Theater, was genuinely a display or art, or rather, power?
  8. Shirin Akiner argued that the spread of Soviet Kazak art is to “fulfil an ideological role that replaced ‘primitive traditional art,’ to create strong linkages with other Soviet cultures, while maintaining diversity, and to shape a local understanding of their historical past (Rouland, 185).” Would you agree with this? Is it right to call other native cultures “primitive?”

Welcome, Musical Politicians!

Welcome to HIST 315: Music and Politics in 20th c Europe! Whether you’re a musical politician or a political musician, I hope you’ll enjoy our journey together this semester and engage deeply with the themes and materials in this course. Over the course of the semester, we will explore the ways in which a variety of historical actors have created and used music for political ends in Europe across the 20th century and into the present. Working thematically, we will delve into four major moments when the politics of European music attained critical importance: the Soviet Union under Lenin and Stalin, Germany in the Weimar and Nazi eras, the youth and protest movements active across Cold War Europe in the 1960s-1980s, and our current moment of globalized culture. Along the way, we will explore how authoritarian régimes have tried to harness music to serve their purposes, and how and why composers have complied with or resisted such efforts. We will also consider the perspectives of composers and songwriters who sought to use music to make a political statement and discover how music influenced the thinking of protest leaders and disaffected young people on both sides of the Berlin Wall. Turning to the present, we will examine how musicians have tried to heal the rifts of the 20th century and think critically about what has been gained and lost in the process. Most of all, we will confront the indeterminacy of musical meaning and reflect on how that has influenced each of our case studies. This course emphasizes close reading, careful listening, creative thinking, and vibrant discussion. No prior musical training is required; we will work together in class to develop our own vocabulary for discussing musical works. Open minds and spirited participation are encouraged!