Soviet Music and Society under Lenin and Stalin: The Baton and Sickle

By Neil Edmunds | Go to book overview

4

From the factory to the fat

Thirty years of the Song of the Counterplan

John Riley

The song is one of those that will long continue to keep green the memory of that amazing heroic epoch. 1

Shostakovich worked in virtually every genre. But some genres are more equal than others and his film scores and songs have not had the exposure or level of analysis that some of his other works have enjoyed. So a song that appears in a film may appear to be doubly blighted. But despite being one of his least studied works Pesnia o vstrechnom [Song of the Counterplan] is one of his most intriguing compositions, perhaps his most popular work and almost certainly his most frequently heard. And just as he reused it at several points through his career, so we can use it to track political changes and his responses to them. As well as featuring in the film Vstrechnyi [The Counterplan, 1932] 2 Shostakovich reused the song in three places: the cantata Poema o rodine [The Poem of the Motherland, 1947]; the film score Michurin (1949) and the operetta Moskva, Cheremushki [Moscow, Cheremushki, 1959], filmed in 1962 with the name of the city dropped from the title. There were also various other uses of it, both at home and abroad, and they will also be briefy discussed even though they are more tangential.

By 1931 Shostakovich had already written three film scores: Novyi Vavilon [New Babylon, 1929], Odna [Alone, 1931] and Zlatye gory [The Golden Mountains, 1931]. With each he had taken forward lessons for his work both in and out of the cinema. For Kozintsev and Trauberg's New Babylon he composed seven large movements to be performed live to the film's seven single-reel 'acts'. 3 Avant-garde, politically contentious and poorly performed it was hugely unpopular with both musicians and audiences and was only shown in cinemas for a few days. But whatever political lessons he learned, there was a musical one as well. New Babylon was reedited after Shostakovich had completed the score, considerably shortening it, but the large blocks of music were unwieldy and re-editing them to match the new version of the film proved difficult, contributing to its failure.

-67-

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