Beethoven in Soviet Musicology from 1917 to 1970

By Levin, Simon | The Beethoven Newsletter, Spring 1990 | Go to article overview

Beethoven in Soviet Musicology from 1917 to 1970


Levin, Simon, The Beethoven Newsletter


Editor's note: For the sake of those readers who would like to know more about the writers mentioned here, the spellings of proper names are taken from the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians when possible (indicated with *). Other names were verified in various other sources, resulting in the use of more than one transliteration system on occasion. Although the standard Soviet method for listing individuals is to use initials only for the first names, we have supplied complete names since most of these individuals are unknown in the west.

The foundations of Soviet musicology from 1917 to 1970 were established in the nineteenth century as part of the general development of critical thought in Russia.1 The division of Beethoven's works into three creative styles (early, middle and late), for example, was first elaborated by Wilhelm von Lenz* in the 1850s.2 (This concept is still the fundamental division used today to relate Beethoven's compositions to different periods in his life.) Many years before they were described by Soviet musicologists, the heroic and patriotic themes noted in Beethoven's music were discussed by Alexander Nikolayech Serov* (1820-1871), who wrote about the sublime philosophical nature of the composer's music,1 and Vladimir Vasil'yevich Stasov* (1824-1906), who called Beethoven "the Shakespeare of the masses."' A number of works drew connections between Beethoven's music and the French Revolution of 1789. In 1892 Anton Grigor'yevich Rubinstein* (1829-1894) wrote: "The French Revolution erupts - Beethoven appears."5

The "social aspect" of Beethoven's music (a term frequently employed in Soviet musicology) was particularly emphasized during the pre-Revolutionary years, as, for example, by YuIy [Joel] Dmitrevich Engel* (1868-1927) in his introductory lectures to a series of historic symphonic concerts held under the auspices of the Russian Musical Society in Moscow during the 1907-08 and 1908-09 seasons.6 In 1909 Sergei Konstantinovich Bulich (1859-1921) published an article on "Music and ideas of liberation."7 Viktor Grigor'evich Valter (1865-1935) wrote a series of articles entitled "The ideological content of Beethoven's music" that appeared in the Russian Musical Gazette in 1913.8 In his 1912 article "Tchaikovsky and Beethoven," Nikolay Yakovlevich Myakovsky* underscored the social significance of Beethoven's creative work.9

At the same time, in the wake of pre-Octoher 1917 events, another view of Beethoven as a "great idealist and individualist" emerged, arising not only from the complex aesthetic and philosophical teachings of that critical period, hut also from the development of modern aesthetics.10 There was a tendency to consider Beethoven's music too "old-fashioned," too out of line with the spirit of the new era.

1917-1920s

From its inception Soviet musicology paid special attention to Beethoven, trying to establish points of contact between his music and newly developing ideology. Musicologists were particularly concerned with the revolutionary and heroic ideals of Beethoven's music, which matched those of the socialist revolution. In 1919 a series of easily accessible brochures about revolutionary figures of various ages appeared. Beethoven's name was mentioned in a long list of revolutionary figures, which also included Karl Marx (1818-H3). Friedrich Engels (1820-95), Stepan (Stenka) Timofeevich Razin (d. 1671), Stepan Khalturin (1856-1882), Maximilien Robespierre (1758-94). Jean-Paul Marat (1743-95), Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807-82), and others. The brochure on Beethoven was among the first to appear.11 It emphasized the liberationism anti-tyrannical essence of Beethoven's music, allowing us to regard it therefore, according to its anonymous author, in the light of the basic goals of the Soviet socialist culture.

The first avowed champion of this point of view was Anatoly Vasilievich Lunacharsky (1875-1933), a state and public figure, scholar, academician, and publicist who was the secrtary of Education from 1917-29. …

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