Book Reviews 39

Dimensions of Energy in Shostakovich’s Symphonies

Contemplating Shostakovich: Life, Music and Film

Twentieth-Century Music and Politics: Essays in Memory of Neil Edmunds

Music and Soviet Power, 1917–32

39_Rofe /

Dimensions of Energy in Shostakovich’s Symphonies
Michael Rofe
Farnham: Ashgate, 2012
xvii + 274 pages
ISBN 978-1-4094-0745-4

‘For such a widely performed and widely discussed composer, surprisingly little research has been undertaken outside of Russia on the actual music of Dmitri Shostakovich…. The approach throughout this book is to place the music centre-stage.’ And so begins Michael Rofe’s dissertation-inspired ‘Dimensions of Energy in Shostakovich’s Symphonies’, more in the spirit of music theory than music history, though the latter still plays a crucial role in his research.

As its title suggests, Rofe’s study focuses on ‘the strong sense of energy’ that is ‘highly characteristic of Shostakovich’s work’. Given the multitude of meanings attributable to the term “energy”, the author first sets out to define precisely what he means by energy in music – a challenging but necessary step in establishing a solid theoretical foundation.

In the strictly musical domain, levels of energy are determined by loudness, rhythmic activity, and the relative consonance and dissonance of harmonies. For example, rhythmically active fortissimo passages with a predominantly dissonant harmonic palette are highly energised, whereas quiet, sustained, consonant passages are energetically tame.

This rather simplistic definition, however, raises more questions than it answers. What, for example, are we to make of passages that remain forte throughout and do not sound especially energetic? And what about the relativity of various parameters? After all, a work that moves abruptly from pianissimo to forte might sound more “energised” than one that remains forte throughout. Much to Rofe’s credit, he recognises the limitations of basing his concept of energy on sound itself and proposes a second set of factors rooted in the extra-musical domain.

In this respect, determining degrees of energy becomes a more interpretive affair, which takes into account the ‘cultural-semantic associations that certain music suggests’. A march, for instance, is typically considered more “energetic” than a lullaby. Why? Because from a cultural standpoint, marches signify movement and lullabies signify sleep.

Extra-musical factors become more complicated, however, when historical circumstances are thrown into the mix. For example, given its militaristic connotations, a march composed under the iron fist of a violent and oppressive regime might seem more highly charged to some than a feverishly paced toccata.

It is in cases like this that Rofe’s methodology suffers, simply because theory cannot account for such individual experiences. Indeed, all theories invite interpretations based on a set of axioms, but the axioms themselves must be rigidly defined. A theory that is only as good as the hermeneutic analysis on which it stands is a shaky affair, to say the least. And Rofe knows it.

Instead of addressing this issue head-on, the author makes a sleight of hand by confining the purview of his work as follows: ‘It is not the aim of this book to trace these [political] circumstances.’ And so Rofe returns to his self-problematised definition of energy, which relies on the three parameters of sound itself listed above – except, of course, when it is relevant (read: convenient) to appeal to extra-musical considerations.

Looking past Rofe’s rough-around-the-edges definition of energy, we find much of value in his work. At the heart of his approach is a rarely encountered, but experientially resonant, way of hearing music in terms of motion (i.e., as movement between different energetic states). To familiarise this concept, Rofe notes that the way in which music “moves” reflects the tendencies of the natural world: ‘Highly energised states are highly unstable, as they have the greatest capacity to do work. Moreover, nature tends towards states that minimise unstable energy: high energy states tend to convert into low energy states…. In other words, energies often change form over time.’

These changes over time occupy Rofe for the remainder of his book, which concerns itself primarily with ‘how…energy ebbs and flows’ in Shostakovich’s symphonies, and more specifically with the ways in which music drives to re-stabilise energetic instability.
Rofe’s first analyses in this regard examine how energy functions with respect to melodic-harmonic motion at foreground and middle-ground levels. In other words, the author investigates changes in melodic and harmonic energy, with a focus on how dissonance (instability) propels music forward through its active desire to resolve (stability).

Much of the reader’s content with these passages comes from the sheer salience of Rofe’s observations. Anyone, for instance, can see and hear how unresolved tritones keep the opening of Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony “alive” until its built-up energy dissipates upon resolving clearly to G major (Ex. 1).
In addition to their lucidity, Rofe’s early analyses reward us by incorporating the theories of Russian musicologist Boleslav Yavorsky – a rarely encountered figure in Western musical thought who offers a novel way of experiencing music. Yavorskian theory has been discussed by David Fanning, David Haas, and Kristian Hibberd as a potentially fruitful method for analysing Shostakovich’s harmonic language, but Rofe is the first to apply it extensively to Shostakovich’s music, especially the notion of modal rhythm.

At the centre of Yavorsky’s theory of modal rhythm lies the fact that ‘listeners experience transience upon hearing a tritone’. This transience (i.e., music in motion) arises from our expectation (based on statistical learning) that a tritone in tonal music will resolve; in terms of energy, a high-energy state (dissonant tritone) tends toward a low-energy state (consonant triad). Such tritone-driven motion is especially well-suited to Shostakovich’s music, since it maintains one of the fundamental elements of the tonal system (tritone resolution) but also allows for significant deviations from the traditional syntax of that system. Just as in Shostakovich’s symphonies, ‘the freedom allotted to tritones to cadence outside of the basic diatonic scale allows dissonant harmonies to exist in a context that retains a sense of tonal stability.’

After a series of tritone-based analyses, all of which make sense of Shostakovich’s unique harmonic language, Rofe broadens his lens to include issues of musical form. It is at this point that his work becomes somewhat less convincing. Much of his discussion concerning form centres around the golden ratio, which, as Rofe argues, is found (within a reasonable margin of error) in a number of Shostakovich’s symphonies. The opening movement of his Tenth Symphony, for instance, is especially rich in such ratios, which are present at multiple levels of the formal hierarchy: relative to the movement as a whole, both the development and recapitulation express this proportional arrangement, and even the constituent sections of the work’s opening theme are “golden” in some crudely contrived way.

In Rofe’s defence, he is quick to shed the mysticism that surrounds the golden ratio, stating that he ‘in no way believe[s] Shostakovich’s music to be somehow right, beautiful, [or] natural…as a result of its golden sections’. But this appeal to reason is overshadowed by his near obsession with a proportional relationship that is only tenuously present in a handful of Shostakovich’s works.

Criticism aside, Rofe does present one of the most reasonable explanations for the potential presence of golden sections in music. In his estimation, the appearance of this magic ratio in music is not calculated as such by the composer, nor is it the result of some innate human tendency to mimic nature; it is, rather, a consequence of the desire to avoid symmetry. To this end, composers approximate whole-number ratios such as 3:5 and 5:8 to introduce asymmetry into their work. And it just so happens that these ratios fall noticeably close to the golden ratio. No matter how convincing this argument may be, however, we are still left wondering why the author devotes so much time to the by-product of a much simpler process. What ever happened to Occam’s razor?

In the end, ‘Dimensions of Energy in Shostakovich’s Symphonies’ is far more impressive than its esoteric title suggests. Rofe’s writing is both logical and musically driven, and his summaries of seminal works in Russian scholarship are invaluable to any serious student of Shostakovich. Despite the few wrinkles that emerge from what appears to be a tenacious fascination with a historically dubious topic, Rofe’s essay stands as one of the most important studies of Shostakovich’s music to appear in recent times.

Andrew Schartmann

39_Ivashkin /

Contemplating Shostakovich: Life, Music and Film
Alexander Ivashkin and Andrew Kirkman, eds.
Farnham: Ashgate Publishing, 2012
314 pages
ISBN: 978-1-4094-3937-0 (hbk),
Also available as an e-book (PDF and ePUB)

Despite the many high-quality books on Shostakovich, there are several areas of his art that are still under-considered in scholarship. Contemplating Shostakovich: Life, Music and Film, edited by Alexander Ivashkin and Andrew Kirkman, expertly fills gaps in our knowledge of the composer, his times and his music, bringing Western (U.S. and British) and Russian scholars together in a robust collection.

Section One, ‘Music and Style’, contains four chapters, two of which discuss topics that cover the breadth of Shostakovich’s compositional oeuvre. Elizabeth Wilson’s entry in this collection, ‘Through the Looking Glass: Reflections on the Significance of Words and Symbols in Shostakovich’s Music’, offers a chronological investigation of his oeuvre. Starting with his Second Symphony she surveys his increasingly complex encoding of extra-musical references into his works. These included the texts he set, quotations from or allusions to his own or other composers’ works (with an additional layer of meaning coming from quoting dramatic or other works with texts), and the use of his own and others’ musicalised monikers. In short, Wilson states, the composer became a master at “saying many different things simultaneously” (10). She goes on to note the growing sophistication of these references, which bring an expanded breadth and depth of possible hermeneutic opportunities, so that, by the later part of his career his music contained a “unique distillation of personal symbols brought to life through quotation” (17). Covering a large span of music, Wilson’s discussions of individual pieces are unfortunately brief. Thus, although pointing to possible meanings that lay behind the references, she often raises more questions than answers, providing fertile ground for future scholarship.

Alexander Ivashkin’s article, ‘Shostakovich, Old Believers and New Minimalists’, is one of the more fascinating contributions to the collection. Ivashkin presents a comprehensive, detailed discussion of pre-Soviet influences on Shostakovich’s music. By showing that Shostakovich absorbed into his music the “austere and bleak music of the old believers”, (34) and its ritualistic repetitions and length, Ivashkin successfully argues that Shostakovich’s musical idioms were infused with cultural memories that had been part of Russian culture for centuries. Ivashkin continues by noting that by saturating classical forms with “the energy of ritual” (43) Shostakovich created a “ritualistically coloured postmodernism” (45), influencing minimalists of later generations.

The second two articles in the ‘Music and Style’ section discuss individual works. In ‘Five Satires (Pictures of the Past)’ by Dmitrii Shostakovich (opus 109): The Musical Unity of a Vocal Cycle’, Gilbert C. Rappaport takes a close look at one of Shostakovich’s less-heard vocal works. Rappaport shows how motivic ideas taken from a well-known “urban ditty” (54) permeate the cycle. The author artfully demonstrates the “complexity and subtlety” (77) of the Satires with respect to both text and music, showing how even a ‘lesser’ piece can shed light on the composer’s compositional techniques and give fodder for a more nuanced hermeneutic study of an often overlooked work.

Ivan Sokolov’s article, translated by Elizabeth Wilson, ‘Moving Towards an Understanding of Shostakovich’s Viola Sonata’ presents his solving of one small enigma in a work that he rightly describes as representing an “endless world of riddles” (94). Sokolov focuses on the third movement, where he argues Shostakovich wrote a “mega-self-quotation” (91) in which the composer cites, in chronological order, motives or thematic snippets from each of his own symphonies, usually from their opening moments. Sokolov argues this “mega-quotation” adds to the notion of the work as representing Shostakovich’s swan-song, the composer presenting “a whole life span as seen from some extremely elevated philosophical height” (91). The Viola Sonata is one of Shostakovich’s greatest musical enigmas; here Sokolov presents a small, but powerful key to a better understanding of the beauty of this final work.

Section Two addresses Shostakovich’s film scores, on which, in comparison to his works for the concert hall, scholarship has just begun. Thus, these three entries represent a noteworthy contribution to the area of study. Erik Heine and Olga Dombrovskaya’s entries address the same overall goal – demonstrating that Shostakovich took composing music for film as seriously as he took composing music for the concert hall.

In ‘Madness by Design: Hamlet’s State as Defined Through Music’, Heine thoroughly looks at the music Shostakovich composed for Kozintsev’s 1964 cinema adaption of Shakespeare’s play. Heine argues that the music for the film is carefully crafted to give aural presence to Hamlet’s mental state. Heine contends that Shostakovich followed aspects of sonata form in composing the score, specifically the tonal conflict inherent in the form and the use of an inverted recapitulation. Heine traces the use of Hamlet’s theme throughout the film, its pitch centres and its moves towards a global cadence. He thus presents an overall pitch design for the movie, while demonstrating how the progression of the music reflects and adds nuance to the protagonist’s journey.

In ‘Hamlet, King Lear and Their Companions: The Other Side of Film Music’, Dombrovskaya also looks at the music for Hamlet, as well as that for King Lear and other Kozintsev-Shostakovich collaborations. While her stated thesis is “to show how Shostakovich placed equal value on applied and academic music” (141), the article itself covers a wide range of topics. The majority of the article is devoted to giving readers a better understanding of how Shostakovich scored the films by detailing his respectful and fruitful working relationship with Kozintsev. Lastly, the author demonstrates how Shostakovich transferred music from his film scores to the concert hall, specifically the Fourteenth Symphony and the Ninth, Eleventh, and Thirteenth String Quartets.

In ‘Stalin (and Lenin) at the Movies’, John Riley looks into films scored by Shostakovich in which fictionalised versions of Stalin appear, demonstrating the complexity of evaluating many of these films and their scores. Riley addresses the history of the films and their music in the wake of Khrushchev’s denunciation of cinema’s role in the creation of the Cult of Personality and the re-releasing of edited versions of many films in the run up to Lenin’s centenary. In early films for which Shostakovich provided scores, the actual amount of music written is small and any cuts to the films prior to re-release did not affect the music. The situation is different for two Stalinist hagiographies, The Fall of Berlin (1950) and The Unforgettable Year 1919 (1952). As Stalin is a central character in these works, it was impossible to cut his scenes, and the two films were not re-released. Thus, most people only know the music Shostakovich composed for them via arranged orchestral Suites, radically altering the context as well as the content of the music. Riley notes that, known only through the Suites, it seems that Shostakovich “cravenly capitulated”, presenting “pompous music” required for a “Stalinist epic” (136). But, if one hears the scores in the context of the film, the complexity of the situation becomes evident, raising “questions about the music, the film itself and the attitudes of its makers” (136).

The research avenues represented in the final section of the collection, ‘Life and Documents’, are crucial for scholars to understand the context in which Shostakovich worked and his music was received. Inna Barsova’s contribution is unique in that she discusses neither compositional issues nor reception history, but rather one way in which Shostakovich lived music. In ‘Arrangement for Piano Four Hands in Dmitrii Shostakovich’s Creative Work and Performance’, Barsova discusses the role such presentations of orchestral works played throughout the composer’s career. Not only does she demonstrate how integral these performances were to his study, learning, and teaching of music, but she equally shows how both they and, at home, reel-to-reel tape recorders, helped sustain him during times in which his works could not be heard in the concert hall. The four-hand performances allowed the music to be heard, albeit in a private setting, and private recordings gave him a means of more permanently inscribing a sound version of the music when full performances were banned.

In ‘Shostakovich and Soviet Eros: Forbidden Fruit in the Realm of Communal Communism’ Vladimir Orlov traces the complicated, often contradictory, ‘evolution’ of the governmental stance on sexuality and “Eros” through Leninism, Stalinism and the post-Stalinist era. Orlov then discusses how the prevailing attitudes and governmental stances are both reflected and challenged in Shostakovich’s more overtly sexual musical works (The Nose, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, (Katerina Ismailova) and the Five Satires). Orlov concludes by arguing Shostakovich’s music, “mirrors the short, wasted youth of the Soviet state with its early senility and impotency” (206).

While the reception history of Shostakovich’s music within the United Sates is a topic often alluded to, it is rarely thoroughly investigated. A more insightful understanding of this reception history will help bring nuance to both the historical understanding of his music and the culture in which it was received. In this vein, Terry Klefstad, in ‘A Soviet Opera in America’, argues that understanding reception history of Lady Macbeth in the U.S. will ensure that “modern listeners can begin better to understand their own reactions, both to the opera and to the public image of Shostakovich himself” (207). Klefstad traces the U.S. reception history of Lady Macbeth both prior to and directly after the publication of ‘Muddle Instead of Music’. She divides the critical reception into three genres; those critics who focused on the opera as entertainment, those who focused on the moral and political message of the work and those whose greatest concern was the question of whether the opera is great art. She notes that it was mostly the New York critics who focused on this last point. These critics found the musical aspect of the opera wanting, laying blame for the opera’s shortcomings on the communist message. These same critics were thus confused when the opera’s music was condemned in Pravda for its “bourgeois quality”. Klefstad notes that ‘Muddle Instead of Music’ was a turning point in Americans’ understanding of the role of the Soviet regime in the creation and reception of art. It led to a new mode of reception for Shostakovich, as they could no longer separate his art from the state.

Research in Soviet archives is an incredibly difficult undertaking for many Western scholars interested in Shostakovich studies. Thus, we are very fortunate that Olga Digonskaya consistently brings important and interesting archival research to widely available publications. Translated by Stephen Dinkeldein, her contribution, ‘Shostakovich in the Mid-1930s: Operatic Plans and Implementations (Regarding the Attribution of an Unknown Autograph)’, focuses on a score fragment of 122 measures for orchestra and female vocalist. Digonskaya concentrates on determining what work this is a fragment of, when it was composed, what works Shostakovich eventually used the music in, and the reasoning behind leaving the initial work incomplete. Digonskaya convincingly argues that the fragment is the start of the second opera in a tetralogy that Shostakovich had proposed to compose about the Soviet woman. When the opera was abandoned, the opening of the fragment eventually became the Fugue in A minor No. 2, from opus 87. The second part of the fragment was transferred to the Five Fragments, opus 42, before becoming part of the final movement of the Fourth Symphony. Digonskaya contends that work on the opera was not abandoned due to the lack of a suitable libretto, but to politics surrounding the recent assassination of Kirov, since the opera revolved around the assassination of Tsar Alexander II. Digonskaya concludes by arguing that, while it is generally accepted that prior to 1936 Shostakovich was free to compose with respect both to concept and style, the second opera in the tetralogy was in fact “crushed by external circumstances far removed from the work itself” (250).

In their introduction, the editors state that their goals in publishing Contemplating Shostakovich are twofold. First, to move the field of Shostakovich studies “further beyond the reductive intentionalism … and its rebuttal” (xxvii) that dominated the field at the end of the 20th century. Second, to expand our understanding of the man and his music “outside its ‘Soviet’ shade” (xxvii), by showing how Shostakovich should be interpreted and understood in the larger context of Western art and culture. Overall they have succeeded in their goals, providing a collection that contains a healthy mix of approaches to research and contains essays that will have value to all interested in the continued study of Shostakovich’s life and his music, and the cultures in which it lives.

Sarah Ellis

39_Fairclough /

Twentieth-Century Music and Politics: Essays in Memory of Neil Edmunds
Pauline Fairclough (ed.)
Farnham: Ashgate Publishing, 2012
ISBN: 9781409400264 (hbk); 9781409455080 (ebk – PDF); 9781409473114 (ebk – ePUB)

Neil Edmunds, a pioneering historian specialising in Russian and Soviet cultural matters, launched his career with The Soviet Proletarian Music Movement (Verlag Peter Lang, 2000), re-evaluating the simplistic view of early post-Revolutionary music as a pro- and contra- between avant-gardists and proletarians. Other interesting alleyways were his examination of BBC Radio 3’s championing of the avant-garde in relationship to its political outlook and, related to that, the work of British communist composer Alan Bush[1]. Unfortunately his study of Sino-Soviet musical relations (in collaboration with Hon-Lun Yang) was cut short by his tragically early death in January 2008, though more happily others have taken up the baton with regard to Bush. These fifteen essays are a fitting tribute to his interest in roads less travelled, but in this review I will focus firstly on the Shostakovichian and then on the Russian and Soviet.

Shostakovich appears twice, with Gerard McBurney’s introduction to Orango and Joan Titus’ look at his theories of film music.

Orango must by now feel very familiar to DSCH readers with Gerard McBurney keeping us abreast of developments in various editions of DSCH, and Ol’ga Digonskaya’s epic history of the work (DSCH 34 and 35)[2] before reviews of the Los Angeles world premiere (DSCH 36) and the related recording (DSCH 37).

As was pointed out in the CD review, from being unknown it has become one of the most written about of Shostakovich’s pieces but McBurney’s essay, The Angry Ape: Some Preliminary Thoughts on Orango, still manages to add further detail. He covers the background to the commission and the composition and, as well as the more immediately obvious sources such as Bulgakov’s The Heart of a Dog, points to western literature and films including Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau. He even speculates that, as well as echoing the plot of Mayakovsky’s play The Bedbug (scored by Shostakovich in 1929), Orango is something of a biographie-à-clef of the playwright.

After a detailed plot synopsis McBurney leads us through the score number-by-number, explaining some of the sources and references before going on to discuss (with music examples) some of the score’s highlights.

Anyone who has thought about it knows that comedy is no laughing matter, as the 1930s attacks on ‘light music’ into which Shostakovich was drawn, show. Shostakovich manages to cram countless references to his own and others’ work into Orango. Musorgsky and the end of Boris Godunov is certainly there as is Tchaikovsky’s fateful Fourth Symphony (an echo re-echoed through the echoes of the score to the film The Golden Mountains). Doubtless there are more to be upturned but McBurney, both in his orchestration and this chapter has given us more than enough to be going on with.

The other Shostakovichian chapter is Joan Titus’ introduction to his theories of film music. Even fifteen years ago Shostakovich’s film career was one of the last of his undiscovered countries, and most writers felt safe in denigrating it (usually without the inconvenience of having encountered it) or, at best (discretion being the better part of valour) ignoring it. However, in recent years a number of writers have begun to address the matter, though the extremities of his career are still the major focus.

Titus herself has written on his early film scores (New Babylon to The Counterplan, with all the textual challenges that those works bring) and has more in progress, but a number of others have contributed studies of more or less comprehensiveness and significance.

Those who would dismiss Shostakovich’s film scores have on occasion called as a witness the composer himself and certainly he made some less-than-enthusiastic remarks (though his ambivalent comments about the Tenth Symphony have never led a critic to question that work!) But between 1929 and 1954 he did write five extended pieces about his film scores and there are passing hints in other essays indicating how he felt they should ‘work’.

Titus parses these five articles, unsurprisingly relying particularly upon the first, ‘About the Music of New Babylon’[3]. This is directly related to her earlier work and gives some crucial indications as to how the makers envisaged the synchronisation, but Titus also, rightly, sees it as something of a template for the rest of his career.

Titus hasn’t hoovered up all of Shostakovich’s scattered thoughts on film music: many are not particularly ‘theoretical’ or are too fragmentary to add much, especially in a relatively short chapter, though they occasionally add insights about his working methods or hopes for the medium and his work in it. As with her essay in Fairclough’s previous collection, Shostakovich Studies 2 (reviewed in DSCH 35) Titus sees no particular reason to engage with other contemporary writers on Shostakovich’s film music.

Shostakovich, of course, was not renowned for being forthcoming about the theory behind any of his works, which may make us particularly value these essays or choose to dismiss them. However, they do seem to express some, apparently, honestly held artistic ideas and it would be interesting to examine how these ideas relate to his other dramatic work and, perhaps, even his concert music.

From Shostakovich, we widen the net to Russian and Soviet music in general.

Jonathan Cross investigates the ‘Russian-ness’ of Stravinsky’s Petrushka, revealing how Western audiences perceive it completely differently from Russians. While westerners may hear a colourful archetypically ‘Russian’ work, the stream of ‘low-art’ popular tunes, which they do not recognise, brings a slew of associations for Russians. Perhaps a parallel for Western audiences would be a ballet that included Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, Happy Birthday to You and (for Brits) My Old Man’s a Dustman. But beyond that, the use of popular material and (semi-cinematic) mosaic structure helped lead to a breakthrough to Modernism, whilst overall the work reflects the nostalgia for Russia that marked, in one way or another, most of Stravinsky’s output.

Fairclough herself looks at Anglo-Soviet Musical Exchanges in the Late Stalin Period. Though the record is sometimes spotty due to official censorship and both sides’ occasional unwillingness to commit thoughts to paper or otherwise to preserve the record, she shows the suspicion with which some organisations that were sympathetic to the Soviet Union were officially regarded. Despite being largely independent and so not comparable to the Soviet’s state-sponsored cultural exchange organisation VOKS [Vsesoyuznoe obshestvo kulturnoy svyazi s granitsey – the All Russian Society for Cultural Relations Abroad], organisations such as Britain’s Society for Cultural Relations (now rechristened the Society for Cooperation in Russian and Soviet Studies) were regarded by the British government as fronts, and it and its members were constantly spied on and infiltrated. She teases out details of the bureaucratic processes and points to some of the significant figures. There is growing academic interest in Soviet-Western cultural relations, though research is made harder by the scattered record. Hopefully Fairclough will continue this fascinating work, which will surely provide fascinating material on which to base studies of the reception of Soviet art in the West.

In discussing Soviet music’s role in the Cold War, Simo Mikkonen takes a different view, claiming that “cultural exchanges between the Soviet Union and the West had become practically non-existent from the 1930s onwards” – his chapter covers the period up to the 1970s. This is a contentious position – not only does it fly in the face of Fairclough’s chapter, it ignores the work of VOKS and the friendship societies that had existed in many Western countries since 1924, and the continuing trade agreements that made films, books and other art available, with the enthusiastic support of prominent international communists. However, after this striking opening position Mikkonen then goes on to outline some of the cultural exchanges that he claimed did not exist in that period. While the chapter has much valuable information it is almost as if a position is being maintained in the teeth of contradictory evidence.

Bogumila Mika traces the occasional, subtle and indirect politicisation on the Warsaw Autumn Festival of contemporary music, though ‘socialist’ compositions were not necessarily guaranteed a warm reception and the Western avant-garde could equally be welcomed.

Edmunds’ co-researcher Hon-Lun Yang presents their work on the importance of music to the interwar Shanghai Russian diaspora, and the importance of Russian classical and jazz musicians both to the city’s cultural life and its internationalist aspirations.

As the opening of this review said, Edmunds’ research was wide-ranging, so it is fitting that this collection goes beyond what might have been his immediate concerns to include topics that he would doubtless have found fascinating. There are several chapters about countries other than Russia. Britain and its relations with other musical cultures is a particular focus. Hence, we have Joanna Bullivant’s study of relative success of communist composer Alan Bush at home and in East Germany, and how that relates to tradition and modernism.

Erik Levi examines British xenophobia about foreign musicians in the first half of the 20th century, including its parochial attitudes to continental ‘modern’ music, and, despite their evident positive contributions, resentment at the ‘success’ of refugees from Nazi Germany.

Derek B. Scott looks at the role of Unionist and Republican songs in the relationship between Britain and Ireland, showing the surprisingly complex lineage some of them have. This is a topic that some have fought shy of, perhaps wary of being dragged into debates about how British policy related to colonialism or imperialism, but Scott’s study of the music allows him to address the politics in a less confrontational manner.
More arcane, perhaps, Florian Schedling looks at London’s wartime Hungarian cabaret scene and the very great contributions to British culture of people such as the Korda brothers, John Halas, Emeric Pressburger (of Powell and… fame), Arthur Koestler, Matias Seiber, Miklos Rosza and, after the war, Georg Solti (in an unfortunate slip of the pen, Schedling claims that Allan Gray, who scored several Powell and Pressburger films, was the pseudonym of Mischa Spoliansky – in fact it was Josef Zmigrod). These very public figures are somewhat contrasted with the more low-key Hungarian cabaret but Schedling convincingly argues that it was more than an insular, underground affair, and did have an impact on wider British-Hungarian affairs.

Beyond Britain, World War Two is the focus of three essays: Melita Milin studies music during WWII in Belgrade; Katarzyna Naliwajek looks at Nazi-occupied Poland under the National Government of 1939–41, and Guido Heldt further examines another burgeoning area of academic interest – Nazi cinema, in particular focusing on musical films. One perhaps surprising inclusion is Eva Moreda Rodriguez’s chapter on the Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo, not normally thought of as a political figure, though most of his career was spent under Franco.

This collection of essays throws light on just the sort of under-studied areas that would have fascinated that Edmunds and is a great tribute to a sadly missed academic and friend to many.

[1] Bush loyally followed the Moscow line, going as far as to simplify his style in response to the events of 1948. He wrote some works dedicated to Shostakovich. For Edmunds’ work on BBC programming, see ‘William Glock and the British Broadcasting Corporation’s Music Policy, 1959–73’, Contemporary British History 20 (June 2006)
[2] Much of the same ground is covered in her chapter, ‘Interrupted Masterpiece: Shostakovich’s opera Orango: History and Context’ in Pauline Fairclough (ed.) Shostakovich Studies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010, pp.7–33.
[3] Shostakovich ‘O muzyka Novaya Vavilona’, Sovetskii ekran, 11, 1929, p.3.

John Riley

39_Walker /

Music and Soviet Power, 1917–32
Marina Frolova-Walker and Jonathan Walker (eds. and trans.)
Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2012.
ISBN 978 1 84383 703 9 (hbk)

Recent years have seen the release of a huge amount of material from former Soviet archives, transforming our understanding of many aspects of the country’s life. However much of this material has taken years to be translated and published in the West. Books such as this play an invaluable role in disseminating it, allowing others to develop far more nuanced views of the music and events of the time.

These archival excavations have covered a broad range of topics. Our view of the arts has been changed as we better understand the sometimes labyrinthine Soviet cultural policies as the country vacillated between encouraging the avant-garde as appropriate for a Revolutionary society and suppressing its dangerous individualism, while trying to find a balance between celebrating Russian-ness and denouncing the backwardness of pre-Soviet art.

1917–32, the years between the revolution and the beginnings of socialist realism, are amongst the most tumultuous in the country’s tumultuous history. By translating a host of documents from the time, Music and Soviet Power sheds a fascinating light on it. These include reviews and articles from the general and the specialist presses, as well as official papers and reports, but the authors have dug deeper to include diary entries which escape the need to second-guess political expectations. In between, contextualising essays include excerpts from even more documents. Even where these are not newly presented they are often first translations of material that was published in short-run, hard to obtain publications.

Artistic activity at the time was frantic, as a generation seemed to arrive convinced that it could do anything. The number of great writers, artists, film-makers and composers is astonishing. But the book introduces many other characters as well: astute critics as well as some who seemed to be trying to follow the Party line, composers who are frequently little more than names.

Hence we have Davidenko giving an almost blow-by-blow account of how he wrote his famous song They Wanted to Beat Us, a very positive review of Lev Knipper’s opera The Wind from the North, articles about composers including Deshevov, and Avraamov whose Symphony of Sirens filled Baku with factory hooters.

The three great émigré composers, Prokofiev, Rachmaninov and Stravinsky attract a deal of attention in a series of pieces that investigate how they relate to Russia and to the Soviet Union. Unsurprisingly, Rachmaninov’s All-Night Vigil is mocked and in 1931 N Vygodsky wrote an almost parodistic piece, disparaging The Bells and denouncing the composer and poet (Balmont – sic: it was his translation of Poe) as “demigods of the decadent pre-Revolutionary intelligentsia of the bourgeois salons, now turned White émigrés”. In the same review Holst is called a “glorifier of the contemporary imperialist bourgeoisie of Europe and America”. In his one-eyed anti-religiosity Vygodsky thinks The Planets “prompts some misgivings” as it “looks heavenwards”.

However Stravinsky’s work initially had a friendlier reception. Andrey Levinson, writing in 1920, welcomed Petrushka both for itself and as a piece of ‘national art’ but nine years later Yuri Keldysh saw it as a superficial failure. In 1925, writing as Igor Glebov, Asafiev sees Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto as a naturally Russian work that rejects the artificialities of the West. Though he hopes Prokofiev can build on that, the Second Symphony, complex and (self-)consciously modelled on Beethoven disappointed.

These ideas are further developed in various critics’ thoughts about earlier great Russian composers, such as the members of the Mighty Handful. Already they are being moulded as progressives, something approaching ‘Soviets avant la lettre’ particularly with the proletarianisation of Musorgsky in the run-up to the 1928 production of Boris Godunov.

Parallel to this are reviews of the modernist composers visiting the country: Sollertinsky’s review of Krenek’s Jonny spielt auf describes the use of film clips and radio recordings. While looking from the other end of the telescope there are fragments from the diaries of visiting composers including Casella.

Given the time frame, Shostakovich himself only appears towards the end and then sometimes refracted through historic eyes. In his late-life autobiography, Milhaud claimed that, on a visit to the USSR, he saw the young man’s genius, though documents of the time imply that he was more taken with the music of Deshevov: an example, perhaps of Shostakovich’s genius being annexed for ulterior motives.

Though Zhitomirsky finds some good things in The Nose, the long analysis-review ominously warns Shostakovich of the harmfulness of the false path he is taking. Against that, a review of Alone, while not delirious, tries to understand the reasons for its failure, and sees it as an encouragement to improve the situation rather than change direction. There are also appraisals of The Golden Age and Malko’s letter distancing himself from Tahiti Trot – one of a couple of items on the dangers attaching to ‘light music’.

Given its importance, it is perhaps surprising that there are no contemporary reviews of Shostakovich’s First Symphony, though they may not have been particularly telling and there are some fragments about the Second. In any case, there simply isn’t room for everything: the articles about so many lesser-known pieces more than ‘makes up’ for the omission.

Ending in 1932, the collection includes previews of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk by Shostakovich himself and M Grinberg, whose excitement and positive outlook read heart-breakingly in the light of later events. Just as sad is the final piece: a brief optimistic interview with Prokofiev as he prepares to return to the Soviet Union.

Such comprehensive forays into the archives are rarely achieved and the authors must be congratulated on bringing out a hoard of material that will help to refine our view of the music and cultural politics – national, cultural and personal – of the time. The only frustration is the knowledge that there is far more still in the archives: we must hope they return soon!

John Riley