- Classics for the Masses: Shaping Soviet Musical Identity under Lenin and Stalin by Pauline Fairclough
In her new book, Pauline Fairclough aims to describe the formation of the new country’s canon of art music between 1917 and 1953 (the years of Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin). Which composers were encouraged and discouraged? How were they branded and re-branded to comply with fluid Soviet political priorities? How did the approved repertoire change over these decades, and why? Did programs for the major performance organizations reflect those shifts, and how did new policies influence critical writing? To build this narrative, Fairclough surveyed dozens of Soviet periodicals as well as archives for the Moscow and Leningrad Philharmonic Societies, the Composers Union, and some Soviet and British government organizations, among others sources. She divides her discussion into overlapping periods: 1917–29, the Cultural Revolution (ca. 1929–32), 1932–41, 1937–41, and 1941–53—allotting a chapter to each one. For general readers, the quotations from ordinary citizens, critics, government officials, and others enliven this history, and her extensive and careful annotations from archival and other sources provide a helpful resource for scholars. [End Page 248]
Chapters 1 and 2 survey the development of Soviet music culture through the rise of proletarian music organizations, up to the 1932 Central Committee resolution centralizing administration of the arts (“On the Restructuring of Literary and Artistic Organizations,” April 23, 1932). This early period featured competing views about what music was most appropriate for the new revolutionary state, ranging from the espousal of a completely new, mass music, to positions that favored building on existing musical culture and traditions.
These chapters are not for the faint of heart. Fairclough surveys dozens of private, party and governmental organizations, mostly referred to by acronyms (Narkompros, Glaviskusstvo, Glavrepertkom, Prokoll, Proletkul’t, ASM, LEF, Agitprop, RAPM, ORKiMD, etc.). While the full names of most (but not all) of these organizations appear in a list of abbreviations at the beginning of the book (p. xii), the author provides no overview of arts administration from this time, leaving nonspecialist students and readers at sea about the authority and functions of each group, and—most surprisingly—the content and import of the 1932 resolution that provides the concluding point of these early chapters.
Nonetheless, there is valuable information in these chapters. We learn about the Soviet Union’s early cosmopolitanism, its extensive connections with composers in Western Europe, Leningrad’s innovative programming of modern Western European composers, and complaints about modernism and cosmopolitanism as the decade wore on. We also watch the Leningrad State Academic Capella grapple with a controversy about the place of sacred music in a secular state, and learn that Glavrepertkom, the main body approving concert repertoire, did not permit the performance of early Russian Orthodox music, but—strangely—eventually did permit the performance of some Western sacred music, so long as it was not performed on a church feast day and so long as Ludwig van Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Requiem were not performed in workers’ clubs (pp. 73–74). We watch the rise in power of RAPM (the Russian Proletarian Musicians’ Union) with its increasing complaints about light and traditional music.
The most valuable chapters in the book are 3 and 4, which cover roughly the 1930s and are especially well written and well organized. Here, as the doctrine of Socialist Realism appears and matures, Fairclough describes a molding of diverse views into a centrally-controlled repertoire; here, there is a clearer historical context for her many engaging quotations from the archives. During the 1930s, Western European modernism declined in favor and was replaced in concert programs during the “Stalinist Enlightenment” after 1936 by Western European classics by J. S. Bach, George Frideric Handel, Mozart, Joseph Haydn and others, which in turn gave way late in the decade to nineteenth-century Russian composers. For these...