On the Birth Centenary of Dmitri Shostakovich

Muradeli’s Opera: The Great Friendship

Decision of the Central Committee, C.P.S.U. (B.)
February 10, 1948

The Central Committee, C.P.S.U. (B) is of the opinion that the opera The Great Friendship (music by V. Muradeli, libretto by G. Mdivani), staged by the Bolshoi Theatre of the U.S.S.R. for the thirtieth anniversary of the October Revolution, is a faulty, unartistic production, both in its music and plot.

The opera’s principal defects reside, first and foremost, in its music, which is inexpressive and vapid. The Great Friendship does not contain a single melody or air likely to be remembered by audiences. It music is discordant and disharmonious, built entirely on dissonance and jarring sound combinations. Some parts of the score and some scenes, which aspire to melody, are suddenly interrupted by discordant noises that are absolutely foreign to normal human hearing and have a depressing effect on the listener. There is no organic connection between the music and the episodes depicted on the stage. The vocal parts of the opera – choral, solo and ensemble singing – leave a very drab impression. The general result is that the potentialities of both orchestra and singers are not made use of.

The composer has not drawn on the wealth of folk melodies, songs, tunes and dance motives that are so abundant in the folk creations of the peoples of the U.S.S.R., and in particular among the peoples of the North Caucasus, where the action of the opera is laid.

In his desire to achieve a falsely conceived ‘originality’, Muradeli ignored and disregarded the finest traditions and experience of classical opera, and particularly of Russian classical opera. The latter is distinguished for its rich intrinsic content, wealth and wide range of melody, artistry, refined and clear musical idiom–things that have made the Russian opera, which is rooted in the life of the people, the best in the world, a genre loved and understood by wide sections of the people.

The Great Friendship sets out to portray the struggle for Soviet power and the friendship of the peoples in the North Caucasus in 1918-1920. But its story is historically false and artificial for it creates the incorrect impression that such Caucasian peoples as the Georgians and Ossetians were at that time hostile to the Russian people. This is incorrect historically, because in that period in the North Caucasus it was the Ingushi and Chechens who hindered the establishment of friendship among the peoples.

The Central Committee considers that the failure of Muradeli’s opera results from its author having taken the path of formalism, which is a false path and fatal to the creative work of the Soviet composer.

The conference of Soviet music workers convened by the Central Committee, C.P.S.U.(B), has shown that the failure of Muradeli’s opera is no isolated instance, but is intimately associated with the present unsatisfactory state of Soviet music, with the fact that the formalistic trend has gained currency among Soviet composers.

As early as 1936, in connection with Dmitri Shostakovich’s opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk County, Pravda, organ of the Central Committee, C.P.S.U. (B.), sharply criticized the anti-popular and formalistic distortions in the works of Shostakovich and showed how pernicious and dangerous this trend was for the future development of Soviet music. Pravda, which published its article on the instructions of the Central Committee, clearly formulated what the Soviet people expected of their composers.

Notwithstanding these warnings, and despite the directives issued by the Central Committee in its decisions on the journals Zvezda and Leningrad, the film Glowing Life and on the drama repertories and measures for its improvement, no change has been effected in the realm of Soviet music. Successful work by individual Soviet composers in creating new songs that have won wide popularity among the people, music for films, etc., does not alter the general state of affairs. The position is particularly unsatisfactory with regard to symphony and opera music. This refers to composers who adhere to the formalistic, anti-popular trend which has found its consummate expression in the works of Dmitri Shostakovich, Sergei Prokofieff, Aram Khachaturyan, V. Shebalin, G. Popov, N. Myaskovsky and others. Formalistic distortions and anti-democratic trends alien to the Soviet people and its artistic tastes are especially evident in the music of these composers. The characteristic features of this music are negation of the basic principles of classical music, advocacy of atonality, dissonance and discord, which are supposed to represent ‘progress’ and ‘novelty’ in the development of musical forms, renunciation of such fundamental principles of musical composition as melody, and preference for confused, neuropathological combinations that turn music into cacophony, into a chaotic conglomeration of sounds. This music smacks very much of the spirit of the contemporary modernist bourgeois music of Europe and America, which is a reflection of the decay of bourgeois culture and signifies complete negation of musical art, its impasse.

An essential feature of the formalistic trend is also the renunciation of polyphonic music and singing, based on the simultaneous combination and development of several independent lines of melody, and preference for monotonic, unisonant music and singing, often without text, which implies violation of the polyphonic musical harmony characteristic of our people and leads to the impoverishment and decline of music.

While riding roughshod over the finest traditions of Russian and Western classical music, and renouncing these traditions as ‘obsolete’, ‘old-fashioned’ and ‘conservative,’ and while entertaining a supercilious contempt for composers who conscientiously endeavour to master and develop the methods of classical music, regarding them as adherents of ‘primitive traditionalism’ and ‘epigonism,’ many Soviet composers have, in their eagerness to achieve falsely-conceived originality, divorced their music from the requirements and artistic tastes of the Soviet people. They have segregated themselves in a narrow circle of experts and musical gourmands, have degraded the important public function of music and narrowed down its significance, restricting it to catering to the perverted tastes of individualistic-minded aesthetes.

The formalistic trend in Soviet music has given rise, among a certain section of Soviet composers, to an one-sided interest in complex forms of instrumental symphony music without text, and has been productive of a contemptuous attitude to such musical genres as opera, choral music, popular music for small orchestras, folk instruments, vocal ensembles, etc.

All this inevitably culminates in the breakdown of the fundamentals of vocal culture and dramaturgic craftsmanship, so that composers lose their ability to write music for the people. Proof of this is provided by the fact that not a single Soviet opera has been produced in the recent period that can compare with the classical Russian operas.

The divorcement of some Soviet music workers from the people has reached the stage when they subscribe to the ‘theory’ that many contemporary Soviet composers are not understood by the people because of the people’s supposed ‘immaturity’, which prevents them from appreciating complex musical compositions. According to this ‘theory,’ the people will learn to appreciate these compositions in a hundred years, and there is no need to be disturbed by the fact that some musical productions fail to attract audiences. This utterly individualistic and fundamentally anti-popular theory has served as an additional stimulus to certain composers and critics of music to fight shy of the people, to disregard the criticism offered by the Soviet public and retire into their own shells.

The encouragement of these and similar views is causing the greatest harm to Soviet musical art. A tolerant attitude towards these views is tantamount to fostering among representatives of Soviet musical culture tendencies that are alien to it, that lead to an impasse in the development of music, to the nullification of musical art.

The wrong, anti-popular and formalistic trend in Soviet music is likewise having a fatal effect on the training and education of young composers in our conservatories, and above all in the Moscow Conservatory (director Comrade Shebalin), where the formalistic trend predominates. The students are not taught to respect the finest traditions of Russian and Western classical music, are not trained in the spirit of love for folk art and for democratic musical forms. The compositions of many conservatory students are but a blind imitation of the music of Shostakovich, Prokofieff and others.

The Central Committee notes the absolutely intolerable state of affairs with regard to Soviet music criticism where opponents of Russian realistic music and supporters of decadent formalistic music hold a dominant place. Every new production by Prokofieff, Shostakovich, Myaskovsky and Shebalin is extolled by these critics as a ‘new victory for Soviet music.’ They glorify the subjectivism, constructivism, extreme individualism and deliberate complexity of this music, in other words, precisely the things that should be subjected to criticism. Instead of endeavouring to demolish the pernicious views and theories that are foreign to the principles of socialist realism, music critics themselves help to disseminate these views by lavishly praising and proclaiming as ‘progressive’ composers who subscribe to false ideas and canons.

Musical criticism has ceased to express the opinion of the Soviet public, the opinion of the people, and has become the mouthpiece of individual composers, Prompted by considerations of personal friendship, some music critics have supplanted objective criticism based on principle by servility and kowtowing to leaders of the musical worlds and make it a point to praise everything they produce.

All of this signifies that survivals of bourgeois ideology have not yet been overcome among part of the Soviet composers, and these survivals are being nurtured by the influence of present-day decadent West European and American music.

The Central Committee holds that this unsatisfactory state of affairs on the Soviet music front is the result of the wrong policy pursued by the Committee on Arts of the Council of Ministers of the U.S.S.R. and by the Organization Committee of the Union of Soviet Composers.

The Committee on Arts (comrade Khrapchenko) and the Organization Committee of the Union of Soviet Composers (Comrade Khachaturyan) have not encouraged the realistic trend in Soviet music. The basic principles of this trend are the acceptance of the immense progressive role of the classical heritage, and in particular, of the traditions of the Russian school of music, the utilization of this heritage and its further development, the blending of high standards of idea-content with artistic perfection of musical form, fidelity and realism in music, its profound organic contact with the people and their music and song, and high professional skill coupled with simplicity and accessibility of musical compositions. Instead both bodies have, in effect, abetted the formalist trend, which is alien to the Soviet people.

The Organization Committee of the Union of Soviet Composers has become a tool of a group of formalist composers and has been turned into the principal breeding centre of formalistic distortions. A stale, stuffy atmosphere prevails in the Organization Committee. There is no creative discussion; the leading officials of the Committee and the music critics grouped around them shower lavish praise on anti-realistic and modernistic productions that deserve no support, and regard as second rate, pass over and treat with contempt all compositions of a realistic character which endeavour to continue and develop the classical heritage. The very composers who pride themselves on their ‘innovation’ and ‘super-revolutionism’ in music come out in the Organization Committee in support of the most hidebound conservatism and are disdainfully intolerant of even the slightest criticism.

In the view of the Central Committee, this state of affairs, and the attitude to the tasks of Soviet music which has taken shape in the Committee on Arts and in the Organization Committee of the Union of Soviet Composers, can no longer be tolerated, for they are detrimental to the development of Soviet music. The cultural requirements and artistic tastes of the Soviet people have grown immensely in these past years. The Soviet people expect their composers to produce music of high ideological and technical standards in all genres–opera, symphony, choral music, popular song and dance music. In our country composers enjoy unlimited opportunities for creative work, all the conditions have been furnished for a real efflorescence of musical culture. Soviet composers have audiences unknown to any composer in the past. It would be unforgivable indeed for composers not to avail themselves of these immense opportunities and to fail to direct their creative efforts along the correct path of realism.

The Central Committee, C.P.S.U. (B.) resolves:

  1. To condemn the formalistic trend in Soviet music as an anti-popular trend which in practice leads to the nullification of music.
  2. To instruct the Propaganda and Agitation Division of the Central Committee and the Committee on Arts to certify the position on the music front, eliminate the defects indicated in this decision and ensure the development of Soviet music along the path of realism.
  3. The Central Committee calls on all Soviet composers to appreciate the high requirements which the Soviet people set for works of music, to discard everything that tends to detract from our music and hampers its development, and to achieve such progress in their creative work as will make for a rapid upsurge of Soviet musical culture and will be productive, in all spheres of musical art, of significant, high-quality compositions worthy of the Soviet people.
  4. To endorse the organizational measures taken by the appropriate Party and Soviet bodies to improve the position in the field of music.
‘Decisions of the Central Committee C.P.S.U.(B.) On Literature and Art (1946-1948)’, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1951, pp. 29-38.

Click here to return to the September 2006 index.

Click here to return to the Index of Archival Material.