Tuesday, we covered a selection of readings from Music and Soviet Power. The selections demonstrated two opposed Soviet musical organizations that, during the years immediately after the revolution, sought to theorize and create distinctly Soviet music. For examples of two such efforts we are given the ASM (The Association for Contemporary Music) and the RAPM (the Russian Association of Proletariat Musicians). The ASM was formed, mainly, from pre-revolutionary composers and scholars. These were those who had European connections and previously concretized ideas about composition. On the other hand, the RAMP represented a relatively young group, many students were involved, who believed they could start afresh and make something completely new and completely revolutionary. The RAPM became regarded as distinctly more avant-garde. The group shunned serialist developments from Europe and instead focused more on the development of a new Socialist/Soviet music in the form of mass choruses and rousing choral music; participatory music was endorsed by the group. The ASM quickly faded out and was officially defunct by 1929. Despite much objection, the RAPM maintained power despite complaints from musicians and composers who felt their worked was being suppressed by RAPM’s narrow ideology. Critics said the RAPM displayed a “poverty of musical thought” and did not display the necessary mastery and skill to back up their zealousness. On April of 1932 RAPM was disbanded.
Stalin came to power in the mid 1920’s and redefined what the new Soviet music should take as its goal. It should be “nationalist in form and socialist in content”. Stalin eventually wanted to fuse all the Soviet cultures into one communist culture but until then, he redefined nationhood, and proposed that strengthening national culture would further these territories development towards true socialism. Following the fall of the RAPM’s strict Soviet avant-gardism, a return to perhaps older and more traditional musical proclivities can be witnessed. For example, Beethoven was lauded as being a composer who tapped into a revolutionary brilliance that was similar to the desired Soviet compositions. In an effort to “speed up” the development of underdeveloped eastern territories, composers from Moscow and Leningrad were sent out to write national operas and music for these states. Frolova-Walker writes that Soviet elite traditions were normalized in central Asia through the instituting of Western style orchestras and opera houses. Levin writes about a similar issue when he discusses the rise of the folk orchestra. Traditional folk instruments were taken over and restructured in order to be able to reproduce western scales and music. Folklore was re-written and folk instruments reimagined as chromatic in order to cater to Western sensibilities. This was seen as advancing underdeveloped cultures so as to get them closer to the socialism. However, mapping the Russian urban elite musical sensibilities onto generally more improvisational, micro-tonal indigenous music did not always work seamlessly. The very act of imposing notation on music that had never been notated and relied more on a master-apprentice culture began to undermine its authenticity.
The real issue is how a musical composition, an opera, or an orchestra could ever be “nationalist in form and socialist in content”. The attempt to create national forms lead to tokenizing of folk music and traditions while simultaneously wiping out these traditions. How can musical form be socialist when its form is ambiguous in the first place? It is also highly debatable how music can communicate content.
Were the composers that saw an opportunity to compose under Soviet rule and went to neighboring territories to compose operas misguided? Was the work they produced valuable? Is it still listened to today? In particular, I am thinking of Gliere’s “Shahsenen”.
Although viewed as uneducated and illiterate when it came to notational music, were folk musicians allowed to compose or help with new nationalist operas? What role did folk musicians play in the development on the initial operas and orchestral compositions?
Today we began with the notion that the ethnomusicological perspective is that music is not a universal language but a language contingent on culture. How would one study culture through music in the field of ethnomusicology if music did not reflect culture?
There were three primary periods of Soviet musical culture. The first was the Civil War period (1917-1922) when the Bolsheviks and other groups were in conflict, then the Soviet Union was formed. Lunacharsky was the first Soviet People’s Commissioner for the Enlightenment, which was meant to control art and culture in the USSR. The second period was characterized by the New Economic Plan was established by Lenin to incorporate some capitalism in an attempt to revive the Soviet Economy. During this second period, 1923-1928, the state created bodies codified through acronyms to mandate aspects of art and culture, and the Association for Contemporary Music (ASM) and Russian Association of Proletarian Musicians (RAPM) musical groups were formed. The ASM and RAPM were perpetually in conflict. The RAPM was more traditional, while the ASM was comprised of younger musicians, often students, who rejected old forms of music and were interested in the Western avant-garde. An example of avant garde Russian music would be the “Iron Foundry” by Alexander Mosolov, which incorporates machine sounds in a futurist gesture to technology. The RAPM take over in the final years of this conflict and put pressure on ASM musicians. During the third period, 1929-1932, these groups dissolved and the Union of Composers formed. Walker’s “Music and Soviet Power” contains passages on how the RAPM fell, and Socialist Realism took its place. Socialist Realist art and music are proletariat, representative of daily life, realistic, and ideologically socialist. Essentially, composers had to be members of the Union of Composers in order to produce music, and could not exist as outliers as some musicians had prior to its establishment. Lenin died in 1924, and there was national mourning. Stalin, “man of steel” took his place. Stalin was a member of the Politburo and later, General Secretary of the Central Committee. Ten to twenty million people perished under his regime, which resembled totalitarianism rather than socialism. The Walker article, “National in Form, Socialist in Content” and the Levin article “Making Marxist-Leninist Music in Uzbekistan” explore Stalin’s project to unite the Soviet republics through common culture, primarily by imposing a Russian framework in a forced integration of various folk cultures. The borders of the Soviet states were drawn “with a ruler” in the 1920s by the USSR which resulted in massive displacements of peoples who then migrated in an attempt to reside in the territories that their ethnic groups were most affiliated with. One aspect of Stalin’s plan to unify these disparate cultures was through the so-called Friendship of the People, an attempt to establish a pan-Soviet folklore by erasing cultural differences. The best illustration of this was the folk orchestra discussed in class. The Soviet folk orchestra was formed to incorporate the disparate folk music traditions into a formal orchestra, the structure of which was Westernized as dictated by the Soviet imperialists. Conservatories and operas were exported to the Central Asian steppe in an effort to involve folk musicians of the various ethnic groups in the creation of pan-Soviet music. Folk instruments were transformed to become standardized such that they were chromatic, and they lost much of the authenticity of their original sounds and methods of playing. By the 1930s, the Soviets had thoroughly adopted the notion that their culture was superior to the other states of the USSR (which some refer to as colonized states) so this orchestra became even more similar to a Western orchestra as it was further Russified. After Stalin’s rule, Khrushchev took over, and there was a period of de-Stalinization. Strangely, the tradition of the Soviet folk orchestra became so entrenched in the USSR states that many persist to this day, some as nationalistic symbols that have become tourist attractions, and others that perpetuate in obscurity.
The term intonazia was defined by Russian music scholar Malcolm H. Brown in the Levin reading as a word for how music carries meaning. We concluded with the comment that the ambiguity of music haunted the USSR throughout as so-called Soviet musical structure- “national in form, socialist in content” could never be concretely evidenced in the music produced during that period. Meanwhile, others suggest that composers’ total immersion in Soviet ideology means that attempting to evaluate the sincerity of their conformity becomes impossible and is therefore unimportant. But of course impossible questions are the ones that people often enjoy exploring. Can conformity or nonconformity to the aforementioned Soviet ideologies be evidenced through this music? If so, is the culture reflected clearly or more implicitly, and what is the importance of discerning culture through music?