Magazine article Gramophone

Russian Music since 1917

Magazine article Gramophone

Russian Music since 1917

Article excerpt

Russian Music since 1917

Reappraisal and Rediscovery

Edited by Patrick Zuk and

Marina Frolova-Walker

OUP/British Academy, HB, 450pp, 85 [pounds sterling]

ISBN 978-0-1972-6615-1

While a quantity of significant writing on Soviet and Russian music has appeared in recent years (from among others Pauline Fairclough, Laurel E Fay, Gavin Dixon, Levon Hakobian and Ivana Medic, as well as the editors of this collection), this book--the result of a conference held back in 2011 is a hugely important milestone in this field in that it tries to reset the clock, so to speak. In other words, this book acknowledges the problems of the West in understanding the situation of writers on music in the Soviet Union, and the difficulties of those same writers in gaining access not only to materials from the West but to the research of their colleagues.

As the editors note in the Introduction (page 8): 'The overwhelming emphasis in much Western writing on Soviet music on the effects of censorship and bureaucratic controls risks distorting and oversimplifying our impressions of a cultural scene that remained stubbornly complex and diverse, in spite of all the pressures to conform.' Indeed.

The first chapter, by Marina Rakhmanova, explores precisely the 'achievements and lacunae' in recent Russian writing, something of enormous importance to any Westerner interested in this field, because so much of what she is aware of could only be known by someone in Russia. Patrick Zuk complements this with his own chapter discussing Soviet music outside Russia, and the chapters by Levon Hakobian and Marina Frolova-Walker bring the story into the present, examining the ways in which both Russians and non-Russians have had to struggle to find new ways of looking at the repertoire, free from earlier preconceptions. These four chapters constitute the first part of the book, and should not be considered merely as an academic prelude; on the contrary, they illuminate the entire problem in fascinating ways. The chapters in the second part deal with exactly what state controls did to music in the Soviet Union and the complexities of composers' and performing musicians' reactions to them. Outside Russo-musicological circles (and more specifically those who have read Pauline Fairclough's work), it is surely not widely known that Das Rheingold was performed in Leningrad in 1924, for example, as part of a far-reaching effort to reclaim Wagner from the Nazis, itself fascinating in the ways the Soviets found to deal with the whole phenomenon of Romanticism. …

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