Historical Background: Anatoliy V. Lunacharsky, the Cultured Commissar
It is almost axiomatic that the history of Russian music is constituted by the conflict of ideas from within and without, the influence from abroad and the reaction to that influence. Much of the nineteenth century, especially its later years, was taken up by the battle between ideas: the forces of conservatism and Western thought, epitomized by Anton and Nicholas Rubinstein, against the formation of a new nationalistic Russian school of composition vigorously promoted by the "Mighty Five" led by Mily Balakirev . By the end of the century, a synthesis had taken place: the educational and professional reforms of the Rubinstein brothers were firmly in place, as were the reputations of composers like Modeste Moussorgsky, Aleksandr Borodin, and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.
Russian composers were generally leftist in their politics. They welcomed the 1917 revolution (though not necessarily the Bolsheviks, who were largely an unknown quantity), and were outraged at the massacre that occurred during the abortive 1905 revolution. They were, as a group, patriotic, and saw the people and folk music as a rich source of their inspiration. Few, of course, were totally resistant to Western thought, and quite a number subscribed to the dictum of "art for art's sake." The "World of Art" group, for example, existed from 1899 to 1922. Thus, the seeds for dissention were sown very early, and were to have tragic consequences during the first years of the October Revolution.
On the other hand, the authorities, whether Tsarist or Soviet, well understood the power of art and artists, and exercised censorship with whatever rationalization was currently feasible. They did not hesitate to repress and exile artists, and in this respect there was little difference between the two regimes. Eventually, however, the Soviet rule far outstripped its predecessor in its viciousness. Like the Tsarists, they knew that the intelligentsia harbored freethinkers, but they were willing to go to undreamed of lengths to repress such thought. In the end, the fact that most composers may have welcomed the change of revolution made little difference.
Lenin appointed the first Commissar for Public Education on October 26, 1917. The appointee's name was Anatoliy Vasilievich Lunacharsky. Lunacharsky was an extraordinary man, in many ways the single-handed architect of this whole period of musical creativity. Born in Poltava on November 11, 1875, his cultural interests