Socialist Realism and Music in the Soviet Union

  • Prokofiev Returns to the Soviet Union

    In 1935, Prokofiev returned permanently to the Soviet Union; his family followed a year later. At this time, the official Soviet policy towards music changed; a special bureau, the "Composers' Union", was established in order to keep track of the artists and their doings, confining Prokofiev's musical output to the realms of social realism.
  • First Denunciation of Dmitri Shostakovic

    After a successful opening performance of Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District in 1934, Shostakovich was generally held in high regard both critically and in the public eye. However, a 1936 staging of the Opera that Stalin attended was met with party fury - Stalin storming out of the theater in just the first act. Subsequently, a party written critical review of the opera was published in Soviet paper Pravda, leading to a huge loss of reputation for Shostakovic.
  • Withdrawal of Shostakovic's 4th symphony

    The publication of Party criticism coincided with the composition of Shostakovich's Fourth Symphony. The work was a great shift in style for the composer, and the piece itself has multiple Western elements. The symphony gave Shostakovich compositional trouble, as he attempted to reform his style into a new idiom. It is speculated that Shostakovich withdrew the symphony on the grounds that he thought that he may be persecuted by the party because of the symphony's nature.
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  • Symphony No. 7 (Shostakovich)

    When the war began it became obvious to Shostakovich that the movement he had written would be a perfect resistance piece. Shostakovich sent the score to be performed throughout the Union. Like the Fifth, the symphony stirred tears in the eyes of the war-weary Russians. Positive acclaim was almost universal. Stalin hailed Shostakovich as a hero of the Soviets.
  • Symphony No. 8 (Shostakovich)

    The success of Symphony No.7 was not replicated with No.8, and the government renamed the symphony "Stalingrad" to the give the impression that it was written to mourn of the dead in the bloody Battle of Stalingrad. However, the music quickly was noticed by critics as anti-soviet, "When the Eighth was performed, it was openly declared counter-revolutionary and anti-Soviet. Shostakovich writes: "When the Eighth was performed, it was openly declared counter-revolutionary and anti-Soviet".
  • 9th Symphony (Shostakovic)

    After the war was won Stalin was pleased. It was his expectation that Shostakovich would produce a most glorious work dedicated, to him and to Russia. Stalin expected a choral finale, huge orchestration and spectacular emotional output. Shostakovic writes: When my Ninth was performed, Stalin was incensed. He was deeply offended, because there was no chorus, no soloists. And no apotheosis. There wasn't even a paltry dedication...I couldn't write an apotheosis to Stalin, I simply couldn't"
  • The Zhdanov Doctrine

    The Zhdanov Doctrine was a Soviet cultural doctrine under central committee secretary Andrei Zhdanov that caused the denunciation of delinquent artists (composition: Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Khachaturian).The Zhdanov Doctrine is often summarized by the phrase: "The only conflict that is possible in Soviet culture is the conflict between good and best". Zhdanovism soon became a Soviet cultural policy (until 1952) meaning many Soviet artists, and intelligentsia had to publically apologize.
  • Second Denunciation of Dmitri Shostakovic

    In 1948, Shostakovich, along with many other composers, was again denounced for formalism in the Zhdanov Doctrine. Most of his works were banned, he was forced publicly to repent, and his family had privileges withdrawn. Yuri Lyubimov says that at this time "he waited for his arrest at night out on the landing by the lift, so that at least his family wouldn't be disturbed.
  • Stalin's Death

    Shostakovich responded to the death of Stalin with the Tenth Symphony. The scherzo is meant to be a representation of Stalin himself. After the "menace" of Stalin was gone from Shostakovich's way, the composer had a slightly easier time working. He still had a difficult relationship with the government, and the ban that Zhdanov had placed in 1948 was not lifted until 1956, three years after Stalin's death and well into the rule of Khruschev.
  • Prokofiev's Death

    Prokofiev died at the age of 61 on 5 March 1953, the day Joseph Stalin's death was announced. He had lived near Red Square, and for three days the throngs gathered to mourn Stalin, making it impossible to carry Prokofiev's body out for the funeral service at the headquarters of the Soviet Composer's Union.
  • Shostakovic Joins the Communist Party

    The year 1960 marked another turning point in Shostakovich's life: his joining of the Communist Party. The government wanted to appoint him General Secretary of the Composer’s Union, but in order to hold that position Shostakovich was required to attain Party membership. Due to Shostakovich's previous fraught relations with the Soviet Communist Party, he found it extremely difficult to decide whether to join or not - later admitting to his wife Irena that he had been blackmailed.