Der Klang des Gulag: Musik und Musiker in den sowjetischen Zwangsarbeitslagern der 1920er–bis 1950er–Jahre by Inna Klause (review)
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Der Klang des Gulag: Musik und Musiker in den sowjetischen Zwangsarbeitslagern der 1920er–bis 1950er–Jahre. By Inna Klause. Göttingen: V & R unipress, 2014. [691p. ISBN 9783847102595 (hardcover), €99; ISBN 9783847002598 (e-book), €74.99]. Music examples, facsimiles, illustrations, maps, bibliography, glossary of Soviet terms and abbreviations, index.

“Wenn jemand eine Reise tut, so kann er was erzählen”—when someone goes on a journey, he [or she] will be able to tell something (my translation). This quote from “Urians Reise um die Welt” by Matthias Claudius (1740–1815) has become an ubiquitous aphorism in the German language, and it remains valid to this day—as the present publication, which originated as a doctoral dissertation at the Hochschule für Musik, Theater und Medien in Hannover and was accepted in 2012, forcefully demonstrates.

Inna Klause traveled to Magadan in far northeastern Russia, and it can be safely assumed that she was the first Western musicologist to do so. Although the focus of her study is on what its title promises—music and musicians in Soviet labor camps from the 1920s to 1950s—she has also provided us with an invaluable first survey of musical and cultural life in a geographical area that even now, in the age of the global village, remains completely off the radar. And that area is vast: in its heyday, the “Sevvostlag” (Severno-Vostochnïy ispravitel’no-trudovoy lager’ [Northeastern correctional work camp]), whose headquarters was in Magadan, covered an area not much smaller than Alaska, its geographical neighbor across Bering Strait. Needless to say, not the entire area was a camp; rather, there were many camps spread over the area.

The Sevvostlag chapter is the last of three case studies in Klause’s book. The second, on the camps lining the two large canal projects of the 1930s—the White Sea–Baltic [End Page 713] Canal and the Moscow Canal—equally breaks new ground. The first case study, on the Solovki camp of the 1920s, situated on Arctic islands of European Russia, differs insofar as Klause was able to draw on earlier studies, such as Natalia Kuziakina’s Theatre in the Solovki Prison Camp (Luxem bourg: Harwood Academic Publishers, 1995). General reflections on the respective political situation precede each case study. Two additional chapters deal with the spontaneous (that is, not officially organized or sanctioned) music making of the prisoners and with the “Aderlass” (bloodletting) of Soviet music life, that is, the loss of musical talent to the Gulag.

While the musical life of Nazi concentration camps (especially, Theresienstadt) has been studied thoroughly, most of the existing accounts on the Gulag have paid little attention to music and musicians. Tikhon Khrennikov’s dictum that no composer was ever arrested and deported to the Gulag has often been taken at face value (p. 15, n. 14). Klause mostly refutes this claim but also concedes that there is a grain of truth in it: although many composers were severely criticized on the one hand (as in the 1948 party resolution), and although a few composers were arrested, deported, and even executed on the other hand, apparently no composer was expressly sentenced for his or her art (p. 575). With writers, the situation was different. The musicians’ judicial files that she could access always cite some other cause, mostly one listed under paragraph 58 of the Soviet penal code (“counter-revolutionary crimes”—often unsubstantiated), but occasionally also some non-political offense, such as homosexual activity.

The official purpose of the Gulag was “reeducation.” Yet documents leave no doubt that its true purpose was the recruitment (and management) of unpaid labor for large-scale infrastructure projects. Some inmates likened themselves to serfs (p. 80); Aleksandr Solzheniinline graphicyn preferred the term “slave” (p. 130, n. 506). The idea was that “reeducation,” of which the arts were an important instrument, would motivate the inmates and, consequently, increase their productivity. Klause denies the success of this concept, but she affirms repeatedly that the arts, in particular music, created cherished oases within the otherwise inhospitable world of the camps. Some times the “cultural work” in the camps served as propaganda for the outside world: the composition competition of...