By A. A. Zhdanov
Lawrence & Wishart Ltd. London
Concluding Speech at a Conference of Soviet Music Workers, 1948
Two trends in music
Comrades, allow me first of all to make some remarks about the character of the discussion which has developed here.
A general appraisal of the situation in music shows that matters are unsatisfactory. It is true that various shades of opinion became apparent during discussion. Some speakers said that the weakness lay in organisational matters and pointed out the poor state of affairs in criticism and self criticism, and the incorrect methods of leadership in music matters, especially in the Union of Composers. Others, while endorsing criticism of organisation, pointed also to weaknesses in the ideological direction of Soviet music. Still others tried to minimise the acuteness of the situation or attempted to remain silent on unpleasant questions. But however varied the details, the general tone of the discussion shows that things are unsatisfactory.
I do not wish to bring “dissonance” or “atonality” into this appraisal, although atonality is now the fashion. I do not wish to deny the achievements of Soviet music. They exist, of course; but it must be admitted that our achievements in music are altogether insignificant by comparison with achievements in other spheres. Take literature, for example. Some of the big journals are experiencing real difficulties in using all the material in their editorial files which is well worth publishing. No such “output” can be boasted of in music. We note progress in films and plays too, but nothing in music.
Music has got left behind – that is the general tone of the contributions to the discussion.
It is clear that things are not normal either in the Union of Composers or in the Committee for Art Affairs. The Committee has not been mentioned much and has been insufficiently criticised. At any rate, more was said about the Union and criticism of it was sharper. Yet the role which the Committee played was a sorry one. Behind the pretence of standing wholeheartedly for the realist trend in music it has in every way abetted the formalist trend. By putting the representatives of the formalist trend on a pedestal it has greatly contributed to the disorganisation and ideological confusion among the ranks of our composers. Being, moreover, ignorant and incompetent in music matters the Committee just drifted along with the formalist sect of composers.
The Organisational Committee of the Union of Composers has been compared both to a monastery and to a G.H.Q. without an army. There is no need to dispute either comparison. If the destiny of Soviet music is to be in the privileged hands of a select circle of leading composers and critics – critics chosen for their servility and the atmosphere of adulation with which they surround the composers; if there is a lack of creative discussion in the Union and a stale, stuffy atmosphere which segregates the composers into top-grade and second-rate; and if the fashion at Union conferences is either respectful silence or awe-struck praise of the chosen few, then it is clear that the situation on the musical Olympus is indeed alarming.
The harmful trend in criticism and the absence of discussions in the Union must be gone into. Lack of creative discussions, criticism and self-criticism means that there is no advance, and that the sources of development are drying up and stagnation is setting in.
It is no accident that people taking part for the first time in a
conference on questions of music are astonished at the presence of such
irreconcilable contradictions within the Union of Composers, with its
conservative organisational system and the allegedly ultra-progressive
views of its present leadership in the creative sphere. We know that
the Union leadership has inscribed upon its banner such promising
slogans as an appeal for innovation and for the renunciation of archaic
traditions, and a call to struggle against “epigonism”* and so on.
It is curious, however, that the every people who wish to appear the extreme radicals and even arch-revolutionaries in their work and who aspire to the role of overthrowers of antiquated criteria – these same people, in so far as they participate in the activity of the Union of Composers, prove to be extremely backward and recalcitrant when it comes to introducing something new or making changes; they are conservative in their methods of work and leadership and frequently and willingly bow to bad traditions in organisational questions. The reason for this is not far to seek. When pompous phraseology about an alleged new trend in Soviet music is combined with by no means progressive action, then that fact alone is enough to cause legitimate doubt as to the progressive character of the ideological and creative tendencies resulting from such reactionary methods.
All of you realise very well that the organisational aspect of any matter is of great importance. It is clear that a serious spring-cleaning is needed, a fresh wind to purify the air in the composers’ and musicians’ organisation, so that a normal atmosphere may be established for the development of creative work.
The fundamental problem is nevertheless not that of organisation – important as it is – but that of the trend of Soviet music. The discussion which has developed here tends to blur that problem. We must bring clarity into the question of the development of music, just as you are aiming at clarity in musical phrasing. The discussion has definitely brought out in relief two trends in music, and although some comrades tried not to call a spade a spade and the game is being played only partly in the open, it is clear nevertheless that a struggle between the trends is taking place, and that attempts are being made to substitute one for another.
Moreover, some of the comrades have asserted that there is no need to raise the question of a struggle between trends since there has been no qualitative change, and that we have here merely a development of the classical school in Soviet conditions. They said that the principles of classical music are undergoing no revision and that there is consequently nothing to argue or make a fuss about. The entire problem is being reduced by them to a matter of individuals mending their ways, of isolated cases of enthusiasm for technique, of naturalist lapses here and there, and so on.
The fact that such an evasion of the issue is taking place calls for a closer examination of this struggle between two trends, since it is, of course, not only a case of the roof of the Conservatoire leaking and needing repair, as Comrade Shebalin has put it so aptly. That would be a matter which could be quickly rectified. It is a case of a far larger crack having appeared in the foundations of Soviet music.
All the speakers have shown that the leading part in the creative activities of the Union of Composers is being played at present by a definite group. The names of the following comrades have been mentioned: Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Myaskovsky, Khachaturyan, Popov, Kabalevsky and Shebalin. Is there any other name you would like to add?
Zhdanov: When mention is made of any leading group holding the reins, those are the names most frequently cited. Let us consider these comrades, who are also the leading figures of the formalist trend in music, a trend which is fundamentally wrong.
The comrades in question have contributed to the discussion and have stated that they, too, are dissatisfied with the lack of criticism in the Union of Composers, with the fact that they are being overpraised, that they feel a certain loss of contact with the main body of composers and with concert audiences. It was hardly necessary, however, to wait for the production of a not very successful – or not at all successful – opera, before stating such truths. These admissions could have been made much earlier, but the crux of the matter is that the regime or the formalist sect in the musical organisations has not been entirely unpleasant, to put it mildly, for the leading group of our composers. It has required a discussion in the Central Committee of the Party for the comrades to discover the fact that this regime has its negative side. However that may be, before the conference not one of them thought of changing the state of affairs in the Union of Composers.
It has been said here that the time has come for radical changes. One cannot but agree. Inasmuch as the dominating positions in Soviet music are held by the comrades I have named, and inasmuch as any attempts to criticise them would have brought about an explosion and an immediate rallying against such criticism, in Comrade Zakharov’s words, the conclusion must be drawn that the “cosy” atmosphere of stagnation and personal relations which they now wish to condemn as undesirable was in fact created by them.
Some leading comrades of the Union of Composers have asserted here that there is no oligarchy in the Union. But then the question arises: Why do they cling to the leading positions in the Union? Do they like power for its own sake? Have they developed a sort of administrative itch, so that they merely want to rule a little, like Vladimir Galitsky in Prince Igor? Or has this domination been established in the interests of a definite trend? I think that the first conjecture can be discarded and that the last is nearer the truth. We have no reason to say that the management of the Union has no connections with a trend. We cannot bring such a charge against Shostakovich, for instance.
It follows, then, that domination was maintained in the interests of a trend.
There is in fact, then, a sharp though hidden struggle between two trends taking place in Soviet music. One trend represents the healthy, progressive principles in Soviet music, based on the acceptance of tile immense role to be played by the classical heritage, and in particular, by the Russian school, in the creation of a music which is realist and of truthful content and is closely and organically linked with the people and their folk music and folk song – all this combined with a high degree of professional mastery. The other trend represents a formalism alien to Soviet art, a rejection of the classical heritage under the banner of innovation, a rejection of the idea of the popular origin of music, and of service to the people, in order to gratify the individualistic emotions of a small group of select aesthetes.
The formalist trend brings about the substitution of a music which is false, vulgar and often purely pathological, for natural, beautiful, human music. Furthermore, it is characteristic of this trend to avoid a frontal attack and to screen its revisionist activities by formally agreeing with the basic principles of socialist realism. This sort of underhand method is, of course, nothing new. History can show many instances of revisionism behind the label of sham agreement with a given teaching. This makes it all the more necessary to reveal the real essence of the formalist trend and the damage it has done to the development of Soviet music.
As an example, there is the attitude towards the classical heritage. There is no indication whatever that the supporters of the formalist school are carrying on and developing the traditions of classical music, however much they may protest to the contrary. Any listener will tell you that the works of Soviet composers of the formalist type differ fundamentally from classical music. Classical music is marked by its truthfulness and realism, its ability to blend brilliant artistic form with profound content, and to combine the highest technical achievement with simplicity and intelligibility. Formalism and crude naturalism are alien to classical music in general and to Russian classical music in particular. The high level of the idea content in classical music springs from the recognition of the fact that classical music has its sources in the musical creative powers of the people, in a deep respect and love for the people, their music and song.
What a step backward it is along the highroad of musical development when our formalists, undermining the foundations of true music, compose music which is ugly and false, permeated with idealist sentiment, alien to the broad masses of the people, and created not for the million of Soviet people, but for chosen individuals and small groups, for an elite. How unlike Glinka, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Dargomyzhsky, Mussorgsky, who considered the basis for development of their creative power to be the ability to express in their works the spirit and character of the people. By ignoring the wants of the people and its spirit and creative genius, the formalist trend in music has clearly demonstrated its anti-popular character.
If a certain section of Soviet composers favour the theory that they will be appreciated in fifty or a hundred years’ time, and that their descendants, if not their contemporaries, will understand them, then the situation is really terrifying. To become accustomed to such an attitude is extremely dangerous. Such a theory indicates an estrangement from the people. If I, a writer, an artist, a critic, or a Party worker, do not count on being understood by my contemporaries, for whom then do I live and work? Would this not lead to spiritual sterility and a dead end? We hear that the theory is offered as consolation to our composers by certain toadying music critics. How can composers remain indifferent to counsel of that sort and not at least haul its advocates before a court of honour?
Half-forgotten by us seem to be the clear statements about the
popular roots of music by the “Mighty Few”*
and subsequently too by V. V. Stasov, the great music scholar, when he
associated himself with them. Half-forgotten is Glinka’s “The people
create the music – we, the artists, merely arrange”. We forget, too,
that the classical composers never disdained any genres as long as they
helped to spread the art of music among the broad masses of the people.
Yet you even shun opera as a musical genre and consider it secondary to
instrumental and symphonic music, and in your supercilious attitude
towards song, choral, and concert music you deemed it beneath your
dignity to satisfy the demands of the people in this respect. But
Mussorgsky set the “Gopak” to music, and Glinka used the “Komarinsky”
for one of his best works. It has, in fact, to be admitted that Glinka,
the land-owner, Serov, the civil servant, and Stasov, the nobleman,
were more democratic than you.
It is not enough to give glowing assurances that you are all for popular music; if you are, then why is so little folk music used in your compositions? Why do deficiencies still crop up which Serov already criticised when he pointed out that “academic”, i.e. professional, music was developing parallel with, and independent of, folk music? Is our instrumental and symphonic music developing in close interplay with folk music? No. On the contrary. There is an undoubted gulf, created by the lack of appreciation of folk music by our symphony writers. Let us recall how Serov described his attitude to folk music. I have in mind his article The Music of South Russian Song in which he says:
“Folk songs are musical organisms which are in no way the work of individual creative talent but compositions of the whole people, and by all their attributes far removed from artificial music. These flowers break through the soil into the light quite of their own, as it were, and grow to full resplendence without the slightest thought about authorship and composers’ rights and therefore little resemble the hothouse products of the learned composers’ activity. So it is that, above all in folk song we find unaffected creative genius and the wisdom of simplicity, as Gogol puts it so aptly in Dead Souls, which is the supreme charm and secret of any work of art.
“As a lily in its magnificent raiment of purity puts to shame the glitter of brocade and precious stones, so is folk music, in its childlike simplicity, a thousand times richer and stronger than all the complexities of scholastic invention taught by pedants in conservatoires and music academies.”
How well and forcefully this is said! How true the formulation of the main issue: that the development of music must proceed on a foundation of interplay, that is by enriching “academic” music from folk music. This theme has practically disappeared from our theoretical and critical articles today.
Let me now deal with the relationship between national and foreign music. Some comrades here have quite correctly stated that there is a passion for, and even a certain orientation towards, contemporary Western bourgeois music, the music of decadence; and that this represents one of the basic features of the formalist trend in Soviet music.
The relationship between Russian music and the music of Western Europe was dealt with very well by Stasov in his article Drag-chains on the New Russian Art, in which he says:
“It would be ridiculous to disavow science and knowledge in any sphere, including that of music. But only the new Russian musicians, who are not burdened down by the long series of scholastic periods of the Europe of previous centuries, are able to look science full in the face: they honour it and make use of its blessings, but they do so without exaggerated deference. They repudiate the inevitability of dry and pedantic excess, and reject the acrobatic diversions of science to which thousands of people in Europe attach so much significance. And they do not believe that it is necessary to remain long years in passive submission before its sacred ritual mysteries.”
That is what Stasov said about West European classical music. As regards contemporary bourgeois music, it would be useless to try and profit from it, since it is in a state of decay and degradation and the grovelling attitude towards it is therefore ridiculous.
Research in our Russian, and later, Soviet music must lead to the conclusion that it grew and developed into a mighty force because it managed to stand on its own feet and find its own particular roads of development, which enabled it to disclose the wealth of the inner world of our people.
Those who consider that the full flowering of national music, whether Russian music or that of the other peoples of the Soviet Union, indicates any diminution in the internationalism of art, are making a serious mistake. Internationalism in art does not spring from the depletion and impoverishment of national art; on the contrary, internationalism grows where national culture flourishes. To forget this is to lose one’s individuality and become a cosmopolitan without a country.
Only a people that has a highly developed musical culture of its own can appreciate the musical riches of other nations. It is impossible to be an internationalist in music or in anything else unless one loves and respects one’s own people. All the experience of the U.S.S.R. testifies to that. Our internationalism in music and respect for the creative genius of other nations is therefore based on the enrichment and development of our national musical culture which we can then share with other nations, and is not based on an impoverishment of national art, blind imitation of foreign styles, and the eradication of all national characteristics in music. All this should be borne in mind when dealing with the relationship between Soviet and foreign music.
When we speak of the formalist trend having broken with the principles of the classical heritage we must also mention the minimising of the role of programme music. This has already been mentioned here, but the principal point of the problem has not been properly clarified.
It is quite obvious that programme music has become so rare that it is almost non-existent. Matters have reached a point where the content of a composition is elucidated only after its publication. A whole new profession has come into being among the critics – that of the interpreters of new compositions, who try to decipher post factum and on the basis of personal intuition the content of newly published compositions, the obscure meaning of which is said to be not always clear to the composers themselves. The neglect of programme music is also a departure from progressive traditions. It is well known that Russian classical music was as a rule programme music.
The question of innovation has been raised here. Innovation has been shown to be one of the main characteristics of formalism. But innovation is not an end in itself. The new must be better than the old, otherwise it is meaningless. It seems to me that the disciples of formalism use this word chiefly to make propaganda for bad music.
The term innovation must not he applied to any and all cases of eccentricity and distortion. If one does not want merely to use big words, then one must be clear about that from which it is necessary to break away in the old, and that which should be attained in the new. If that is not done, then talk about innovation can have only one meaning: revision of the foundations of music and a breaking away from laws and standards of music which must not be abandoned, not because of any conservative attitude, but because a break-away does not in any way represent innovation.
Moreover, innovation does not always imply progress. Many young musicians are being confused by being told that unless they are original they are not new and would become imprisoned in conservative traditions. Since, however, innovation is not synonymous with progress, the spreading of ideas of this sort means gross delusion, if not deceit. Furthermore, the “innovations” of the formalists are not new at all, since all their “novelty” brings to mind contemporary decadent bourgeois music of Europe and America. This is where we should look for the real “epigones”.
You will remember that at one time in all primary and secondary schools there was a passion for “experimental” methods and the “Dalton Plan”, according to which the part of the teacher was reduced to a minimum, and every pupil had the right to decide upon the subject of a lesson. The teacher would arrive in class and say: “Now, what shall we take today?” The pupils would reply: “Tell us about the Arctic” – “Tell us about the Antarctic” – “Tell us about Chapayev” – “Tell us about Dnieprostroy”.
This was called an “experimental” method, but meant in fact that the whole organisation of study went topsy-turvy: the pupils came to dominate the teacher, textbooks were treated in helter-skelter fashion, there was no system of marking. All this was innovation, but I ask you, was this innovation progressive?
We know that the Party has abolished these “innovations”. Why? Because, although very “left” in form, they were reactionary through and through and were leading to the nullification of the school.
Take another example. The Academy of Arts was established not long ago. Painting is your sister-muse. As you know, at one time there were strong bourgeois influences at work in painting which came to the surface now and again under extremely “left” flags and attached to themselves names like futurism, cubism, and modernism. Under the slogan of “Overthrow rotten academism”, they called for innovation, and this innovation reached its most insane point when a girl, for instance, would be portrayed with one head and forty legs, one eye looking at you and the other at the North Pole.
How did all that end? With a complete fiasco of the new trend. The Party fully re-established the significance of the classical heritage of Repin, Bryullov, Vereshchagin, Vasnetsov and Surikov. Did we act correctly when we defended the treasure-house of classical painting and destroyed the liquidators of painting? Perhaps the continued existence of “schools” of this kind did not mean the liquidation of painting? Or did the Central Committee, in saving the classical heritage in painting, act in a conservative manner and under the influence of “traditionalism” and “epigonism” and so on? Utter nonsense, of course!
Thus it is in music, too. We do not assert that the classical heritage represents the absolute peak of musical culture. If we said that it would be tantamount to admitting that progress came to an end with the classics. Up to now, however, the classics remain unsurpassed. This means that we must learn and continue to learn, and that we must adopt all that is best in the classics and all that is essential for the further development of Soviet music.
Our young people are frightened away from learning from the classics by a lot of chatter about “epigonism”. The slogan now has it that the classics must be outdone. That would be very good, of course. But in order to outdo the classics they must first be equalled, yet you dismiss the stage of equalling them as though it were a stage already reached. But to give frank expression to what goes on in the minds of a Soviet audience one would have to say that it would do no harm if more compositions appeared among us which approached classical music with regard to content, form, polish and beauty of melody. If that be “epigonism” then I suggest that there would be nothing discreditable in being an “epigone”.
Now to go on to the subject of naturalist distortion: it has become clear here that departures from the natural and healthy standards of music are on the increase. Elements of crude naturalism are penetrating more and more into our music. Ninety years ago Serov warned against the passion for crude naturalism in the following words:
“In nature there is an infinity of sound of the most diverse and varied description. In some cases they can be given names like noise, thunder, rumble, tickle, splashing, droning, humming, tinkling, howling, creaking, whistling, talking, whispering, rustling and so on; in others they cannot be expressed in speech. Any of these sounds are used as material in the musical language only in exceptional cases as, for example, the ringing of bells, the clashing of cymbals, the tinkling of a triangle, or the sound of drums and tambourines and so on. The musical material proper is sound of a special character.”
Is it not true and right that in musical compositions the sound of cymbals and drums should be the exception and not the rule? Is it not clear that not every natural sound should be taken into musical creations? Yet how frequent among us is this unforgivable passion for vulgar naturalism, which to all intents and purposes is a step backwards.
It has to be said frankly that a great number of works by contemporary composers are so saturated with naturalistic sounds that they remind one either of a dentist’s drill or a musical murder, if you will excuse the expression. Only, mind you, there is no force whatever behind it all.
This is the first step beyond the limits of the rational, beyond the limits not only of normal human emotions but of normal human intellect. There are, it is true, fashionable “theories” to the effect that a pathological condition is a higher state, and that schizophrenics and paranoiacs can attain spiritual heights in their ravings unattainable by an ordinary person in a normal state. These “theories” are not, of course, fortuitous. They are very characteristic of the period of decay and corruption of bourgeois culture. But let us leave all these “experiments” to the insane and let us ask for normal, human music from our composers.
What has been the result of the disregard of the laws and standards of musical creation? Music has taken revenge on those who attempted to mutilate it. When music ceases to have content and to be highly artistic, and becomes crude, ugly and vulgar, it ceases to fulfil the demands which are the reasons for its existence. It ceases to be music.
You may be surprised that the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party asks for beauty and grace in music. Yes, we declare that we are for beautiful and graceful music, for a music which is capable of satisfying the aesthetic requirements and artistic tastes of the Soviet people; and these requirements and tastes have developed to an incredible extent. The people assesses a musical composition according to how profoundly it reflects the spirit of our epoch and people, and according to how intelligible it is to the wide masses.
For what is it in music that is proof of genius? It is not something that can only be grasped by a small group of aesthetes: a musical work is proved to be a work of genius by the scope of its content and depth, by its skill, and by the number of people who appreciate it, by the number of people it is able to inspire. Not all that is readily grasped is a work of genius, but all that is real genius is readily grasped, and the greater the genius the more intelligible is it to the broad masses of the people.
A. N. Serov was profoundly right when he said that “but for the genuinely and timelessly beautiful in their art there would be admiration neither for Homer, Dante and Shakespeare, nor for Raphael, Titian and Poussin, nor for Palestrina, Handel and Gluck….”
The greater a work of music, the more responsive the chords it strikes in the human spirit. From the point of view of musical perception man is such a miraculous receiver, working on thousands of wavelengths – I daresay there are better comparisons – that for him the tone of one note, the sound from one string, or a single emotion, is insufficient. A composer capable of striking only one answering note, or only a few strings, is inadequate, since modern man – and particularly our Soviet man – is a highly complex organ of receptivity. Glinka, Tchaikovsky and Serov wrote of the Russian people as being highly developed musically, and this at a time when classical music had not yet found a wide understanding among them. In the years of Soviet power the people’s musical culture has developed to an extraordinary degree. The artistic tastes of our previously merely musical people have become greatly enriched, thanks to a wide dissemination of classical music.
If you have allowed music to become impoverished and if, as in Muradeli’s opera, the full possibilities of an orchestra and abilities of singers are not utilised, then you have ceased to satisfy the musical demands of your audience. As you sow, so you shall reap. Do not let composers who have written works unintelligible to the people think that, while the people may not understand this music now, they will do so when they have become more mature. The people do not need music which they cannot understand. The composers ought to reproach themselves instead of the people; they should subject their work to a critical appraisal in order to understand why they did not please their people, why they did not merit approval, and in order to understand what they have to do to make themselves understood by the people and win their approval. That is the foundation upon which one’s creative work must be reorganised.
Now I want to go on to deal with the danger of losing professional skill. Formalist distortion impoverishes music and at the same time brings with it the danger of professional skill being lost. In this connection we must examine another widespread error – that of believing that classical music is rather simple, and that modern music is more complex; of believing that the complication in technique of modern music represents a step forward, since all development proceeds from the simple to the more complex and from the particular to the general.
It is not true that complication of any kind whatever is the equivalent to a growth in skill. Whoever thinks that any kind of complication represents progress makes a profound mistake. Here is an example. We know that literary Russian makes use of a great number of foreign words, and we know that Lenin ridiculed the misuse of foreign words and that he came out strongly for a cleansing of the native language of foreign-bred impurities. A complication of the language by way of introducing a foreign word for which there is a full equivalent in the Russian language never did represent a progressive step. For instance, the foreign word losung [German for “slogan”] has now been replaced by the Russian word prizyv, and does not an exchange of this kind represent a step forward? So it is in music, too. A purely superficial complication of composition methods camouflages a tendency to impoverish music.
Musical language is becoming inexpressive. So much that is crude and vulgar and false is being introduced into music that it is beginning to fail in its function, which is to provide pleasure.
Or is the aesthetic significance of music to be abolished? Is that what innovation means? Is music a soliloquy – the composer talking to himself? And if that is the case, why inflict it on the people? This music becomes anti-popular and super-individualist, and the people have every right to be indifferent to its fate and are indifferent to it. If an audience is expected to praise music which is crude, ugly and vulgar, and based on atonality and continuous dissonance, and if false notes and combinations of false notes become the rule, and assonance the exception, then the fundamental standards of music are being abandoned.
The sum total of this represents a threat to the existence of music, just as cubism and futurism have as their aim nothing more nor less than the decay of painting. Music which deliberately ignores the normal human emotions and jars the mind and nervous system can never be popular, or of use to society.
The narrow passion for symphonic music without text has been mentioned here. It is incorrect to ignore all the many genres of music. What it leads to can again be seen in the example of Muradeli’s opera. Just call to mind how liberal the great masters of the art were in this respect. They well understood that the people demanded music in a variety of genres. Why are you so unlike your great predecessors? You are far more hard-hearted in this than those who occupied the summit of their art and yet wrote songs for the people – solo, choral and orchestral.
Melodiousness is beginning to disappear. A passionate emphasis on rhythm at the expense of melody is characteristic of modern music. Yet we know that music can give pleasure only if it contains the essential elements in a specific harmonic combination. One-sided emphasis leads to a violation of the correct interaction of the various elements of music and cannot, of course, be accepted by the normal human ear.
The use of instruments for purposes outside their functions also comes under the heading of distortion; when for example, the piano is turned into a percussion instrument. The role of vocal music is being curtailed for the benefit of a one-sided development of instrumental music. Vocal music itself concerns itself less and less with the demands of the normal standards of singing. The criticisms from the vocalists, expressed here by Comrades Derzhinskaya and Katulskaya, must be taken into the fullest consideration.
All these and similar departures from the standards of the art of music represent not only a violation of the fundamentals of musical sound but also an assault upon the fundamental physiology of normal human hearing. Unfortunately the theory which deals with the physiological effect of music on the human organism has been insufficiently developed. It should be borne in mind, however, that bad, unharmonious music undoubtedly disturbs the balance of mental and physiological functions.
Tasks of soviet music
What conclusions can be drawn? The significance of the classical heritage must be fully restored. The danger of destruction threatening music from the formalist trend must be stressed and this trend must be condemned as an assault upon the edifice of the art created by the great masters of musical culture. Our composers must re-orientate themselves and turn towards their people. All of them must realise that our Party, expressing the interests of our state and our people, will support only a healthy and progressive trend in music, the trend of Soviet socialist realism.
Comrades, if you value the lofty calling of Soviet composer, you must prove yourselves capable of serving your people better than you have done up to the present. You are facing a serious test. The formalist trend in music was condemned by the Party twelve years ago. Since then the Government has awarded Stalin prizes to many of you, among them those guilty of formalism. The rewards you received were in the nature of a substantial advance payment. We did not consider that your compositions were free of defects, but we were patient, expecting our composers to find within themselves the strength to choose the right road. But it is now clear to everybody that the intervention of the Party was necessary. The Central Committee tells you bluntly that our music will never win glory along the road you have chosen.
Soviet composers have two highly responsible tasks. The chief one is to develop and perfect Soviet music. The other is to protect Soviet music against penetration by elements of bourgeois decay. We must not forget that the U.S.S.R. is now the true custodian of the musical culture of mankind just as she is in all other fields, too, a bulwark of human civilisation and culture against bourgeois corruption and decay.
We must take into account the fact that alien bourgeois influences from abroad will muster what remains of a capitalist outlook in the minds of some Soviet intellectuals in frivolous and crazy attempts to replace the treasures of Soviet musical culture by the pitiful tatters of modern bourgeois art. For this reason not only the musical but also the political ear of Soviet composers must be very sensitive. Your contact with the people must be closer than ever before. The ear for music must be an “ear for criticism” too. You should keep track of the various stages through which art is passing in the West. But it is your task not only to prevent the penetration of bourgeois influence into Soviet music: it is your task, too, to consolidate the supremacy of Soviet music and to create a mighty Soviet musical culture which will embody all that is best from the past, and which will reflect Soviet society of today and enable the culture and the communist consciousness of our people to attain still greater heights.
We Bolsheviks do not deny our cultural heritage. On the contrary, we subject to a critical study the cultural heritage of all people and all ages in order to draw from it all that can inspire the working people of Soviet society to great achievements in labour, science and culture. You must help the people in this; and if you do not set yourselves this task and devote yourselves wholeheartedly to it and give to it all your enthusiasm and creative ardour, you are not fulfilling your historic role.
Comrades, we would very much like – we fervently wish – to have in
existence among us our own “Mighty Few”, a group which would be more
numerous and more influential still than that which in its day sent the
fame of its talents around the world and glorified our people. In order
to achieve this you must clear out of your path all that might weaken
you and select only the means and equipment which will make you strong
and mighty. If you use to the full our great musical heritage and at
the same time develop it in the spirit of the new demands of our great
epoch, you will become a Soviet “Mighty Few”. We want to see this
backwardness through which you are passing overcome as quickly as
possible, so that you can the sooner re-orientate yourselves and become
a glorious cohort of Soviet composers, the pride of the entire Soviet
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