Magazine article Musical Times

Minding the Gap

Magazine article Musical Times

Minding the Gap

Article excerpt

Minding the gap Music and Soviet power 19 1 y- 1932 Marina Fr olova- Walker & Jonathan Walker The Boydell Press (Woodbridge, 2012); xxvii, 4?4??; £60, $99. ISBN 978 1 84383 703 9.

Most people like their history clearly set out, signposted and structured as unambiguously as possible. Consequently, there are certain historical eras which have never really had much popular appeal and seem to be reserved for the professional academic historian. Indeed, the epithets attached to historical periods spell out their likely appeal: the Renaissance and the Enlightenment each have an inviting ring about them compared with the forbidding aura of the Dark Ages or the liminal betwixt-and-between of the Middle Ages. Musicological history, traditionally dominated by the great composers, is full of unexplained gaps, the interim between the High Renaissance and the Baroque of Handel and Bach, for instance, or between the Baroque and the Classical era of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. Accordingly, generations of students have been protected from immmersion in the treacherous style-waters of those transitional composers whose music, with their sometimes emotional extremes (think of Gesualdo or CPE Bach), defies easy type-casting.

Historical circumstances have created more recent musicological lacunae. Particularly striking is the period covered by Music and Soviet power igiy-1932. The civil war between the anticommunist movements and the Soviets that followed the Revolution built upon the misery and destruction Russia had suffered in World War 1 . In such a disjointed age, when the dislocation of everyday life meant that people were, as the poet Osip Mandelshtam so vividly captured it, 'knocked out of their biographies like billiard balls out of pockets', there was little chance for Western observers to get any real sense of the sort of musical activity going on in early Soviet Russia. The dearth of well-known composers in this interim suggested a suspension of serious musical life, and only occasionally did names such as Mayakovsky, Mosolov and Roslavets emerge to suggest otherwise. It took Prokofiev's return to Russia and the increasing familiarity of Shostakovich's music to signal a return to stability and the resumption of a more readily discernible Russian musical life. Few correctives were easily available to the Western reader. There were three chapters in MD Calvocoressi's wartime study A survey of Russian music (1944); Nicolas Slonimisky's Music since 1900, which included documents stating the ideological positions of the Russian Association of Proletarian Musicians (RAPM), the Central Party Resolution and the infamous 1948 General Assembly of Soviet Composers; and Boris Schwarz's detailed study Music and musical life in Soviet Russia igiy-igjo (1972). The pattern that emerged from these was of musical polarisation fought out in a prolonged turf war between RAPM and its formalist adversary, The Association of Contemporary Music (ASM). Oppositional musical politics, with its helpful polarisation of ideologies, provided a conveniently credible explanation, and for non-specialists it was a historical problem 'sorted '.

The collapse of the Soviet Union, bringing about the new availability of archives, the migration of Russian scholars (including Marina Frolova- Walker) and fresh interpretative standpoints by new generations of Russian music scholars, soon demonstrated that the historical problem was far from sorted, and that instead the 1920s and 1930s represented new and fascinating musicological soil demanding proper explanation and interpretation. …

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