On This Day (January 28)…The Hammer (and Sickle) Drop on Shostakovich

Dmitri Shostakovich opened Pravda, the state newspaper of the Soviet Union, today in 1936.

Pravda logo. Retrieved from here.

Within it was an article titled “Muddle Instead of Music”, a scathing criticism of his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. It alleged that the innovations which had so won over listeners around the world were, in fact, mere drivel, and that for a piece of music to truly be great, it ought to more closely resemble classical forms. In fact, it even stated that music like this was dangerous to the communist ideal.

The danger of this trend to Soviet music is clear. Leftist distortion in opera stems from the same source as Leftist distortion in painting, poetry, teaching, and science. Petty-bourgeois “innovations” lead to a break with real art, real science and real literature.

From “Muddle Instead of Music”; retrieved from here.

Shostakovich was, understandably, horrified. He had been on edge since Stalin had walked out of a showing of the opera two days prior. He knew too well the challenges he would now face as a disgraced artist. In the wake of this rebuke, he even considered suicide.

Retrieved from here.

His reputation in Russia, particularly in the Stalinist years, was forever tarnished by this original condemnation. Similarly, he was forced to suppress some of his more experimental impulses on pain of further rebuke or purging by the party. Several pieces written around this time, including his sublime Fifth Symphony, were an attempt of his to recapture party favor; these proved ultimately successful.

Despite what seemed like the end of his career and life, Shostakovich ultimately survived. As a sweet coda to this sordid story, his opera is still performed on stages today, and is overall quite well-regraded.

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