On this date, early in the Cold War

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piston
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On this date, early in the Cold War

Post by piston » Tue Apr 20, 2010 6:56 am

From the good old days when composers were still thought of as being influential public figures:

April 19, 1948 The first All-Union congress of Soviet Composers meets in Moscow. They condemn
Benjamin Britten (34), Gian-Carlo Menotti (36) and Olivier Messiaen (39) as being “impregnated with
extreme subjectivism, mysticism and disgusting facetiousness.”


April 19, 1949 The US House Un-American Activities Committee releases its report on the Waldorf
Conference recently held in New York featuring Aaron Copland (48), Dmitri Shostakovich (42),
Leonard Bernstein (30), Lukas Foss (26) and Marc Blitzstein (44). It lists names of the participants and
describes the “threat” posed by the conference which they call “a supermobilization of inveterate
wheelhorses and supporters of the Communist Party and its auxiliary organizations...”
In the eyes of those lovers of perfection, a work is never finished—a word that for them has no sense—but abandoned....(Paul Valéry)

diegobueno
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Re: On this date, early in the Cold War

Post by diegobueno » Wed Apr 21, 2010 5:37 am

piston wrote:From the good old days when composers were still thought of as being influential public figures:

April 19, 1948 The first All-Union congress of Soviet Composers meets in Moscow. They condemn
Benjamin Britten (34), Gian-Carlo Menotti (36) and Olivier Messiaen (39) as being “impregnated with
extreme subjectivism, mysticism and disgusting facetiousness.”
A fascinating trio of composers. Who but a Soviet party hack would have thought of grouping them together? Or alleging those attributes to them? I'm surprised Menotti was even on the Soviets' radar.

John F
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Re: On this date, early in the Cold War

Post by John F » Wed Apr 21, 2010 7:58 am

The most important 1948 crackdown on composers, however, was entirely domestic: on February 10, Andrei Zhdanov presented a decree of the Central Committee of the Communist Party denouncing Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Muradeli, Aram Khachaturian, and other Soviet composers for musical "formalism," resulting in a de facto ban on performances of their works throughout Russia.

The lower-level denunciation of non-Russian composers you mention, which I hadn't heard of before (Slonimsky doesn't mention it in his chronology "Music Since 1900"), seems a logical follow-through; the Soviet composers' union, bloodied by the Zhdanov denunciation, might well have asked why only Soviet music should be subject to condemnation, and made their own little contribution. With far less effect on the Soviet audience or the western composers' royalties; even if the Composers' Union had the authority to dictate concert and operatic performance repertoire, which I don't know that they did, these composers were probably earning little or nothing in Russia anyway.

The choice of these particular composers - one British, one American (as it were), and one French, all then young, none yet the celebrities they were to become, and none except maybe Messiaen composing music that would have rattled many windows in the USSR, does seem odd. So does the omission of such famous, indeed notorious, western "formalist" composers as Schoenberg and Stravinsky. I'd like to know more about this. Any sources we can read?
John Francis

DavidRoss
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Re: On this date, early in the Cold War

Post by DavidRoss » Wed Apr 21, 2010 9:56 am

piston wrote:“impregnated with extreme subjectivism, mysticism and disgusting facetiousness.”
Horrors! Especially "disgusting facetiousness." What next? Repulsive whimsy?
piston wrote:April 19, 1949 The US House Un-American Activities Committee releases its report on the Waldorf
Conference recently held in New York featuring Aaron Copland (48), Dmitri Shostakovich (42),
Leonard Bernstein (30), Lukas Foss (26) and Marc Blitzstein (44). It lists names of the participants and
describes the “threat” posed by the conference which they call “a supermobilization of inveterate
wheelhorses and supporters of the Communist Party and its auxiliary organizations...”
I didn't know Shosty was Jewish!

Interestingly enough, HUAC was right about the conference, which was sponsored by the Soviets' Communist Information Bureau. See https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for- ... arner.html Most "fellow travelers," of course, were idealists, not hard-core Soviet-style communists, who wanted to believe the sweetness and light of Soviet propaganda and to deny or discount reports of Stalinist brutality...not unlike "artists" today, such as the many politically outspoken but uninformed Hollywood celebrities, whose idealistic hearts beat in harmony with what sounds good but who lack the brains required to seek and understand the facts.
"Most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives." ~Leo Tolstoy

"It is the highest form of self-respect to admit our errors and mistakes and make amends for them. To make a mistake is only an error in judgment, but to adhere to it when it is discovered shows infirmity of character." ~Dale Turner

"Anyone who doesn't take truth seriously in small matters cannot be trusted in large ones either." ~Albert Einstein
"Truth is incontrovertible; malice may attack it and ignorance may deride it; but, in the end, there it is." ~Winston Churchill

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piston
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Re: On this date, early in the Cold War

Post by piston » Wed Apr 21, 2010 2:05 pm

John Francis wrote:
The choice of these particular composers - one British, one American (as it were), and one French, all then young, none yet the celebrities they were to become, and none except maybe Messiaen composing music that would have rattled many windows in the USSR, does seem odd. So does the omission of such famous, indeed notorious, western "formalist" composers as Schoenberg and Stravinsky. I'd like to know more about this. Any sources we can read?
The excerpt is drawn from a chronologically organized website called "Music and History," without any reference to the original source. My guess is that it is derived from a 22 April 1948 article authored by the dean of the US press corps in the USSR, Edmund Stevens, for the Christian Science Monitor. But I am not a subscriber and cannot verify:
Soviet Composers Denounce Western 'Modernist' Works
The Christian Science Monitor (1908-Current file) - Boston, Mass.
Author: By Edmund Stevens Staff Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
Date: Apr 22, 1948
Start Page: 6
Pages: 1
Text Word Count: 296
In the eyes of those lovers of perfection, a work is never finished—a word that for them has no sense—but abandoned....(Paul Valéry)

John F
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Re: On this date, early in the Cold War

Post by John F » Thu Apr 22, 2010 5:41 am

Thanks. That looks like a useful web site:

http://musicandhistory.com/

I've found it, in Boris Schwartz's "Music and Musical Life in Soviet Russia, 1917-1970," pp. 215 ff. The Composer's Union was reorganized at that April 1948 conference, with Tikhon Khrennikov put in charge. Schwartz doesn't quote the conference's resolution but writes extensively about it, and he does quote from Khrennikov's speech following it:
Boris Schwartz wrote:Having wiped nine-tenths of Soviet music off the map, Khrennikov went on to demolish the foreigners. First came Stravinsky, to some extent still a "Russian," as well as Diaghilev and his circle... European composers are not neglected on Khrennikov's blacklist, as he says, "One can hardly name a single important composer in the West who is not infected with formalistic defects, subjectivism, and mysticism, and bereft of ideological principles." Thus, Hindemith, Krenek, Berg, Britten, Messiaen, Menotti, Max Brandt all favor "a conglomeration of wild harmonies, a reversion to primitive savage cultures... eroticism, sexual perversion, amorality, and the shamelessness of the contemporary bourgeois heroes of the twentieth century."
Schwartz goes on, "Suffice it to say that within a dozen years, every one of the insulted composers was performed in Soviet concerts, and quite a few were welcomed by Khrennikov with a show of affection and friendship."

So the Soviets didn't single out Britten, Menotti, and Messiaen among all composers; "Music and History" did, or more likely its source. As for the terms of the condemnation, there's your "subjectivism" and "mysticism," but what about "facetiousness"? That word struck me as very odd, especially as applied to Britten, Menotti, and above all Messiaen, and I'm sure Schwartz would have mentioned it if it had been used, so I wonder if it isn't just a mistake.
John Francis

piston
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Re: On this date, early in the Cold War

Post by piston » Thu Apr 22, 2010 5:46 am

It could be a case of "lost in translation." Has Schwartz referred to any source in his endnotes?
In the eyes of those lovers of perfection, a work is never finished—a word that for them has no sense—but abandoned....(Paul Valéry)

John F
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Re: On this date, early in the Cold War

Post by John F » Thu Apr 22, 2010 6:01 am

piston wrote:It could be a case of "lost in translation." Has Schwartz referred to any source in his endnotes?
Yes, exhaustively. Schwartz's notes also point to a section of Slonimsky's "Music since 1900" that I missed because I wasn't looking for just that: the full text of Khrennikov's speech, which goes on for 3 1/2 pages in small type. I haven't read through the whole thing, but according to Slonimsky's translation, Khrennikov doesn't use the word "facetiousness" in his lambasting of operas and other music by the foreign composers he names.
John Francis

piston
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Re: On this date, early in the Cold War

Post by piston » Thu Apr 22, 2010 6:21 am

While "Music and History" offers a convenient chronological, almost daily, record of events, both contextual and musical, its very large volume of information suggests that this project is the result of team work, perhaps a research project intended for college students. I doubt that all of these entries were traced back to their original, primary sources.

Thank you for verifying.
In the eyes of those lovers of perfection, a work is never finished—a word that for them has no sense—but abandoned....(Paul Valéry)

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