Book Reviews 20

Ex oriente… – II. Nine Composers from the former USSR

Ex oriente… – III. Eight Composers from the former USSR

Schostakowitsch und die Folgen: Russische Musik zwischen Anpassung und Protest

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Ex oriente… – II. Nine Composers from the former USSR.
Ed. by Valeria Tsenova. Berlin, Verlag Ernst Kuhn, 2003, 245pp. (In English)

Ex oriente… – III. Eight Composers from the former USSR.
Ed. by Valeria Tsenova. Berlin, Verlag Ernst Kuhn, 2003, 206pp. (In English)

The drama of avant-garde music within the Soviet Union defines the contents of the second and third books of the series Ex-Oriente… dedicated to the work of twenty-seven contemporary composers from the former USSR. It was drama, indeed, when one considers the enormous hardships experienced by those who dared to cross the artistic boundaries held by the iron grip of official Soviet doctrines.

Seventeen portraits included in these two books represent three generations of Soviet avant-garde musicians. The fate of the first generation often referred to as “shestidesyatniki”, or those whose creativity emerged in 1960s along with famous “Moscow trio” of Alfred Schnittke, Sofia Gubaidulina and Edison Denisov, was probably the most dramatic: their music was severely discriminated against, some of these musicians even had to leave the country. Essays on Andrei Volkonsky (b. 1933), Philip Gershkovich (1906-89), Valentin Silvestrov (b.1937), Leonid Grabovsky (b.1935), Nikolai Karetnikov (b.1930-94), Alemdar Karamanov (b.1934), Roman Ledenyov (b.1930) as well as the less radical Sergei Slonimsky (b.1932) and Boris Tishchenko (b.1939) help the reader comprehend this “first act” of the drama.

“It should be admitted that no trend in 20th century music came under such fierce castigation in Russia in those years as the one propagated by the three foremost representatives of the Second Viennese School – Schoenberg, Berg and Webern. […] But as it had often happened in the history of arts, the severe banishments […] brought forth the reverse results; the subject of bitter criticism was given a fresh lease of life, rising like Phoenix from its ashes.” (Tarakanov, Mikhail. A drama of non-recognition: a profile of Nikolai Karetnikov’s life and work, Ex-Oriente…II, p.115).
The second generation of young Soviet composers, as detailed in articles on Alexander Khaifel (b.1943), Faraj Karaev (b.1943), Vladislav Shoot (b.1941) and Alexander Vustin (b.1943), experienced other kinds of problems:

“As the struggle was going on in the USSR for recognition and the legal status of the greatest composers from the generation of the sixties […] all the meanwhile, their junior colleagues were staying far in the shade, waiting modestly and of their own free will in the wings for the time to come when they could get their share of the public notice. And since this struggle for the above mentioned greatest names had lasted for nearly three decades, up to the 1990s, their names came too late, with the best years of their creative lives spent in utter oblivion” (Kholopova, Valentina. Secrets of the Moscow composition school in Vladislav Shoot’s “pure music,” Ex-Oriente… III, p.103).

The fate of the third generation, represented by Viktor Ekimovsky (b.1947), Sergei Pavlenko (b.1952), Alexander Raskatov (b.1953) and Vladimir Tarnopolsky (b.1955) has been more favourable: these composers avoided the period of severe attacks on new music and took advantage of much wider opportunities for international artistic exchanges. As admitted by Raskatov:

“Formerly, we could excuse ourselves by the unavailability of relevant information and, in our ignorance, we could go on devising a long-invented bike. Today, when we have access to such information, there arises a problem of retaining one’s individuality. […] Now as we have got involved in the world musical process, composition is likely to become a more complicated manner.” (Barsky, Vladimir. Apologia of Raskatov. Ex-Oriente…III, p.168-69).

These books paint a comprehensive picture of the various factors that shaped the development of avant-garde music in the Soviet Union, its major stylistic features and present-day trends. Avant-garde music is presented as a phenomenon resulting from various, sometimes even contradictory processes. Some of the composers switched to new techniques after working in relatively conservative styles; others declared their defence of the Second Viennese School from the very outset of their career; some previously persecuted composers enjoyed a rehabilitation of their works while the music of others remains lost in oblivion. Some turned to large-scale genres, others preferred chamber music; some had the opportunity to travel abroad while others rarely left the country. As mentioned by Valeria Tsenova in the introduction to the third volume, “the diversity of personalities presented explains the diversity of the styles in which the articles about them have been written.” (p.VII)

All the articles here contain much biographical data, a review of the various domains of the composers’ output, analyses of principal works as well as an attempt to apply a principal “style definition” for the composer (although the weight of each ingredient depends very much on the placement of each composer within the entire panorama of the Russian avant-garde.) Essays on “initiators” are endowed with a somewhat “retrospective” aspect, the authors here summarize the principal stylistic features and define the major periods of the respective composers’ biographies. Naturally, the articles on recent developments within Soviet music’s avant-garde focus more on particular works rather than presenting generalized statements. The voice of the composer himself is included in some of these writings, helping to reveal his musical credo and various essential qualities of his work.

The composers featured in these volumes come from three different regions of the former USSR: Russia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan. As expounded, ethnic backgrounds often merge within the context of avant-garde aesthetics. However, the music of Tishchenko, Slonimsky, Ledenyov or Vustin contains obvious Russian features; Grabovsky incorporates intonations of Ukrainian folklore in his works and Karayev reproduces forms of traditional modal music of Azerbaijan. The figure of Faraj Karayev is a typical demonstration of how quickly one of the youngest compositional music traditions in the USSR achieved advanced levels of avant-garde musical form (the first examples of composed music in Azerbaijan date only to the first decade of the 20th century.)

These books are not, however, new to the Russian reader; they feature translated versions of the book Music from the former USSR (Moscow: Kompozitor, 1994). The Russian and English versions are very close if not identical; differences are in the updated lists of principal works appended to each article, as well as slightly updated contents of each chapter. Increased numbers of music examples distinguishes this new version from the original as well.

Most of the scholars involved in this project represent one of the influential musicological schools of contemporary Russia established by Yuri Kholopov, an outstanding scientist who founded an epoch-making school of Russian/Soviet musicology. As mentioned in the introduction to the second volume, word of his death in April 2003 came when the book was ready for publication. Valeriya Tsenova (main editorship and articles on Vustin and Tarnopolsky), Svetlana Savenko (Silvestrov, Grabovsky, Knaifel) and Vladimir Barsky (Karayev, Ekimovsky, Pavlenko, Raskatov), now leading Russian musicologists, all studied with Kholopov and prepared dissertations on various aspects of contemporary Russian music under his supervision. All the articles authored by Kholopov (Volkonsky, Gershkovich, Karamanov) and his younger colleagues, are marked with typical features of Kholopov’s school: impeccable logic and meaningful analytical statements, all stemming from the musical score with sharp revelations of the rhythmic, compositional and linear principles of avant-garde music. The same should be noted in the articles of Valentina Kholopova (Slonimsky, Tishchenko, Shoot, Ledenyov), Yury Kholopov’s sister known for her outstanding work on the issue of rhythm in 20th century Russian music. Mikhail Tarakanov is another big name in Russian/Soviet musicology specializing in the history of 20th century Russian/Soviet music. His article on Karetnikov is remarkable for its historical approach to the subject, aiding a comprehension of Russian avant-garde in the context of 20th century music.

Consideration and re-consideration of Russian/Soviet music has undoubtedly been one of the most noticeable trends in the musical world since the collapse of the Soviet Union; in contradistinction to previous epochs, this process has been occurring inside and outside the country either simultaneously or with close correspondence. From this point of view, the series of books has a particular value: in addition to expanding knowledge of Russian music in the West, it illustrates the reputation of both music and music studies in contemporary Russia – a reputation which is intact in spite of all the social and cultural complexities of the past decade. Luckily, the dramatic period of avant-garde and post-avant-garde music in Russia is over. Nevertheless, the challenging experiments of the founding generations of Russian/Soviet composers remain with us as a reminder of courage, sincerity and extreme dedication to music.

Aida Huseynova

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Schostakowitsch und die Folgen: Russische Musik zwischen Anpassung und Protest
Shostakovich and the Consequences: Russian Music between Adaptation and Protest

(Schostakowitsch-Studien, Band 6) studia slavica musicologica, Bd. 32, 385 S., ISBN 3-928864-93-9
Jointly edited by Ernst Kuhn, Jascha Nemtsov and Andreas Wehrmeyer

Most of the articles are written in German, with remaining texts (by Dmitri Smirnov, Irma Zolotovitsky, Yulia Kreinin, Marina Ritzarev) in English. Russian texts are translated by Ernst Kuhn and Sigrid Neef. The book contains 13 chapters and as in other VEK editions, each of the chapters ends with an excellent chronological survey of each composer’s work.


Kadja Grönke (Oldenburg):
Lady Macbeth und Ihre Schwestern
Axiologische Betrachtungen zur Rolle der mordenden Frau in den Opern Lady Macbeth aus Mzensk von Dmitri Schostakowitsch, Bremer Freiheit von Adriana Hölszky und Eréndira von Violeta Dinescu

Marie-Luise Bott (Berlin):
Kompositorisches SelbstBildnis und Kritisches ZeitPorträt
Marina Zwetajewa, vertont von Schostakowitsch, Schnittke und Gubaidulina

Dmitri Smirnov (London):
Marginalia quasi una fantasia: on the Second Violin Sonata by Alfred Schnittke

Marina Lobanova (Hamburg):
Alexander Lokschin Ästhet, Protestler, Regimeopfer:
Sein Schicksal im politisch-kulturellen Kontext der Sowjetzeit

Per Skans (Uppsala):
Ein jüdischer Immigrant: Mieczyslaw Weinberg

Irma Zolotovitsky (Tel Aviv):
Mark Karminsky and his musical “theatre of fact”

Dmitri Smirnov (London):
A visitor from an unknown planet: Music in the eyes of Filipp Herschkowitz

Yulia Kreinin (Jerusalem):
Alfred Schnittke as the successor to Dmitri Shostakovich: “to be yourself in Soviet Russia”

Marina Ritzarev (Bar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan, Israel):
Sergei Slonimsky and the Russian “unofficial nationalism” of the 1960s – 80s

Tatjana Frumkis (Berlin):
Silwestrow und Schostakowitsch: Geschichte einer (Nicht)Liebe

Valeria Zenowa (Moskau):
Schostakowitsch und Denissow: Die Geschichte ihrer Beziehung in Tatsachen und Dokumenten

Swetlana Sarkisjan (Erivan):
Gubaidulinas Streichquartette – eine Erfahrung der Aneignung des sonoristischen Raumes….

Sigrid Neef (Herstelle):
Dialoge mit Schostakowitsch Zum Beispiel Rodion Shchedrin

The basic premise here is that the composers and their works project a certain “relationship” to Shostakovich, whose own difficult relationship with the Soviet authorities reflects not only in his own music but also in that of his “followers”. Hence, the existence of a “Shostakovich Schule” is to be found not only in his aesthetic, stylistic, technical methods of composition, but also in the attitude adopted in the face of the Stalin regime.

Some of Shostakovich’s pupils denied that he was their model. Some of them suffered from the fact he had been their teacher; for example Georgy Sviridov. Consequently, some of them followed different paths and styles of expression – such as Galina Ustvolskaya. Shostakovich’s contemporaries from the 1960s and 1970s such as E. Denisov, Sofia Gubaidulina and A. Schnittke composed in more or less the same radical expressive individualistic way as Shostakovich during this period; an approach that proved impossible for his own pupils such as B. Tchaikovsky and B. Tishchenko, who developed their own distinctive styles.

I should point out that two of the articles (Per Skans’ chapter on Weinberg and Marina Lobanova’s concerning Lokschin) are in fact corrected texts from VEK’s own “Samuel” Goldenberg und “Schmuyle” – from Band 27. It is surprising that the publisher does not refer to this matter in the preface – it’s difficult to dismiss the fact as irrelevant. As to a book title such as “Russian music between adaptation and protest” – this hardly inspires! But you should be the judge…

Alexander Lokschin
Of the little-known composer Lokschin, Shostakovich once remarked – “brilliant music”. According to Marina Lobanova, Lokschin’s is an excellent example of how best to try to understand Soviet cultural history and mentality. This is comparable with that of the life and work of Roslavets, who met with the same fate as Lokschin. From early on in his composing career, right up until 1995 (a full eight years after his death), Lokschin (1920-1987) was “persecuted”. Only with help from friends like M. Yudina, Myaskovsky (his teacher) and other important figures – in addition to his own inner strength, was he able to continue his work. Furthermore, Marina Lobanova describes the “double role” of T. Khrennikov, musicologist Marian Koval’s writings on his music as well as a denigrating piece P. Apostolov published on Lokschin’s compositions (this is indeed the same Apostolov who died at a performance of Shostakovich Fourteenth Symphony, as described by Rudolf Barshai in DSCH Journal 16). In short – this short biography gives a fine and very readable review of Lokschin’s life and its similarities to Shostakovich and others who had connections either with Jews, modern West-European music (“formalism in music”) or those banished to the Gulag. I would personally recommend Lokschin’s Three Scenes from Goethe’s Faust to get an idea of this excellent music.

Mieczyslaw Weinberg
Per Skans is currently preparing a biography of Weinberg; here, in a muchabridged form, he unfolds Weinberg’s life, including his links with Shostakovich. Skans evokes Weinberg’s different abodes; his meetings and his relationship with the actor Solomon Mikhoels; increasing anti-Semitism in Soviet Russia and how Jewish composers like Weinberg were criticised by the Soviet State machine. Also the brutal murder of Weinberg’s father-in-law and his own role as a victim of the measures taken against composers after 1948. Per Skans maintains in this essay that one shouldn’t contend that Weinberg was affected negatively at an artistic level after Stalin’s death. However, in my view the complex subject of anti-Semitism requires yet more investigation in the areas of musicology, sociology and history, in particular given that certain archives have only recently been opened.

The poems of Marina Tsvetayeva
Maria-Luise Bott compares the compositions of Shostakovich, Schnittke, and Gubaidulina based on and inspired by the poems of Marina Tsvetayeva. Bott explains how important rhythm, form, rhyme and dramatic expression are in Tsvetayeva’s works, and why the poems are so appropriate for song-cycle settings. After a summary of the poet’s life, the author discusses at length Shostakovich’s op. 143 (1973) and more succinctly, the works by other composers here – notably Gubaidulina, whom she concludes as having succeeded in “painting” an objective portrait of Tsvetayeva.

Alfred Schnittke and Shostakovich
Julia Kreinin’s contribution regarding Schnittke and Shostakovich is as philosophical as purely musical or biographical.

Why were Shostakovich and Schnittke considered to be a sort of “conscience of the people”? Fascinating is her evaluation of the psychological dilemmas of the Soviet
citizen – devoid of religious beliefs or lack of “relevant moral values” during the Stalin era. Kreinin explains the need for a far more extensive historical and sociological level of research, including, perhaps, a psychological approach to the issue.

Sergei Slonimsky
The piece centres around the author’s discussions regarding Good, Love and Justice but suffers from too vague a premise and consequent treatment. This is probably exacerbated by the shortness of the article: one thing that does emerge is the idea that Slonimsky became a “victim of his time”.

Sofia Gubaidulina
The article dealing with the string quartets describes the pieces in which the composer combines “pure” music and subjects from outside conventional musical spheres; the use of words, gestures, ritual drama and religion. The author refers to the syncretism of East-Asian (such as Sufism involving the shifting symbols of light and colour) and Christian doctrines within Gubaidulina’s work. A good example is the way in which she mingles the structure of Ancient Church Modi with sequences originating from the Orient. Gubaidulina creates her own “sound symbolism” in a way Bach would most probably have approved. I’m however not sure how is the article intended to correspond to the broad thematic objectives of the book. (It is true that Shostakovich once said to Gubaidulina: “Be yourself”.)

Edison Denisov and Rodion Shchedrin
Two remarkable articles are those on E. Denisov (by Valeria Zenova) and R. Shchedrin (by Sigrid Neef). They stand out for their clarity and content and the amount of new information. The article on Shchedrin and Shostakovich is based broadly on and around notions of respect, of protest and of religion in addition to their mutual admiration for Bach.

In short, although the book broadly discusses the life and the works of various known and lesser-known composers, making it a valuable biographical resource, much more research needs to be undertaken into just how the Shostakovich legacy lives on in the 21st century – and beyond.

Henny van der Groep