1948: The Great Tradgedy of the Russian Musician
For years prior, world renowned composers such as the great Dimitry Shostakovitch, had suffered career and life threatening destruction at the hands of the oppressive Communist Russia. During these darkest years of Russian Music History, the threat was so dangerously present that should any work dare to resemble those of their most hated western counterparts, the composer could very well be shot before Stalin himself. It was not, however, until the Resolution of the Central Committee in February of 1948 that the greatest atrocity of culture would be committed against Russia’s own people.
On the surface the Resolution composed was a reaction to an Opera by second rate composer Vano Muradeli titled “The Great Friendship” that had three months earlier been blacklisted with criticisms such as “historically and ideologically incorrect” and “a confused muddle of sounds”. This was not, though, the primary focus of the pages and pages of slander that followed. Virtually all soviet composers including those who had gained international acclaim including Shostakovitch (specifically for his 8th and 9th Symphonies), Prokofiev (specifically for his opera War and Peace), Khachaturin, and Miaskovsky were accused of the heinous crime of music “formalism” and pressured to denounce themselves wrong dooers of the state. Even critics of these composers were not spared from the vicious attacks, had they per chance given favorable reviews for blatantly anti-communist music.
Led by Andrei Zhdanov, spokesperson for cultural ideology and Khrennikov, who later became an all powerful figure in the Russian Music Bureaucracy, the draft of their Resolution had four cited goals:
1.To condemn the formalist trend in Soviet music as anti-social, and leading to the liquidation of music.
2.To propose to the Propaganda and Agitation Board of the Central Committee and to the Committee for Artistic Affairs: that they rectify the situation in Soviet music; that they liquidate the failures indicated in the present Resolution; and that they take steps to ensure that Soviet music develops in a realist direction.
3.To call upon Soviet composers to carry out the high demands made by the Soviet people regarding musical creation; everything that weakens our music and hinders its development should be swept away by composers, thereby ensuring an upsurge of creative work that would move Soviet music forward and lead, in all areas of composition, to the kind of valuable, high-quality works that the Soviet people deserve.
4.To approve all administrative measures of the responsible Party and Soviet organs directed towards the improvement of musical affairs.
In response to the reading the the entire Essay the composers were each asked to stand a apologize to their comrades for their deeds.
Muradeli spoke “How could it be that I failed to introduce a single folk song into the score of my opera?… I have before me a serious task, to realize fully and unequivocally the seriousness of my creative errors, and to correct these errors with ideological honesty in the future.”
Shostakovitch spoke “I am deeply grateful for all the criticism contained in the Resolution and I shall still with more determination will work on the musical depiction of the images of the heroic Soviet people.
In a joint letter to Stalin for the public humiliation all the composers together wrote such degrading remarks as “We are tremendously grateful the the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party and personally to you, Comrade Stalin, for the severe and yet profoundly just criticism of the present state of Soviet music”.
Obviously any sense of idealism in Russian art came to an abrupt halt for the decade following this event. Most unfortunately this obscene oppression lingered until after the death of Stalin when in 1957 the All-Union Congress of Music allowed for more artistic freedom. Thankfully a 1958 decree exonerated those Musicians attacked in 1948, restoring the honor they had been most unjustly stripped of.
Below I have included a link to access the entirety of “The Resolution” in case you are curious as to the extent of the public spanking. It’s a long and insufferable document but can be insightful even if skimmed…