Russian Music, History and Development of Russian Music According to Periods and Genres


Viewed in historical perspective, the flowering of Russian music came very late. However, it compensated for this late beginning by a remarkable rapidity of development.

In less than a century Russian music reached an equal rank with that of Western nations. Soon the world at large began to feel the impact of the musical language of such geniuses as Moussorgsky in the 19th century and Stravinsky in the 20th century. Tchaikovsky elevated symphonie writing to romantic greatness, and RimskyKorsakov brought orchestral writing to dazzling brilliance. Intense cultivation of music in ali genres continued in Soviet Russia. Among Soviet composers the names of Prokofiev and Shostakovich became universally known.

From Glinka, “the Father of Russian Musij,” to the present day, the substance of Russian composition never departed radically from the basic structure of Russian folk music, characterized by a broad diatonic melody arranged in asymmetrical rhythms. There is something in this spaciousness of Russian folk melodies that suggests a correspondence to the immensity of the Russian land itself, with its great plains, rivers, and lakes, so that Russian folk music becomes a natural expression of this vastness. The role of Russian composers was to clothe the songs and rhythms of the Russian people in the cultural forms common to ali civilizations, and in this coalescence lies the great achievement of Russian music.


Folk Music. The first folk melodies of Euröpean Russia date from the lOth century. Asiatic Russia did not conıe into the national cultural complex until centuries later. Most ancient Russian folk songs are entirely sui generis. The first great alien influence—that from Byzantium— affected Russian religious music only. Russian folk song collectors gathered and published so much authentic material during the 19th and 20th centuries that the record of traditional folk songs is now remarkably complete.

In Russian Folk Music in its Melodic and Rhythmic Structure (1888), Peter Sokalsky made an interesting observation, that the older a song is, the narrower is its range. In the most ancient songs the melody usually consists of four notes of the diatonic scale in descending motion. The cadence of a falling fourth, characteristic of old Russian songs, is also typical of many themes in Russian symphonies and operas. At a later period, the basic range expanded to a fifth. With added flourishes a folk melody may attain a full octave, with the intervalic structure usually corresponding to a minör mode, which lends a melancholy lilt to the melody.

The rhythm of Russian folk songs is determined by characteristic groupings of two short notes followed by a long note—a familiar example is the Song of the Volga Boatmen. But Russian folk songs have a large incidence of uneven metrical units, such as 5, 7, or 11, to a phrase. Great Russian composers have used such typical time signatures as 5/4 (Glinka), 7/4 (Borodin), and 11/4 (RimskyKorsakov).

The first anthology of Russian folk songs, Collection of Simple Russian Songs With Notes, was published in 1782 by Vasili Trutovsky. The Russianized Czech Ivan Prach made a more important collection of 150 songs, which were noted down for him by Nikolai Lvov, an amateur musician. The publication of this work in 1790 found an immediate response, and a second edition appeared in 1806. The famous Italian composer Giovanni Paisiello expressed amazement at the beauty of these simple peasant songs, and Beethoven incorporated themes from them in the String Quartet, Opus 59, which he dedicated to Count Andreas Rasoumovsky, the Russian ambassador to Vienna. More songs were collected and classified during the 19th century. The most significant collection (1888) was by Nikolai Palchikov, who published 125 melodies with texts, ali of which were gathered in the village of Nikolayevka, in Ufa province. Palchikov gave as many as eight versions of each song, enough to permit scholars to make general deductions regarding the chief characteristics of Russian folk music. Harmonizations of Russian folk songs, published by Tchaikovsky in 1868, RimskyKorsakov in 1877, Balakirev in 1886, and Liadov in 1894, further increased interest in the subject.

The beginning of scientific musical ethnography was made by Evgenia Lineva, who was the first to make phonograph recordings of Russian folk songs. In 1905 and 1912 she published two volumes of transcriptions of Russian folk songs under the general title Peasant Songs of Great Russia in Folk Harmonizations Transcribed from Phonograms. Each song begins with a solo, and is followed by a chorus in which the basic melody is freely embellished. The choruses usually have two or three individual parts, but Lineva found some fourpart singing. She believed that Russian folk music is essentially polyphonic, but there is no proof that the ancient songs were anything more than single musical phrases, without secondary parts. The later polyphony of peasant choruses may have resulted from the influence of part singing in the church choirs.

Musical ethnography continued to advance after the 1917 revolution. Numerous collections of regional songs were published under the auspices of the Academy of Sciences, in the folklore series of the Institute of Anthropology, Ethnography, and Archaeology. Revolutionary songs of czarist times are included in the collection Russian Folk Song (1936).

Instruments. Folk music is deeply rooted in Russian folklore. In The Chronicle of the Campaign of Igor (about 1200), the legendary figüre Bayan is a musician. According to the tale, “Bayan, as he recited the strife of bygone times, sent out ten falcons after a flight of swans, and the one that was first overtaken began her song. But in truth, brethren, not ten falcons did Bayan loose on the swans, but his wise fingers did he lay on living strings, and they by themselves sang the glory of the princes.” The stringed instrument that Bayan played was the ancient gusli, a sort of zither or horizontal harp, with ten or more strings and a wooden sound chest. The gusli is no longer in practical use. RimskvKorsakov introduced a part for gusli in his opera Sadko to evoke the atmosphere of old Russia, but the part is usually performed on the harp. Other ancient stringed instruments are the domra (similar to the guitar, and played with a plectrum), and the gudok (a threestringed instrument with a pearshaped body, and played with a string bow). The domras were revived in Soviet Russia, and are often included in modern orchestral compositions.

In the Ukraine, the domra is called kobza or bandura (from the Polish pandura). The popular balalaika is in ali probability a development of the domra. In the 18th century the balalaika assumed its familiar triangular shape. It usually has three strings and is plucked without a plectrum. An ensemble of balalaikas, organized by Vasili Andreyev early in the 20th century, gave many successful concerts in Russia and abroad.

Among old Russian wind instruments were the rog (diminutive, rozhok), a hunting horn; the dudka, a vertical flüte; the zhaleika, a double reed with a single mouthpiece (the two pipes are connected at an angle); and the svirel, a panpipe composed of several reeds of different lengths, bound together. The nomenclature of these instruments varies according to locality and period. The Russian bagpipe, or volynka, probably so named because of its supposed origin in the district of Volynia, consists of a goatskin bag and two pipes.

An interesting ensemble of Russian primitive instruments, an orchestra of hunting horas (rog), was initiated by Simeon Naryshkin in 1751. It consisted of 49 hunting horns of different sizes, ıanging from three inches (7.6 cm) to 24 feet (7.3 meters) in length. The largest horn produced the note of low A under the bass clef staff. Each member of the ensemble could play only one note, and patient rehearsing was required to perform even a simple polyphonic composition. A witness to one of these events was a German resident of St. Petersburg, Jacob von Stahlin, who described a successful performance in his memoir Neu>s of Music in Russia (1770).

Ancient Russian percussion instruments included drums, metal bars, and bells. The most interesting instrument was the buben, or tambourine. A huge buben, called a nabat, was so large that it took four horses to carry it and eight men to operate it.

Skomorokhi. The first musical entertainers mentioned in Russian history were the skomorokhi, or minstrels, who are spoken of as early as 1068 by Nestor, an llth century Russian monk and chronicler, who complained in his chronicle that entertainments by the skomorokhi drew the people away from God, that churches stood empty while the populace amused themselves by playing on the gusli and blowing trumpets. According to 13th cenutry sources, the skomorokhi played panpipes (svirel), string instruments (gudok), and tambourines (buben). In the 15th century they introduced a new type of entertainment, the puppet theater, which ultimately became the popular camival play Petrushka.

The skomorokhi were so popular in medieval Russia that numerous villages in central Russia were named Skomorokhovo. As this popularity spread, the opposition of church and lay authorities grew stronger. In a decree in 1649, Czar Aleksei ordered ruthless persecution of the “godless skomorokhi with their domras and gusli,” and instructed poliçe to destroy ali musical instruments found among their possessions.

Very little is left of the musical compositions sung by the skomorokhi. However, a few songs and verses preserved in oral tradition are cited by Nikolai Findeisen, in his valuable twovolume work Sketches of Music History in Russia from the Most Ancient Times to the End of the Eighteenth Century (1928).


Early Church Music. At the same time that Russian folk music was developing, the church established the foundations of formal musical learning. The pioneers were Greek and Bulgarian clerics who introduced Byzantine chant into Kiev after the Christianization of Russia. As early as the llth century, texts with musical notation, derived from the Byzantine system of neumes, were in use in the Kiev churches and monasteries. By the 13th century in Russia, a native system of notation had emerged from the Greek system. The Russian system of notation was known as znamenny (from znamya, sign) or kryuki (“hooks,” from the angular shape of the notes). In 1551, Ivan the Terrible established schools for teaching musical notation for use by church choirs. He had some knowledge of music and wrote several religious chants himself. Later stili, the eight modes of the Russian znamenny chant were organized according to typical melodic figures, called popyevki (singing patterns). About 1700, the fiveIine notation, current in Europe, was universally adopted in Russian churches.

Later Church Music. The beginnings of polyphonic choral music date from the early 18th century. In 1713, Peter the Great formed a choir of 60 singers, and Russian noblemen organized private choruses. These capellas (from the Italian cappella, meaning chapel or choir) developed into the Russian choirs that became famous for their virtuosity. The capella founded by Peter the Great is stili flourishing in Leningrad.

The father of Russian religious music in the polyphonic style was the late 18th, early 19th century composer Dmitri Bortnyansky, who studied in Italy, where he acquired the technique of part writing. His contemporary, Maksim Berezovsky, wrote many sacred works of high quality. The 19th century composer Aleksei Lvov, author of the czarist national anthem, also composed sacred music and wrote a treatise on the structure of Russian religious songs. Later both Tchaikovsky and Aleksandr Grechaninov contributed to the body of Russian religious music, writing in a free contrapuntal style.


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Beginnings. The initial impetus to secular music was given by the Italian musicians who were invited to Russia by the empresses Anna Ivanovna, Elizabeth Petrovna, and Catherine the Great in the 18th century. They included several world renowned names: Francesco Araja, Vincenzo Manfredini, Giuseppe Sarti, Tommaso Traetta, Giovanni Paisiello, and Domenico Cimarosa. These Italians were largely responsible for the flourishing state of opera and ballet in St. Petersburg during the second half of the 18th century. They actea as choir masters, teachers, concert players, and composers. The first opera with a Russian text, Ceplıalus and Procris, was composed by Araja to a libretto by Aleksandr Sumarokov and prodııceıj in St. Petersburg in 1755. Araja had poor knowledge of the Russian language, and the work’s most serious defect is inaccurate conformity with the prosody of the libretto.

Influenced by Italian music, several Russian composers wrote operas during the reign of Catherine the Great. Among them were Evstigney Fomin, who wrote Amerikantsy (1788) to a romantic story set in Mexico, and Vasili Pashkevich, who composed Fevey (1786) to a libretto by Catherine the Great. The Kalmuck Chorus from Fevey is the earliest example of Orientalism in Russian music.

The National School. By the start of the 19th century, a national style of conıposition had begun to develop in Russian music. The Russian art song, often in the style of folk music and sometimes using folk themes, was cultivated by Aleksandr Alyabyev, Nikolai Titov, and Aleksandr Varlamov. Aleksei Verstovsky wrote an opera on a Russian subject, Askold’s Tomb (1835), which, in spite of its Italianate idiom, has some Russian traits.

The acknowledged founder of the Russian national school of conıposition was Mikhail Glinka, who is to Russian music what Aleksandr Pushkin is to Russian literatüre. Glinka integrated the elements of Russian musical folklore into a musical language that can be called genuinely national. His first opera was produced in 1836, under the title A Life for the Czar. The subject was taken from Russian history, and he developed it in a purely national manner, especially in the songs and choral passages. His second opera, Rusları and Lyudmila (1842), from Pushkin’s poem, is remarkable for its brilliant color. Glinka’s symphonic dance, Kamarinskaya, is the earliest example of orchestral treatment of Russian dance rhythms. In Glinka’s songs and ballads, the vocal line of Russian verse received its perfect expression.

The music of Aleksandr Dargomyzhsky differs greatly from Glinka’s. Less brilliant in color, it is rich in musical characterization. Dargomyzhsky’s opera Russalka (1855) retains the traditional division into arias but is written in a distinctly Russian folk styie. In his posthumously produced opera The Stone Guest (1868), Dargomyzhsky abandoned Italian modes in favor of operatic realism and replaced conventional recitative with vocal declamation.

The Mighty Five. Roth Glinka and Dargomyzhsky remained little known outside Russia, but with the great symphonic and operatic works of Tchaikovsky, RimskyKorsakov, and Moussorgsky, Russia became a powerful factor in the general course of music history. The spirit of nationalism in Russian music was accentuated when five Russian composers known as the Moguchaya Kuchka (literally, “a mighty heap”) formulated a set of musical aims. These composers were Mili Balakirev, Aleksandr Borodin, Cesar Cui, Modest Moussorgsky, and Nikolai RimskyKorsakov. The epithet was bestowed on them by the Russian critic Vladimir Stasov. The individual talents and the contributions to Russian national music by these five composers were far from equal. Cui, a military engineer who wrote several operas in a conventional romantic style, had limited gifts. Balakirev played the role of spiritual head of the group and did much to inspire his companions with the ideals of Russian national art. But he wrote little, and only his Oriental fantasia Islamey (1869) survives the test of time. It is more appropriate, therefore, to speak of the “Mighty Three” of Russian music: Borodin, RimskyKorsakov, and Moussorgsky. Not one of them was a professional in the narrow sense of the word. Borodin was a professor of chemistry; RimskyKorsakov, a naval officer; and Moussorgsky, a government employee.

Of the three, RimskyKorsakov was the most prolific. In his many operas, he recreated the spirit of Russian folklore and history. He used Russian legends and folk tales in The Snow Maiden (1882) and Sadko (1894) and Russian history in The Czar’s Bride (1893). In addition, he wrote operas to two fairy tales by Pushkin— The Tale of Czar Saltan (1900) and Le Coq d’or (1906). RimskyKorsakov’s religious opera The Tale of the Invisible City of Kitezh (1907) shows the influence of Wagner’s Parsifal. In the field of orchestral music, his symphonic süite Scheherazade (1881) was epochmaking in its colorful treatment of musical material in an allı^sive Oriental manner.

Borodin utilized elements of Russian Orientalism in his symphonic sketch In the Steppes of Central Asta (1880) and in the famous Polovtzian Dances from the opera Prince Igor, completed after his death by RimskyKorsakov and Glazunov. In a purely Russian style, Borodin created an epic work in his Second Symphony (1870), which without an explicit program paints a panorama of Russian byliny (epic chronicles).

Moussorgsky was regarded by his contemporaries as an erratic genius with inadequate technical equipment for the tasks he undertook. In historical perspective, however, he seems the greatest of the “Mighty Five” in boldness of musical invention and in profound understanding of the essence of Russian national folklore. Many of his harmonic procedures anticipated later developments in modern music. His greatest work is the opera Boris Godunov (1869). It is usually performed in the version prepared by RimskyKorsakov, in which certain crudities of orchestration and unconventional harmonic progressions are smoothed out. Dmitri Shostakovich also undertook reorchestration of Boris Godunov in 1941. Later, Moussorgsky’s original score was restored, and the opera has been performed as composed, in Russia and abroad. Moussorgsky’s opera Khovanshchina, on a historic subject, was begun in 1873 and completed by RimskyKorsakov. In his short opera Marriage (1868), after Gogol’s play, Moussorgsky applied the modern treatment of operatic dialogue. His piano süite Pictures at an Exhibition (1874) is remarkable for the variety of its characterization, from light humor to grandiose tonal painting. The süite became especially popular in the orchestral version by Maurice Ravel.

The cause of nationalism in Russian opera was ably served by Aleksandr Serov. His opera Enemy Poıoer was posthumously produced in 1871 and is stili in the Russian repertory. However, Serov’s music lacks the revolutionary originality of Moussorgsky’s work and the elfectiveness of RimskyKorsakov’s operatic panoramas. Similarly lacking in force are the numerous operas of Anton Rubinstein, who was the first great Russian pianist and the founder of the St. Petersburg Conservatory (1862). His opera The Demon (1875), after the dramatic poem by Mikhail Lermontov, and his piano pieces enjoy great popularity. Anton’s brother, Nikolai Rubinstein, also a celebrated pianist, founded the Moscow Conservatory in 1866.

Tchaikovsky. The unique and solitary figüre of Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky dominates Russian symphonic music in the second half of the 19th century. He stood aloof from his musical contemporaries and developed a style intensely individual, subjective, and often morbidly introspective. Although his music is unmistakably Russian, Tchaikovsky rarely resorted to literal quotations of Russian folk songs. His nationalism lies in his extraordinary power to create a Russian mood by expressing his own feelings.

Often described as a “melancholy genius,” Tchaikovsky was capable of writing music filled with joyful energy. But the mood of his symphonic works was somber. The Fourth and Fifth symphonies express the inexorability of fate and the futility of struggle. The spirit of the Sixth Symphony, the Pathetique (1893), which Tchaikovsky conducted in St. Petersburg a few days before his death from cholera, is one of dejection. The musical quotatiön from the service for the dead, in the first movement of the Pathetiçue is characteristic. Tchaikovsky’s symphonic poems, such as Romeo and Jıdiet (1869) and Francesca da Rimini (1876), are romantically somber, but the music itself has great vitality. His operas Eugene Onegin (1878) and The Çueen of Spades (1890), both based on stories by Pushkin, are extremely popular in Russia. His splendid ballets —Sıvan Lake (1876), The Sleeping Beauty (1889), and The Nutcracker (1892)—are staples in the repertoires of dance companies ali över the world.

St. Petersburg and Moscow Schools. Tchaikovsky and the “Mighty Five” greatly influenced the development of Russian music during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The stronghold of the Romantic school was Moscow, where Tchaikovsky had taught at the conservatory, while the center for musical nationalists of the modern school was St. Petersburg, where the “Mighty Five” had flourished.

The heir of the nationalist School of St. Petersburg was Aleksandr Glazunov. He wrote symphonies, violin and piano concertos, chamber music and ballets, but no operas. As director of the St. Petersburg Conservatory (19061927), he played an important role in the education of the ne w generation of Russian composers. Anatol Liadov distinguished himself principally by short symphonic poems, such as BahaYaga (1904) and Kikimora (1909), in the folklore manner. Nikolai Tchereçnin is known chiefly for songs.

Tchaikovsky’s followers cultivated the romantic type of symphonic, operatic, and vocal music. The greatest representative of the Moscow school was Sergei Rachmaninoff. His most enduring compositions are his piano works, which greatly elevated Russian pianistic style. His Piano Concerto in C Minör, No. 2 (1901) is a classic. His songs, poetic and lyrical, are in the Tchaikovsky tradition. Rachmaninoff spent his last 25 years chiefly in the United States, and his work of this period is less significant than his earlier music. Anton Arensky wrote effective piano and chamber music in a style resembling that of Rachmaninoff. Vasili Kalinnikov is remembered for his romantic First Symphony (1897).

Sergei Taneyev, Nikolai Medtner, Aleksandr Grechaninov, Mikhail IppolitovIvanov, Reinjıold Gliere, and Sergei Vassilenko generally followed the Moscow school, with some stylistic departures toward the nationalists. Taneyev, who was a master of counterpoint, wrote a monumental treatise on contrapuntal technique. In his music, Taneyev adhered to a neoclassical type of composition without specific Russian traits. Medtner w rot e almost exclusively for piano, in a style influenced by Chopin and Brahms. He left Russia in 1921 and settled in London in 1936. Grechaninov composed several operas, which follow the nationalist school in using subject matter from Russian epic legends. His songs and choral works reflect Russian romanticism. Grechaninov left Russia in 1925 and settled in the United States in 1939, where he continued to compose. In his compositions, Gliere combined features of the nationalist school with romantic elements. Vassilenko adhered stylistically to the Moscow school but revealed some kinship with the nationalists in his operas.

Vladimir Rebikov merits a niche in the history of Russian music. At first a fol!ower of Tchaikovsky, he was later attracted to modernism. He was the first Russian composer to use the wholetone scale, not as an incidental device, but as a basic thematic structure.


Scriabin. The first true modernist of Russian music was Aleksandr Scriabin. His early piano works were strongly influenced by Chopin, and his orchestral music owed much to Wagner. However, Scriabin outgrew these influences to develop his own highly individual technique of composition. He moved from the harmonies of Liszt and Wagner to a style of composition in which tonality almost ceases to exist, and dissonances supplant concords. As a new harmonic basis, Scriabin made use of a sixnote chord, which he called the “mystic chord.” Religion and philosophy were important in his aesthetics, and his majör works bear such indicative titles as The Divine Poem (1903), The Poem of Ecstasy (19071908), and The Poem of Fire (19091910). In Poem of Fire, also known as Prometheus, Scriabin included a part for a clavier â lumieres, an instrument designed to produce sequences of colored lights. However, this color keyboard proved impractical. Shortly before his death, Scriabin made sketches for a pantheistic work called Mysterium, in which he intended to ünite ali. the arts. Scriabin’s music stands outside Russian national culture as a purely musical development of modern times, yet his technical innovations and his explorations in the field of new sonorities deeply influenced the new generation of Russian composers.

Stravinsky. The modern period of Russian national music is associated with Igor Stravinsky. His early works continued the tradition of RimskyKorsakov, with whom he had studied. The use of color in instrumental treatment and the programmatic depiction of Russian fairy tales, characteristic of RimskyKorsakov’s last period, were the mainstays also of Stravinsky’s early compositions. His Firebird (1910) is a symphonic panorama of Russian folklore, and Petrushka (1911) portrays the scenes of the Russian carnival. Both scores were written for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in Paris. After their production, Stravinsky lived outside Russia, and in 1939 he went to the United States. Paradoxically, Stravinsky became the acknowledged leader of Western modernism through intensely Russian works. Perhaps his most revolutionary score was Le Sacre du printemps (1913), a modernistic representation of the rituals of pagan Russia. Here he broke with tradition and introduced polytonal and polyrhythmic innovations of unprecedented boldness; its Paris production by Diaghilev saw violent audience protests.

In 1924, Stravinsky’s style changed toward neoclassicism. Among the works that reveal this influence are the ballet Apollo Musagetes (1927); the operaoratorio Oedipus Rex, to a Latin text (1928); and Symphony of Psalms (1930). At this time, he also composed pastiches of music by other composers, such as Le Baiser de la fee (1928), a ballet based on themes by Tchaikovsky. Other works of Stravinsky’s neoclassical period are Capriccio for piano and orchestra (1929); Persephone for tenor, choruses, and orchestra (19331934); Concerto for Two Pianos (19311934); Jeu de cartes, a “ballet in three deals” (1936); Symphony in C (1939); Symphony in Three Movements’ (19421945); the ballet Orpheus (1947); and the opera The Rake’s Progress (19481951).

Throughout most of his career, Stravinsky resolutely opposed any specific systems of composition. In his last period, however, he adopted the serial technique as practiced by Arnold Schoenberg and Anton von Webem, putting it to use in his own distinctive manner. His first work that reflected such methods was the ballet Agon, completed in 1957. More explicitly serial was Threni for voices and orchestra (1958); The Flood, a musical play (1962); Abraham and Isaac, a sacred ballad (1963); and Requiem Canticles for voices and orchestra (1966).

Prokofiev and Miaskovsky. Sergei Prokofiev first became known as the composer of modernistic piano pieces that he himself performed brilliantly. In 1915 he wrote his first important orchestral work, Scythian Süite, evocative of ancient Russia and abounding in bold dissonances. In his early Classical Symphony (1917), destined to become his most popular symphonic work, Prokofiev demonstrated his mastery of the traditional style. He left Russia shortly after the Revolution and lived mostly in Paris, making frequent American tours. For Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in Paris he wrote the ballets Buffoon (1920) and The Age of Steel (1924). His opera The Love for Three Oranges (1921) was first performed in Chicago. In 1933 he returned to Russia and continued to compose prolifically. To his Soviet period belong the operas Simeon Kotko (1939) and W ar and Peace, after Tolstoy (19421952); the ballets Romeo and Juliet (1936) and Cinderella (1944); Peter and the Wolf (1936), a symphonic fairy tale for narrator and orchestra; and the cantata Alexander Nevsky (1940). Of his seven symphonies, the most distinctive besides the Classical Symphorıy is the Fifth Symphony (1944). His other important works include five piano concertos, two violin concertos, two çello concertos, nine piano sonatas, two violin sonatas, and numerous vocal works.

During World War II, Prokofiev composed an overture entitled 1941 (written 1941) and a cantata, Ballad of an Unknotvn Boy (written 1943), about a young Soviet partisan fighter who ‘ died for his country. At the end of the war he wrote a victory piece for large orchestra, Ode to the End of the W ar (1945). In 1948, along with other majör Soviet composers, Prokofiev became the target of denunciation on the part of bureaucratic Communist party members. He sought to redeem himself with the opera A Tale About a Real Man (1948), glorifying a Soviet pilot, but it met with censure for its vestigial modernism.

In the annals of Soviet music, Nikolai Miaskovsky is often associated with his contemporary Prokofiev. Unlike Prokofiev, however, Miaskovsky never wrote for the musical theater but dedicated himself exclusively to instrumental music. He composed 27 symphonies, ali of which were performed and published, 13 string quartets, a violin concerto, a çello concerto, and nine piano sonatas, as well as sonıe songs. Despite his predilection for pessimistic moods expressed in characteristic minör tonalities, Miaskovsky adapted himself successfully to the compromising demands of Soviet music.


The period after 1917 provides the music historian with many contrasts. The political revolution did not signal the advent of extreme radicalism in music. Ultramodernists attempted to discard the musical heritage of the past and to inaugurate a new revolutionary type of music, but such attempts failed because they were displeasing to the people. Adherents of proletarian music were equally unsuccessful in attempting to emphasize mass appeal and revolutionary subject matter. A compromise was effected in the formula of socialist realism, which postulates an art “socialist in content and national in form.” Changing trends in Soviet musical aesthetics ran parallel with changes in the political and social structure of the Soviet Union.

The development of Soviet music may be divided into four phases: (1) the initial period, from 1917 to 1921, marked by the spirit of progressive innovation; (2) the period of conflicting trends, from 1921 to 1932, signalized by the rise and fail of proletarian music; (3) the period of socialist realism, from 1932 through World War II; and (4) the Soviet avantgarde.

Early Years. The famine and civil war during the early years of the Soviet regime did not encourage creative composition. Yet concert life continued, and the new audiences of soldiers and workers eagerly flocked to the opera houses and concert halis. Revolutionary ideology had little effect on the repertory, although there were attempts to inject a social note into familiar operas. Puccini’s Tosça was rewritten as a story of the Paris Commune, and Meyerbeer’s The Huguenots was changed to The Decembrists. Soon, however, the old librettos were restored.

The earliest opera on a Soviet subject was Arşeni Gladkovsky s For Red Petrograd (1926), dealing with the Petrograd campaign of 1919. This was followed by Vladimir Deshevov’s Ice and Steel (1930), based on the Kronstadt rebellion of 1921, and Lev Knipper’s The North Wind (1930), on the subject of the Russian civil war. Ivan Dzerzhinsky’s operas And Quiet Flows the Don (1934), a highly successful work based on the famous novel of Mikhail Sholokhov, and Soil Upturned (1937), also after Sholokhov, deal with Revolutionary events in Russia. In Battleship Potemkin (1937), Oles Tchishko depicted a sea mutiny under the czarist regime. The Ukrainian composer Boris Lyatoshinsky composed Shchors (1938), based on the life of a Ukrainian civil war hero of that name.

Although the early years of the Revolution saw few radical departures in the style of composition, there were many daring innovations in musical science and in performance. In Moscow, a conductorless orchestra, called Persimfans (for Pervi Simfonicheski Arısamble, or First Symphonic Ensemble), was organized in 1922 as a protest against the autocracy of orchestral leaders. For five years it presented numerous classical and modem works. In Moscow, in 1922, the Soviet engineer Leon Theremin demonstrated the thereminovox, or theremin, the first electronic instrument, capable of unlimited variation of pitch and tonecolor. A later development in electronic instruments was the emiriton, or electric piano, built in 1943 by a grandson of RimskyKorsakov.

When communications with western Europe were reestablished, Russian musicians became acquainted with the new music of Germany and France. The Association of Contemporary Music, formed in Leningrad in 1927, was active in presenting works by European modernists for several seasons. Machine music, as exemplified by Arthur Honegger’s symphonic poem Pacific 231, had its adepts in Russia. Deshevov wrote The Rails, which imitated the noise of a railroad train in motion. Aleksandr Mosolov composed the industrial ballet Factory, which included a metal sheet in the orchestration for realistic elfect.

Proletarian Music. In opposition to the modernists, a powerful movement arose in favor of a special type of proletarian music. The Russian Association of Proletarian Musicians (RAPM) issued a manifesto in 1924 proclaiming the principles of proletarian music. It opposed ali “progressive” trends in modern music and ali types of Westem urban art, including jazz, in favor of revolutionary themes, in the tradition of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony. After several years of propaganda and controversy, which threatened to end creative activity in Russian music, the RAPM was dissolved by a government decree on April 23, 1932. This date was a landmark in the evolution of Soviet ideology in music.

Socialist Realism. After 1932, proletarian music was discredited and Stalin’s formula of socialist realism was applied to music, within the framework of national art. A new crisis arose in January 1936, when the Moscow newspaper Pravda severely criticized the composer Dmitri Shostakovich—first, for “leftist deviation” and “naturalism” in his opera Lady Macbeth of the District of Mtsensk (19301932), and, second, for “oversimplification” in the treatment of a Soviet theme in the ballet The Limpid Stream (1934). The articles posed the problem of defming socialist realism and of drawing a clear line of demarcation so as to prevent the fallacies of “naturalism” and “oversimplification.” The Shostakovich case became a cause celebre in the annals of Soviet music because of the stature of the composer and his place in Soviet art.

Shostakovich. Dmitri Shostakovich grew up almost entirely under Soviet rule, and his talent developed with the evolution of Soviet ideology in general aesthetics. Shostakovich’s works were satirical in character. His opera The Nose (19271928), based on a tale by Gogol, featured such elfects as drunken hiccoughs, imitated by harp and violins, and the sound of a razor on the face. The part of the principal character, the Nose, was to be sung by a performer with his nostrils stuffed with cotton wads. Tlıere was an octet of janitors singing eight dilferent advertisemertts. The opera was produced as an experimental spectacle in Leningrad in 1930.

The ballets of Shostakovich have the same satirical vein. His The Golden Age (19291930) contains a discordant polka that satirizes the Geneva disarmament conference. There are similar satiric strains in his symphonies. His First Symphony, written when he was 19, has become a Standard of the orchestral repertoire in Russia and abroad. His second, called the October Symphony, and his third, May First, were less popular. After the rebuke administered by Pravda, Shostakovich abandoned programmatic music and returned to pure symphonic composition. His Fourth Symphony was judged unsuitable at its private performance in 1936, and the score was not published until 1962. Shostakovich returned to favor with his Fifth Symphony (1937), which was hailed in the Soviet press as a work in the best tradition of Russian music. The Sixth Symphony (1939) had little success, but the Seventh (1941), written during the siege of Leningrad, became world famous. This work depicts the struggle of the Soviets against the Nazi invasion, and its triumphant finale foretells the inevitable victory. There followed the Eighth Symphony (1943), the Ninth (1945), the Tenth (1953), the Eleventh (1957), and the Twelfth (1960). The Thirteenth Symphony for orchestra, chorus, and solo bass (1962) aroused controversy on account of the text by the Soviet poet Yevgeni Yevtushenko, which dealt with the delicate problem of latent antiSemitism in Russia; the score remained in manuscript. The Fourteenth Symphony (1969), is scored for soprano, bass, and small orchestra. Shostakovich wrote his Fifteenth Symphony for orchestra without chorus in 1971. His other works include two çello concertos (1959, 1966), two violin concertos (1955, 1967), two piano concertos (1933, 1957), 13 string quartets, two piano trios, a piano quintet, violin sonata, çello sonata, and piano pieces.

Stylistically, Shostakovich never deviated from his original conception of modern Russian music, lyrical and dramatic and freely dissonant, while keeping within dıe broad confines of tonality. His Eighth String Quartet and Tenth Symphony are thematically built on his Russian monogram in German as D, S (Es = E flat), C, H ( = B natural phonetically transcribed). In his later works he occasionally applied 12tone constructions. Shostakovich was Üıe recipient of numerous Soviet prizes. On his 60th birthday in 1966 he was awarded the Order of Hero of Socialist Labor.

Khachaturian and Other Soviet Composers. Aram Khachaturian, an Armenian composer bom in Georgia, achieved great popularity in Russia and abroad with his symphonies, concertos, and ballets, written in a coloristic, quasiOriental manner. The Saber Dance from his ballet Gayane (1942) has become universally popular. Another ballet, Spartacus (1954), gained wide acceptance in Russia. Khachaturian wrote three symphonies (1932, 1943, 1947); a brilliant piano concerto (1935); a violin concerto (1938); a çello concerto (1946); rhapsody concertos for violin (1961), for çello (1963), and for piano (1965); incidental music to Lermontov’s play Masquerade; and chamber music. His wife, Nina Makarova, was also a composer. Khachaturian’s nephew Karen Khachaturian wrote symphonies and chamber music.

A Soviet composer of prime importance was Dmitri Kabalevsky, who wrote in a melodious Russian manner, invigorated by a rhythmic elan. The overture to his opera Colas Breugnon (1938), after Romain Rolland, attained great popularity. He wrote several operas on Soviet subjects, including At Moscoıv (1943), The Family of Taraş (1950), and Nikita Vershinin (1955); a Requiem in memory of the victims of World War II (1963); several symphonies; three piano concertos; a violin concerto; two çello concertos; and chamber music.

Ivan Dzerzhinsky successfully applied the formula of socialist realism to Soviet opera. In addition to And Çuiet Floıvs the Don and Soil Uptumed, he composed The Tempest (1940), The Blood of the People (1941), The Blizzard (1946), Far From Moseovo (1948), A Man s Destiny (1961), and Hostile Winds (1969).

Tikhon Khrennikov pursued the ideals of socialist realism very energetically, and often acted as a spokesman for it. Accordingly, his music has a peculiar directness of purpose. He wrote the operas In the Storm (1939) and M other (1957); a “musical chronicle,” White Nights (1967); two symphonies; two piano concertos; a violin concerto; and chamber music.

Among conservative Russian composers, Boris Asafyev wrote ballet music that achieved popularity in Russia. He also distinguished himself as a music critic under the name Igor Glebov. Yuri Shaporin adhered to the classical Russian school of composition and selected national subjects for his music. His works include On the Kulikov Field (1939), a patriotic cantata commemorating the Russian victory över the Tatars in the 14th century; Chronicle of a Battle for Russian Land (1944), an oratorio on the war with the Nazis; and The Decembrists (1953), a historical opera.

Most Russian composers of the older generation adapted themselves to the new revolutionary themes. During the Soviet period, Gliere, composer of the monumental Ilya Murometz Symphorıy (1911), wrote a revolutionary ballet, The Red Poppy (1927). The Russian Saûor’s Dance from this ballet became universally popular. Vassilenko wrote the patriotic opera Suvorov (1941). Maximillian Steinberg, a disciple and soninlaw of RimskyKorsakov, wrote a symphony (1933) celebrating the construction of a Siberian railroad. Several Jewish Soviet composers, among them Mikhail Gnessin, the brothers Aleksandr and Gregory Krein, and Aleksandr Veprik, cultivated Jewish themes. Julian Krein, Gregory’s son, spent some years in Paris and then returned to Russia. He wrote mostly instrumental music. To these names should be added those of Lev Knipper, who composed symphonies as well as operas; Vissarion Shebalin, who wrote five symphonies and effective chamber music; and Vano Muradeli, a Caucasian composer of operas and symphonies in a colorful vein. Georgi Sviridov, composer of choral music in a grand Russian style, was greatly respected. His Pathetic Oratorio (1959) became a Soviet classic.

Several Russian composers emigrated after the Revolution. A number of them became United States citizens: Rachmaninoff in 1943, Grechaninov in 1946, and Stravinsky in 1945. Aleksandr Tcherepnin, the son of Nikolai Tcherepnin, lived mostly in Europe before settling in the United States in 1949. A highly prolifîc composer, he distinguished himself in opera, symphony, ballet, and chamber music and often appeared as a pianist for his own concertos and* in recitals. Other Russian composers who settled in America included Nicolai Berezowsky, a gifted symphonist; Nikolai Lopatnikoff, who excelled in instrumental music in a neoclassical style; Vladimir Dukelsky, who after a notable beginning as a symphonic composer made a career as the writer of popular American songs under the name Vernon Duke; and Nicolas Nabokov, who wrote operas, oratorios, and symphonic works. Many celebrated Russian conductors, instrumentalists, and singers also left Russia after the Revolution. Among them were the famous basso Feodor Chaliapin, the conductor Serge Koussevitzky, the pianist Vladimir Horowitz, the violinists jascha Heifetz and Nathan Milstein, and the cellist Gregor Piatigorsky.

Soviet Russia produced its own generation of virtuosos. They included the pianists Sviatoslav Richter and Emil Gilels; the violinists David Oistrakh, his son Igor, and Leonid Kogan; and the cellist Mstislav Rostropovich.

The Soviet AvantGarde. The CİOSe cooperation between the USSR and the Western world during the crucial years of World War II opened the Soviet gates to many Western musical ideas, including modern techniques of composition. A temporary setback was inflicted on Soviet modernistic trends when the central committee of the Communist party, in its resolution of Feb. 10, 1948, administered a sharp rebuke to Soviet composers for their formalistic tendencies, expressly criticizing Prokofîev, Miaskovsky, and Shostakovich. Soviet composers had to make an adjustment to these authoritarian demands, but in 1958 the resolution was withdrawn. As a result, musicians who came to maturity after Stalin’s death in 1953 felt free to proceed with bold experimentation. Shostakovich himself set an example in using an explicit 12tone subject in his Twelfth String Quartet (1968). Toneclusters, quartertones, and even aleatory devices began to appear in Soviet scores. Electronic music was practiced widely.

The most prominent Soviet composers of the avantgarde included Edison Denisov, Rodion Shchedrin, Sergei Slonimsky, Andrei Volkonsky, Alfred Schnitke, Leonid Grabovsky, Valentin Silvestrov, and Boris Tishchenko. Denisov, named after Thomas Edison by his father, an engineer, explored constructive sonorities. Shchedrin wrote effective ballets; his orchestral Chimes (1967) exploits impressionistic colors. Sergei Slonimsky was an uncompromising innovator. His Concerto Buffo for orchestra (1966) makes use of exotic percussion, quartertones, and other modernistic effects. In Antiphones for string quartet (1969) he applied nontempered scales. For the stage, Slonimsky wrote in a strong Russian style, and his opera Virineya (1967) enjoyed much success. Volkonsky, a pioneer of the avantgarde, was strongly criticized for his unorthodox type of composition but eventually regained his position in modern Soviet music. Schnitke composed music of grandiose dimensions, as exemplified by his symphonic Poem of Cosmos (1961). Grabovsky experimented in modern rhythms and dissonant counterpoint. Silvestrov wrote instrumental music in an abstract expressionistic manner. Tishchenko was adept at modernistic writing for piano. With the advent of the avantgarde, modern techniques finally acquired their rightful place in Soviet music.

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