Struggle for Control of Soviet Music From 1932 to 1948

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During the sixteen critical years of tumultuous artistic upheaval from 1932-1948, the Soviet Union’s cultural authorities strove diligently to establish and refine a functional administrative infrastructure with which to direct and control Soviet Music. Yet in reality, this music policy system did not function as it had been intended to, which was to ensure the creation of Soviet operas acceptable to the Party. Because the agencies controlling the operas could not define which style best represented Socialist Realism, the music policy failed to establish adequate centralized control of Soviet music. Therefore, musical discussions deteriorated into ritualistic forums for revealing heretical composers, making scapegoats of them, and requiring them to perform self-criticism, yet providing little practical guidance on how to reach the artistic goals of Socialist Realism.


“…written with such scrupulousness, a command of the sources, and an understanding of the subject matter that it certainly will deserve to be read by anybody who is interested in the Soviet cultural politics of the time and in the functioning of the Soviet system in general. No doubt Meri Herrala has reached a high level of objectivity and the picture, which this piece of research gives about its topic, will now become the new standard view.” – Prof. Timo Vihavainen, University of Helsinki and Prof. Vladimir Borodkin, Lomonosov Moscow State University

“… researches and draws a comprehensive picture of the mechanisms of the Soviet system and the life of Soviet musicologists in this system. Therefore, this view certainly deserves to takes its place among the academic discussions of Soviet music.” – Prof. Olga Vasilievna, Kemerovo State University

"In her descriptive and lengthy tome, Finnish historian Meri Herrala uses Soviet opera as a lens to examine the naunced relationship between the Union of Soviet Composers, opera theaters, Muzfond, and other Soviet musical-cultural institutions between 1932 and 1948, focusing on the significant and oft-discussed scandals of 1936 and 1948. By analyzing the roles of individuals within these institutions, who often operated according to their own predilections and personal politics, Herrala illuminates the ways in which they responded to the demand for clear definitions of socialist realism and formalism in Soviet music. Her analysis thus reveals how centralized control of Soviet music never came to fruition." -- Prof. Joan Titus, University of North Carolina - Greensboro

Table of Contents

A Note on Transliteration





Problems of Soviet Music Research
From an Emphasis on Stalin to other “Actors”
Political and Ideological Control of Soviet Music
The Patron-Client Relationship
Soviet Subjectivism and Political Rhetoric
Sources and Archives
Content of the Chapters

Part I

Chapter One

The Development of Soviet Cultural Policy
The Year 1932 as a Watershed
The Union of Soviet Composers
Development of Socialist Realism
Socialist Realism in Music

Chapter Two

The Creation of Soviet Opera in the 1930s
Dubious Fate of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District
Shostakovich’s Opera as an Approved Opera
Pravda and the Socialist Realism of Lady Macbeth
The Repercussions of the “Lady Macbeth Scandal”

Chapter Three

Discussions in the Soviet Music during 1936 and 1937
From Shostakovich’s Mistakes to the Dangers of Formalism
Soviet Music Criticism and Sollertinsky in the Firing Line
Down With the Remnants of RAPM! “Cultural Conspiracy” Undermines the Purity of Soviet Realism
Former RAPM Elements are Dislodged Leading to the Demise of Cheliapov and Kerzhentsev

Part II

Chapter Four

Anti-Formalist Campaign in 1946-1948
Muradeli’s Opera on Trial
The Polemics of The Great Friendship
Faults in the Music of Muradeli’s Opera
Faults in the Content of Muradeli’s Opera
Mismanagement in the Financing of the Opera
Repercussions of the Muradeli’s Affair
A Reduction of Funding at the Expense of Quality
Lebedev’s Struggle as a Mediator

Chapter Five

Elite Hierarchies and Entrenched Conflicts of Interest are Revealed Within the Union of Soviet Composers
The Road to Financial Audits
Muzfund’s Assets Must Be Audited!
The Audit of the Ministry of State Control
Violations Regarding the Payment of Grants
Noninterest Loans
Author’s Royalties and Sheet Music Production
Sheet Music Production
Creative Resorts and Work-related Trips
Housing Facilities for Everyday Needs
Repercussions from the Investigations
Muradeli Tries to Remain Scot-Free
Questions Remain about the Results of the Audits

Chapter Six

Boris Asaf’yev’s Impact on the Party Line of Soviet Music in 1948
The History of Asaf’yev’s Musicological Ideas
The Many Authors of Asaf’yev’s 1948 Speech
The Relationship Between Asaf’yev’s and Zhdanov’s Theories
The Mystery of Asaf’yev’s Letter to Andrey Zhdanov

Chapter Seven

Sergey Prokofiev’s Response to the Resolution
The Question of an All-Union Congress
Boris Khaykin’s Different Faces
A Furious Attack on Prokofiev and His Opera
Khrennikov Gives Prokofiev a Slap on the Wrist
Prokofiev’s Response to “Unjustified Criticism”
The Problem of Creating Soviet Opera

Part III

Frol Skobeyev and All One’s Heart
Khrennikov Asserts His Authority
Khrennikov Wins the Round
Not About the Music, But the Plot
German Zhukovsky’s With All One’s Heart
Lebedev Loses His Position
The Vicious Circle


The Uncertain System of Music Control
The Continuity of Soviet Music Policy




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