THE POLITICIZATION OF MUSIC IN FORMER COMMUNIST COUNTRIES as part of the general cultural policy of the regimes had some general features which applied all over the world.1 The most prominent of these was that the "party and state"2 took culture over as a very important tool to manipulate the nation (which is much more than censorship). Another important main feature was that control had three dimensions: the cultural thesaurus of the past, the contemporary creation itself, and - related to the latter the "bourgeois" influence coming from the free Western World.
There were some very specific features, too. For example, in Europe, Beethoven was hailed as the artist revolutionary from the very beginning of Communism, while he was banned in China for a long time during the Cultural Revolution for being an instrument of the imperialists in their attempts to reinstate capitalism! There were other differences whose purport is not easy to ascertain. Lenin was an educated man and it is likely that he listened to Beethoven's music. His Commissar for the Arts, Anatoly Vasilievich Lunacharsky (1875-1933), was another music lover (as were many Nazi butchers). I suppose that the East German Communist Party leaders, by virtue of their national tradition, were musically educated. This must have mattered to a certain extent when music was politicized in their countries. This did not apply to Romania's Communist leaders: they were ignorant, uneducated people whose musical preferences were limited to old peasant "folk music" (songs and dance tunes) or urban "romances" (popular songs by various nineteenth- or twentieth-century authors). Their cultural policies were largely decided by their "commissars," who liked to be thought of as educated people but who were not necessarily musically literate.
In Romania, like elsewhere, the party and state took complete control over any form of artistic creation and performance; every artist had to become a member of a "union," was paid by the state, and had to fulfill the "social commission," whose artistic form was the so-called "Socialist Realism." This takeover happened around 1948, but the roles of music and musicians continued to undergo dramatic changes over the next few decades.
The first period might be described as the Sovietization Period, the artisan of which was the art commissar Iosif Chishinevsky. It consisted of the glorification of Soviet and (largely bowdlerized) Russian art, as the only full-fledged incarnation of the creative power of the "liberated peoples." To quote a famous Romanian joke: "What is the correct pronunciation of the famous German composer's name: Schubert or Schumann? The correct answer is Shostakovich." This was a form of revised Soviet proletcult: the "pre-proletarian" artistic thesaurus was no longer annihilated in its entirety for being a form of oppression, but it was expurgated from every political "deviation" and then appropriated as a forerunner of proletarian revolution. Shakespeare was such a forerunner, as was Rembrandt. Beethoven, of course, was the greatest of all.
The definition of political "deviation" conformed to the Soviet model and varied from mysticism (for example, Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-1881) was banned in Romania for a long time, as he was in Soviet Union) to "decadence" (almost all twentieth century art - another similarity with Nazi cultural policy) to "naturalism" (artists like Emile Zola (1840-1902) who believed that inherited nature rather than social conditions determine people's behavior) to "nationalism" (the "mortal sin" in a system which hailed "proletarian internationalism"). Living personalities who had fled the Soviet Union or other Communist regimes were simply annihilated into non-existence. Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943) and Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) were banned as well as, on the Romanian side, Georges Enesco (1881-1955), who had fled the Communists and lived in Paris and rejected the advances the Communists made to him. The pianistic glory of Romania, Dinu Lipatti (1917-1950), was also banned for the same reason (although his brother was working at that time as a diplomat of Communist Romania in Paris and was a Romanian spy3).
This general cultural policy was reinforced by means of some very specific censoring acts. Most of the time they were ludicrous: Puccini's Madame Butterfly was re-baptized "Cio-Cio-San" (as a victim of "Amercian Imperialism," she would have hated to be known under an English name). Similarly, Glinka's Life for the Czar became Ivan Susanin, and a bioaranhical feature film told us that it was the Czarist censor that had forced him to adopt the former title (which sounded plausible enough). Some politicizing, however, was hideous. Tchaikovsky fared arguably the worst: his 1812 Overture (a warhorse of the time) was played with a different finale; a Soviet composer had taken it upon himself to alter the Czarist anthem to sound more like a Russian folk tune than a glorification of autocracy.
Musical "Socialist Realism" had an extra paradoxical feature: nationalism, which was otherwise a mortal sin. According to the teaching of Lenin's Commissar for the Arts, Lunacharsky (widely quoted throughout the period), musical language had to be inspired directly from the national folk idiom in order to be accessible to the masses, in the manner that the Russian group of the "Mighty Five" had set as the definitive model. It is true that Bach, Mozart and Beethoven had done otherwise, but socialhistorical-musical law had set it in this new way for the future (Marxism had always been very keen on the laws of history).
Consequently, the Romanian composers had to write in the spirit of Romanian "doina" (lyrical song) or "hora" (dance tune) and many of them found it easy to comply, since they had been doing that for a long time. "Decadence," that is, contamination with Western-type experiments like atonality or serialism, was another mortal sin. In the mid-fifties, a group of "decadent" writers and musicians was exposed, following the famous Soviet models of the thirties; a wellknown composer, Mihail Andricu (18941974), was so banned (even though not physically eliminated).
World music was made of two broad categories: (1) Russian and Soviet and (2) all others. The latter group was also split in two: Beethoven and everyone else. Indeed, Beethoven was highly politicized in Romania (and, I suspect, in all other European Communist countries) in a manner which was, message excluded, similar to what the Nazis did with Wagner. Lenin himself was the great authority on Beethoven; his only saying was repeated so many times that I can reproduce it from memory even now: "Whenever I listen to this music [the Appassionato Sonata], I cannot help telling myself, perhaps with a naive pride: see what we humans can do!"
Beethoven was not only the revolutionary musician, he was also "the musician of the Revolution," the forerunner of the great proletarian revolution (obviously, there is plenty in Beethoven's life and music to call him a revolutionary musician; however, there is no way to make him into a forerunner of the "proletarian dictatorship"). This thesis was supported by every quote that could be found: his supposed enthusiasm for the French Revolution, his antimonarchic and pro-republican stand, his quarrels with his aristocratic friends, his blaming of the "bourgeois" (of which his publishers were typical). The Eroica was the prototype of revolutionary music and the Ninth was the visionary song of the Communist future. The fate of the Fifth was not a personal destiny, but the social fate (capitalistic exploitation). The Seventh was the triumphal song of the people liberated from Napoleon's tyranny (of course, Russia was the liberator). The tragedy in the Appassionata itself was reversed into an optimistic message. His "from the heart to the heart" note on a Missa solemnis page was quoted to make him "the bard of the masses." As for this mass, it was never performed in concerts in Bucharest (or any other town in Romania, as far as I can tell) until the sixties (nor was his Mass in C Major) and he was made into an atheist (favorite Beethovenian quote: "Christ was just a crucified Jew"). Except for the Ninth Symphony, his late works were largely ignored, because their message was much less revolutionary and even tainted with some possible mysticism. In this way, Beethoven was officially "the greatest composer of all times" and he was by far the dominant figure in the repertory of the orchestras and radio broadcasts, as well as in the newsreels! (I remember how I hated to watch our "beloved leader" deboarding from his presidential plane accompanied by the finale of the Fourth Symphony4).
The great authorities on Beethoven (beside Lenin and Lunacharsky) were Russian or Soviet: Vladimir Stasov (1824-1906), Alexander Serov (1820-1871), and Arnold Alshvang (1898-1960). Even Alexander Oulibichef (1794-1858) was quoted about the Eighth Symphony in a way to make the quote look like it was a positive note, without any hint that he actually hated Beethoven's music. Romain Rolland (18661944) was the only non-Russian name, but we should not forget that he had been a well known supporter of the "first state of the working people" (even so, he was never quoted about Beethoven's last period). In spite of all this publicizing of Beethoven, only three books about him were printed in the fifties: Romain Rolland's thin book that he wrote at the beginning of the century (a work full of well-meant Romantic pathos, but of no informational value); Alshvang's biography; and a book written by the Romanian musician Eugen Pricope (if I am not mistaken), a concoction made up from the former two, plus a few other preWW2 books.
However, Beethoven was spared Tchaikovsky's tribulation- the censors left his music untouched. The only blatant politicizing of his work that I am aware of applied to the texts. The poem of the Choral Fantasy, Opus 80 (granted, poor poetry) was replaced by an "ideologically pure" text, which made not only the music but also the text into a precursor of the Ninth Symphony. This was not a Romanian, but a "proletarian internationalist" change: the new lyrics were the work of the German Socialist poet Johann Becher, and they remained the "canon" all throughout the Communist system down to its end. The "Complete Beethoven" LP edition issued in the former East Germany as late as 1970 (and reissued in the 1980s) still made use of this text.
This period had, however, a positive feature which was later lost and which seems to be common to all Communist regimes in their early phases: they indeed engaged in spreading culture among the masses. Classical literature (both Romanian and worldwide) was printed in large popular editions, classical music was intensely promoted on the air, and art books were printed. Of course, all of this art was "cleansed," but the work of the regime was still very successful at working to educate the public. Even without his Missa solemnis, Beethoven was a great educator of musical taste.
After Nikita Khrushchev initiated destalinization and détente towards the end of the fifties, the Romanian communists were free to change their cultural policies. These took shape in the mid-sixties within what we may call the National Modernistic New Socialist Realism. The rather long term is necessary in order to accommodate all its main characteristics: reconsideration of the national cultural thesaurus, an alignment to modern artistic trends and the abandonment of old dogmatic "Socialist Realism" in favor of a less restrictive view of reality. This development was hailed by many Romanians as a return to normality, as normal as it could be in a totalitarian system. We still were culturally chained, but the chain was obviously much longer.
The national artistic thesaurus was reconsidered, and most bans were lifted and the "ideological flaws" of the various works were explained by means of "the historical context." The works of great artists of the past, both national and international (Marcel Proust, Dostoyevsky, to quote only from the latter category), were restored to almost their entirety. The Romanians were finally told that they had had an internationallyacclaimed musical genius and could listen to Enesco's Rhapsodies (which sounded pretty much like "Socialist Realism") and his other works (which sounded rather "decadent"). An international musical festival and contest bearing his name was established. Dinu Lipatti was also recognized as a national glory. Some censoring was still at work, however. Enesco shared Tchaikovsky's fate: the royal anthem was stripped off his Romanian Poem suite!
The desire of the Communist system to be legitimized by the world also forced them into making an unexpected opening toward Western artistic modernism. Ceausescu's art commissar Dumitru Popescu (who had such a big ego that he was sarcastically nicknamed "Popescu-God") began to criticize the old icon of "Socialist Realism" as being "flat" and to promote "progress in art." Abstract paintings invaded the art galleries and a composer like Aurel Stroe (b. 1932) could claim in impunity that he had been experimenting with serialism for some time. Writers were allowed to illustrate the theory that Socialism can nurture some contradictions and conflicts, too (this applied mostly to the depictions of the previous decades).
Musical life inevitably changed. Modern composers showed up, including the previously "decadent" Viennese school and their mushrooming Romanian disciples. Television and radio programs were initiated to educate the public to the "modern musical sensibility." Bernstein's TV series was broadcast in the seventies. There was much more variety (and less quality) in the concerts and on the air. The first piece in a concert was no longer a symphonic "hora" but some noise sounding rather obstructive to the ears. Instead of a Beethoven or Brahms symphony, one could often hear one by Mahler.
In this new atmosphere, Beethoven was less politicized but lost his preeminence too. J. S. Bach took up the position of the "all-time greatest," which was to some extent another kind of politicizing - that of the avant-garde: he was often quoted (as per Arnold Schönberg) as a distant prophet of serialism.5 However, one could see now faces of Beethoven which had previously been censored. The National Philharmonic (now bearing Enesco's name), conducted by George Georgescu (1887-1964), finally performed the Missa solemnis (although it would take ten more years until the Romanians could buy the record).6 George Balan, a musical critic (who later emigrated to California) commented in public or onthe-air conferences on Beethoven's quartets, including his late ones, from a musical perspective, rather than a political one. Great performances of the fortepiano cycles (Schnabel, Fischer, etc.) were broadcast. Romain Holland's cycle Beethoven / The Great Creative Ages was printed.
This lasted until about 1972, when, after a visit to Maoist China, Ceausescu decided that Romania had gone too far into a dangerously liberal cultural reform and inaugurated what was nicknamed the "Mini-Cultural Revolution." Perhaps the best description of it would be as Pseudo Neo-Sovietization Period. Ceausescu, now approaching old age and able to see that something was clearly not working right, wanted to revert back to the "values" of his young age, that of the initial Sovietization plan. However, his plan could not work (hence the "pseudo-" prefix). On the one hand, he was a nationalist, so he did not want to take back what the Romanians had been given in the name of national pride. On the other hand, he did not want to lose the sympathy of the Western World (for whose eyes he had managed to build the image of a "liberal" Communist), so he could not ban Western "decadence," unless it was clearly damaging to ideology (which was usually not the case: dots and stripes in an abstract painting, for example, cannot be explicitly anti-Socialist).
Some censorship was inevitable, however, and literature (which can formulate an explicit message) was its main target. Modern music was left untouched (nothing antiSocialist about the twelve tone series), but, paradoxically, the classical tradition was hit, too: religious music was once more tacitly banned. In 1985, when the whole world celebrated the triple tricentennial anniversary of Bach, Handel and Scarlatti, several important Romanian musicians thought that they could use the occasion to give the audience the three masterpieces that had never been publicly performed under the Communists: Bach's Passions according to St. Matthew and St. John and Handel's Messiah ? They managed to get Messiah past the censor at the price of giving the concert with a half-full hall, since they were not allowed to advertise (a 10 ? 10 inch piece of paper stuck on the window of the Radio and Television Concert hall was the only announcement!). The advertised Bach concerts were never given. An East German made television series about Bach was also censored: all sacred music was cut out and the references to it were not translated: "Johannes Passion" was subtitled as "my music"!
However, such episodes were not the most characteristic actions of the period. The main feature was the gradual general decay of all cultural life. Since all of the country's resources were going to feed an irrational and inefficient industrial development, the state no longer had any money to subsidize the arts. The museums had to shut down their air-conditioned installations and precious artworks began to degrade. Theaters had to raise money by presenting (censored and pirated!) American vidéocassette movies to large audiences (on 27-inch TV screens!). The philharmonic orchestras were especially hard hit, since the classical music audience had constantly dwindled (like almost everywhere in the world). In wintertime - which is almost as cold in Romania as it is in Minnesota - the string players in the orchestra played in freezing halls with fingerless gloves on their hands. The country's important symphony orchestras began to tour Europe during the summers to play in public parks and squares (we listened to the Bucharest Radio and Television Orchestra, under its chief conductor losif Conta (b. 1924), play Beethoven's Seventh in Italy in the town of Castiglio in Cielo's public square). Many instrumentalists defected. A popular joke ran: "What's a string quartet' The Bucharest Philharmonic after a triumphant tour in Western Europe." The triumph was recorded in the Romanian media only. However, that was the only kind of politicizing that was still working. The system was doomed. It is strange that we, those caught within, could not realize that it was doomed.
1 I use the term culture in the old restricted meaning of artistic creativity.
2 This was the standard formula of the regime. In fact, the party and the state coincided totally.
3 According to Red Horizons, a book by Ion Mihai Pacepa, a former Romanian Intelligence officer who defected to the U. S. in 1978.
4 Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony was the other favorite music used in the newsreels.
5 In spite of that, during the forty years of the Communist regime, only three non-technical books were printed about his life and works: Anna Magdalena's little Chronicle; a translation from Russian (by Konen?); and an original Romanian work (in 1985) of a very poor quality.
6 The other religious work which was performed at that time by the rival conductor Constantin Silvestri (1913-1969) with the Television and Radio Orchestra was Mozart's Great Mass.
7 This refers to the capital, Bucharest, which contained most of the country's musical life. Bach's Passions were executed several times during this time at the Lutheran Church in Bucharest, but they were not official public performances (it was very difficult to find a seat). I do not know about other cities in Romania, but I am sure that such religious concerts happened in Transylvanien cities with a strong German Lutheran minority. I doubt that it happened in other cities.
Stefan Romano, a member of the American Beethoven Society and a life-long amateur Beethoven scholar, lived in Communist Romania for many years before immigrating to the United States in 1989.…