Shostakovich we'll allow, but take out Stravinsky
One of the recurring themes On An Overgrown Path has been the control of agents, broadcasters and record companies over the music we hear. The question is a simple one - do we hear the music we want, or do we hear the music chosen for us by others? A very perceptive comment today on my Peteris Vasks article by Daniel Wolf (do visit his blog Renewable Music) reminded me that hidden agendas among programmers are not new, and raised the interesting point that Shostakovich was actually promoted, rather than suppressed, by the Soviet authorities at certain times.
As soon as I read Daniel's comment I located Stormy Applause, Making Music In A Worker's State by Borodin Quartet founder Rostislav Dubinsky in my library. The events in the extract below took place in 1955. Goskoncert was (and still is) the Russian state run concert agency, and the programs under discussion were for the Borodin's first ever overseas tour to the German Democratic Republic.
At Goskoncert the program editor called me in immediately and amiably offered me a chair. Then he quickly read through the programs, looked at me in surprise, and said sourly, "You're new here. That explains everything. You see, out of all these programs I can accept the first, but not altogether. Stravinsky should be replaced, and Shostakovich ... Wait a minute, I'll be right back." He had, of course, run off to ask about Shostakovich. But whom did he ask? In all Goskoncert he was the only man with any musical education. On the other hand, it was not a musical but a political question: had the time come to rehabilitate Shostakovich? He had been banned in 1948, and it was now 1955, so for seven years he hadn't been performed. I wondered how the program editor would ask about Shostakovich. And, even more, what the answer would be ...
After half an hour the program editor returned. "It's like this: Shostakovich we'll allow, but take out Stravinsky." I said humbly - "They're three tiny pieces. They last only seven minutes, and for the whole program ..." He interrupted - "That's not the point. We don't perform Stravinsky at all." I looked at him as naively as I could and he decided to enlighten me. "Recently Stravinsky said in public that all Russian music died in the twenties. By this, he meant that our great composers Shostakovich and Prokofiev don't exist." I said to myself excitedly - "Great composers? That means they've been rehabilitated!"
The editor satisfied with my silence, continued: "Our musicians abroad should play as much Soviet music as possible. At a minimum, half of each program should be Russo-Soviet." I said - "I understand, let me correct it." He handed me my sheet of paper. "With pleasure. You may sit at that desk." He saw that I was crossing out all the programs and smiled. "That's right."
I quickly wrote new ones. Everything was clear. Out of every three compositions - two Russian. For example: Borodin and Shostakovich in the first half and Beethoven in the second, not too bad. Or Prokofiev with Mozart and Tchaikovsky, also pretty good. Or even better: Prokofiev, Shostakovich, and then Brahms and Schubert. Beautiful!
For more from Stormy Applause take An Overgrown Path to Shostakovich, this is myself.
Stormy Applause, Making Music In A Worker's State by Rostislav Dubinsky was published by Hutchinson in 1989, ISBN 091742579, but is now out of print, and I see my copy is quite valuable.
Shostakovich image credit Umich-edu plus Photoshop I think. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
There are two reasons for the Photoshop qualification. First, the available images of Shostakovich and other 20th century composers are limited, and the same ones appear on many sites, but this one doesn’t. Secondly, the background and colours have a ‘manipulated’ feel, which may just be due to the way it is parsed when someone resized it. I put the Photoshop qualification on it because I didn’t want to mislead anyone into claiming it was an original image.
If you know anything about the provenance of that image more do let me know. And congratulations on reading the small print – it makes it all worthwhile!