Shostakovich before the 1948 Congress of Composers
dramatised by Mike Steer for BBCr3 ©1988

CHAIRMAN on a mic in a large hall fading up over stolid applause of a large meeting as it concludes
... We would all like to congratulate Commissar of Moscow, Comrade Zhdanov, on a masterly exposition of central cultural objectives of our great leader and teacher Comrade Stalin. And for his warnings against deviation towards decadent western obsession with 'form for form's sake'.
(renewed but not ecstatic applause)
I now call Comrade Khrennikov, Chairman of USSR Composers' Union.

KHRENNIKOV slyly & pugnaciously
Comrades, Honoured Guests,
Composers' Union has every reason to thank the Central Committee of All-Union Communist Party 'Bolsheviks' for its attention to cultural health of
building into the round of applause which follows
our great revolutionary movement!
brief applause
All Soviet Composers were encouraged, heartened by sincere and perceptive criticism of our great Leader & Teacher after disgraceful production of D Shostakovich's opera Lady Macbeth of Mzensk before The Great Patriotic War. Without doubt, this was worst examples of anti-democratic music - mere repetition of empty & discredited devices. In prophetic manner, at that time Central Committee criticised most sharply 'form for form's sake' - the elitist and anti-socialist tendencies of music found in Comrades Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Khachaturian, Miaskovsky & others. They publicly warned Soviet Music not to follow such harmful, reactionary trends. On these instructions Pravda printed some express wishes from Soviet people to their composers.
Despite many clear warnings no re-orientation or improvement of any kind has been noted in recent works by these composers. And Central Committee finds it altogether intolerable that now even leading critics are deceived by this false teaching - instead of praising the serious realistic music of Comrades Kalifati, Koreshchenko & Ivanov, they now hail every new work by Prokofiev, Shostakovich & Shebalin as 'a new victory for Soviet Music'. They are traitors and enemies to the State. They glorify precisely those elements that should have been subjected to most severe criticism. These so-called critics have ceased to heed the voice of Soviet people and have become mouthpieces for corrupting influences of contemporary decadent European and American music.
some applause. K continues, flattered
In particular, the rejection of vocal forms, melody, and emotional clarity in music. They replace it instead with obsessive rithms and bizarre orchestral effects, such as Comrade Khachaturian's Symphonie-Poème which calls for 26 trumpets, 8 harps, 4 pianos and 16 double-basses - to exclusion of all other strings. Ridiculous! Other works such as Comrade V Muradeli's opera Great Friendship are full of intentional perversity that offends its audience and harmonies to set everyone's teeth on edge.
Chief among the works that have hurled these insults at the Soviet People in place of music are
(naming each one cruelly & deliberately)
A Khachaturian's Symphonie-Poème as I said, Poem of the Fatherland by D Shostakovich, S Prokofiev's 6th Symphony, cantata by Miaskovksy Kremlin at Night - and others I will not offend you by mentioning.
In the music of these composers we note over-emphasis on pure abstract instrumental forms, not found in Russian classical tradition, and a lack of interest in program music on accessible subjects familiar to ordinary Soviet people! Exaggerated attention is given to chamber music written for just a handful of conoisseurs, there is example in Comrade Prokofiev's 6th Violin Sonata: the piano is transformed from a pleasant-sounding instrument to grating, percussive one, while the violin is forced to leave its natural emotion and melody for a kind of grunting and scraping. Proper harmony is rendered into 'sonority' & 'texture' as if a beautiful handwritten page had been sprayed with ink from a faulty pen.
In work of Comrade Shostakovich too we find all sorts of pictures and emotions alien to realistic tradition of Soviet art - expressionistic tenseness, neuroticism, escapism, abnormal, repulsive pathology - especially in this composer's 8th & 9th Symphonies. Another example of this spitting in face of our noble proletariat is to be found in the so-called neo-classical music of Shostakovich in which a number of antiquated polyphonic device are translated mechanically from music of Bach, Haydn & so forth, or -worse- tricked out with contrived harmonic distortions to seem modern.
In these works the great tradition Russian of folksong and popular taste has been deliberately ignored. 'delivered as a calculated statement' Cultivation of mere form as a goal in art leads directly away from the wishes and needs of Soviet People!
Brief applause
And even when these composers have used genuine folksong they have arranged them in an over-complex and decadent style alien to spirit of melodies, and inspired by 'form for form's sake'. As Comrade Zhdanov has valuably pointed out, the background to these views is subjective idealism. The artist dares to imagine himself the appraiser and final judge of his art. He turns his back on his audience and retreats into a private world.
All Soviet art must be written to be understood! If composer fails in this goal he fails totally. And that man should spare no effort in working out how and why he has failed to please the people. The theory and practice of 'form for form's sake' is a complete negation of the democratic aspirations of classical russian composers who addrest their art to a contemporary audience, not to some people in a far distant time.
Chief amongst culprits who have seduced our best composers is that ideologist of self-indulgent capitalism and traitor to the fatherland, Sergei Diaghilev. His influence on every branch of art has been extremely harmful, and nowhere more than in music, as Comrade Prokofiev now acknowledges. 'Modernism' -that delusive illusion that Diaghilev so relentlessly followed- is typical of the capricious pursuit of mere fashion that infects & degrades the whole capitalist world, which is in any case morally and aesthetically bankrupt. One cannot name a single capitalist composer whose music has not been corrupted by this 'form for form's sake' virus. That high priest of reactionary music Igor Stravinsky turns his hand to a Mass in same affected style he employs for writing circus music. Olivier Messaien, latest 'genius' from France, is a cacophanous apologist for Roman Catholic medievalism. The contemporary operas of Alban Berg, Menotti and the englishman Britten shamelessly glorify individualism and sexual perversion with their wilful distortions of 'natural' melody.
Tho we should not like to think that any of our countrymen were tempted to follow such immoral paths Central Committee has been disturbed to note imitation of these negative traits in the music of D Shostakovich & S Prokofiev. Their infatuation with decadent themes such as mysticism and other anti-progressive subjects has now become almost routine. Worse, such formalistic distortions are strongly reflected in the education of young composers in some conservatories, particualarly Moscow where Comrades Shostakovich & Miaskovsky are Professors and the Director is Comrade Shebalin!
The Central Committee notes an equally intolerable situation in musical criticism. Our critics have lost the most important quality of progressive analysis, and have ceased to exhort composers to strive for the highest ideals of realistic democratic art. Soviet composers must reject as useless and harmful garbage all the relics of bourgeois 'form for form's sake' musical art. They must understand that creation of high-quality works in the domain of opera, symphonic music, song-writing, choral and dance music is only made possible by following the principles of socialist realism.
Our duty is to mobilize all our creative strength and to give a worthy response, in shortest possible time, to this appeal of our Party, and to appeal of our great leader Comrade Stalin!!
respectful applause

With these important truths ringing in our ears, let us now hear what Comrade D Shostakovich has to say. I ask you, Comrades, to hear him without vocal expressions of that anger you may justifiably feel at his excesses.

SHOSTAKOVICH reading very nervously from a prepared text
I thank you Comrade Chairman, fellow Comrades, Honoured Guests. As we look back on the short history of New Soviet Art it is obvious that every time the Party assists a creative artist by pointing out where he has deviated there is a beneficial result not only for the individual but for all other artists, who are thereby obliged to pay heed to their own aberrations. All of us recognize that the Central Committee's directives are inspired solely by a desire to enhance the quality and relevance of Soviet socialist art.
Fade the following
In 1936 when Pravda severely criticised my opera Lady Macbeth of Mzensk and pointed out the errors of 'form for form's sake' I was deeply affected, and devoted a great deal of thought to studying what the Soviet people required of me. In the years that followed I supposed that I had been successful in striving to provide an expression for the great aspirations of our whole country and its people.

The rest of Shostakovich's speech to Congress (quoted here for interest)
I considered that I had been successful in eradicating the grossest errors mentioned in the Pravda article - the over-complex idiom and 'form for form's sake' elaboration of motifs.
Altho that criticism was severe I acknowledged its justice, and was therefore all the more determined to study our musical heritage, and took particular pleasure and interest in editing and re-orchestrating Boris Godunov.
Since Lady Macbeth I thought that I had succeeded in developing a personal idiom which adhered to the wise directives of the voice of the Soviet people, and which would have earned me their acclaim. In reviewing my compositional method I see now that I was mistaken and had clearly underestimated my need for artistic correction. There were negative characteristics in my musical processes which have increasingly manifested themselves in recent compositions inspired by 'form for form's sake' alone, and the more this was the case the more incomprehensible I became to the Soviet people.
So now, heeding the condemnation of my music issued by the Party thru the Central Committee, which itself represents the authentic voice of our nation, I acknowledge rightness of the Party's judgment and its concern for my musical welfare and that of all Soviet art. In particular, I acknowledge the lamentable absence of genuine folk art in many of my works. Altho in my Poem of the Fatherland I was attempting to follow the Party's advice, I readily acknowledge that it was not successful. I am now therefore more than ever determined to work on the musical depiction of images of the heroic Soviet peoples, from the correct idelogical standpoint, and am presently engaged in writing music for the film Young Guard. I hope also to make an opera on the same subject worthy the acceptance of all the nation. I may perhaps mention that some of my songs have attained a certain popularity, but now equipt with the guidance of the Central Committee I shall renew my efforts to create really good songs for massed singing.

Shostakovich's V/O enters over
This whole charade stemmed from the popularity of my Leningrad Symphony in America. Stalin could not stand to hear anyone else praised. It was poison to him, all his courtiers knew that and just how to use it. The international success of the 7th & 8th was like a knife in the guts for Khrennikov and his cronies. They thought I was blocking their light, and so it didnt take much effort for them to convince Stalin that I was becoming dangerously powerful: if they could get rid of me then it would make their music shine more brightly, they reasoned. Towards the end of the war a Moscow lecturer told me he had in passing made a favourable reference to my 8th. Afterwards Khrennikov came up incoherent with rage "Do you know who you were praising? Youd better watch your step, or youll come a cropper. When weve got the Allies off our backs itll be curtains for your Shostakovich!" The denouement was carefully planned. After the success of the Leningrad articles started to appear claiming that only the first part was effective, and that that part depicted 'the enemy'; the bits that were supposed to show the victorious Soviet Army were weak and ineffective -these were completely their ideas I may say- ergo I was a suspected saboteur weakening the will of the people. Yes its incredible isnt it, but thats what they were saying.
They extended these arguments with the 8th: "Why did Shostakovich write an optimistic symphony at the start of the war when we were retreating and a tragic one now weve won? Its obvious hes a Fascist sympathizer." The Symphony was declared counter-revolutionary and anti-Soviet. Every favourable criticism from abroad became another nail in my coffin.
After this I was told what was expected of me for my 9th - a glorious fanfare with an ode to the Leader & Teacher. We had ended the war victoriously, no matter what the cost, the important thing was that we had won & had expanded the Russian Empire. It was suggested that I should use quadruple woodwind, choir and soloists. Everybody knew what '9th Symphonies' were supposed to be about - especially Stalin, who automatically assumed it was going to be in his honour.
I too handled it rather badly, for I let everyone think that I was indeed writing an apotheosis. It was only to get them all off my back but it turned against me. When my 9th was performed, Stalin was incensed. He was deeply offended, because there was no chorus, no soloists. And no apotheosis. There wasnt even a paltry dedication.
People who do not know will say "but that's absurd, the Leader & Teacher didnt have time in those difficult postwar days to worry about Symphonies & Dedications." But the real absurdity is that Stalin paid more attention to dedications than he did to affairs of state. Little did he know, but all my Symphonies are tombstones. His was the 10th, I wrote it after his death, but the 7th, 8th & 9th are for his victims, Meyerhold, Tukhachevsky, my friends and countless millions of others I never knew personally.
Fade up over end of V/O
I have no doubt that Soviet music is on the threshold of a tremendous upswing as a result of the just and wise directives of the Central Committee, and I appeal to all my fellow composers to the redouble their efforts to realise this noteworthy resolution.

Polite, but patchy applause

I am sure we all accept the spontaneous sincerity and good faith of Comrade Shostakovich's declaration. I would now like to ask him and Comrades Prokofiev, Khachaturian & Miaskovsky to read the resolution drawn up by Committee of Composers' Union before we vote on it.

OMNES recited in unison
Dear Iosif Vissarionarovich. The composers and musicologists of the Soviet Capital, assembled for discussion of the historic Resolution of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) of 10th February 1948, send to you, our beloved leader and teacher, a warm salute and wishes for good health.
We are extremely grateful to The Central Committee and personally to you, dear Comrade Stalin, for the severe but profoundly just criticism of the present state of Soviet music and for the concern that the Party always shows for the progress of Soviet music and for us, its practitioners.
The Resolution of 10th February 1948 is an event of historical significance, for it is a testimony to the great vigour and prophetic vision of the Communist Party. We Soviet musicians find it all the more humbling and painful to realise that we have failed to draw the correct and logical conclusions from those warnings repeatedly given by the Party whenever Soviet music has deviated from its true realistic path. We are constantly mindful of the great genius Glinka when he said 'Music is created by the people and we artists merely arrange it.'
Your personal suggestions about building the traditions of opera, dear Iosif Vissarionarovich, which you gave in a talk with Dzerzhinsky after hearing his Quiet flows the Don remain a fighting program for our collective creative endeavours. We shall redouble our efforts to produce vivid realistic music reflecting the life and struggles of the Soviet people.
Morever, the creative isolationism of composers must be ended once and for all. There is no place for bourgeois individualism in the musical art of a country where the artists is given every opportunity for full development of his creative individuality, where he is surrounded on every side with solicitude and care, of a qaulity undreamt of by artists in bourgeois countries.
The Soviet artist is the servant of the people, and our new democratic music should exist for the People and not for Elites. This important and lofty principle should constantly inspire all our actions. We pledge to you, great Leader & Teacher, and to the whole Soviet people that we shall henceforward direct our work along the path of socialist realism alone, tirelessly labouring to create, in models worthy of our great epoch, music that will constantly inspire our nation to ever-more-glorious & historic deeds of valour, which in turn may find their most vivid expression in Art.
Long live the Lenin-Stalin populace, the victorious worker-nation that alone is worthy of the 'most progressive socialist art in the world'! Long live The Lenin-Stalin Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks)! Long live our great leader and teacher, father of the nation, great STALIN!
Vociferous & prolonged applause

I shall now ...
(applause quietens)
I shall now put this Resolution to Congress. Those in favour please show.
Renewed Applause
Those against?

a long silence before announcements

'Shostakovich and the 1948 Composers' Congress was adapted for radio by Mike Steer from the original transcripts published by Nicholas Slonimsky.'

Go to Companion piece Shostakovich in New York
Google   Enter search:    all web      |   Site by Sam Steer   |   ©2016 Maxwell Steer