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  • The Thaw and the Idea of National GemeinschaftThe All-Russian Choral Society
  • Maria Mayofis (bio)
    Translated by Victoria Frede

The ideology of Russian nationalism within the USSR and its development, together with the movements that gave rise to it, appear to have been studied fairly thoroughly. Research began with Mikhail Agurskii’s classic Ideology of National Bolshevism and has been advanced by Andreas Umland, David Brandenberger, Yitzhak Brudny, Nikolai Mitrokhin, Marlène Laruelle, Viktor Shnirel´man, and others.1 Two aspects of the problem, however, require further investigation: the prerevolutionary roots of the Soviet Union’s [End Page 27] nationalist movements and the interrelationship between modernizing and antimodernizing tendencies within those movements.2

Both aspects can be addressed by investigating a significant sociocultural movement—the history of the All-Russian Choral Society (Vserossiiskoe khorovoe obshchestvo, VKhO)—which has heretofore been ignored by historians of Russian nationalism in the post-Stalinist period and has hardly been touched upon by social historians of Russia. This neglect can primarily be attributed to scholars’ preoccupation with writers, literary journals, and publishing houses and, somewhat less frequently, with artists and the communities they belonged to. Music has barely been addressed, except for pathbreaking investigations by Laura Olson, Susannah Lockwood Smith, and, for the period prior to Stalin’s death, Marina Frolova-Walker.3

In this article I trace the history of the developmental movement for Russian choral singing in the framework of the All-Russian Choral Society, which was founded in 1957, remained in operation until 1987, and was unexpectedly resurrected in 2013. I reconstruct the prerevolutionary genesis of the Society’s guiding principles, their deep transformation under the influence of modernizing and antimodernizing elements in its ideology and institutional praxis, drawing on its organizers’ writings and their biographies. As the sources show, the All-Russian Choral Society should be understood as an aesthetic and sociological project, one that dovetailed with the state’s cultural politics in the late 1950s and early 1960s, drawing from and contributing to them.

Having systematically analyzed the various ideological, aesthetic, and organizational sources of the All-Russian Choral Society, I also trace how the intentions behind its ideological program were understood by cultural figures of the 1950s and 1960s who did not join the movement, and how they entered into a polemic with the Society in order to defend their own conceptions of social solidarity. In the final section of the article I demonstrate how this institution has once again gained resonance in contemporary Russian society. Soviet political and cultural elites never completely assimilated the ideological program of social solidarity advanced by the All-Russian Choral Society. Only in the 2010s did it reach its apogee, when it was reanimated in a scope that [End Page 28] was far more limited but also significantly more radical than the Society’s founding ideologists had intended.

A major characteristic of the All-Russian Choral Society was its emphasis on the formation of a highly developed culture of choral performance. Based on the accomplishments of prerevolutionary music around the beginning of the 20th century, it also drew on new types of social, emotionally experienced solidarity, for which Soviet political elites had been calling since the early 1920s, and which gained renewed traction immediately following the 20th Party Congress in 1956. The All-Russian Choral Society de facto advanced a program of nationalism, based not on narratives of the “greatness of the people” but on specific performative practices that gave expression to such greatness.4

The All-Russian Choral Society and Its Aims

Officially, the All-Russian Choral Society dates to 10 June 1957, when the Soviet of Ministers of the RSFSR created an organizing committee (orgkomitet) to oversee its formation. At the outset, the new institution was intended to function within the RSFSR, with branches in all its regions (oblasti), territories (krai), and autonomous republics. Deliberations on the statutes and establishment of branches took longer than initially planned: the Organizing Committee’s first plenary session met in April 1958. Only in June 1959, two years after the founding resolution, did the All-Russian Choral Society hold its first congress, ratifying its statutes and working program.5

The Society was initiated and...


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