High Maintenance Taste
DISCLAIMER: I’m using a lot of information from the Seventeen Moments in Soviet History site under the topic “Upheaval in the Opera”. I’ll include a hyperlink here for future reference!
Now, where to begin? I guess we’ll start with Stalin’s taste in art. Let’s just say he’s a little more . . . traditional? He’s been proven time and time again to not be much of a fan of the artistic ventures created during his reign. You could probably say he was born in the wrong generation. Not too uncommon though, even nowadays. Like, hey, look at me! I pretty much exclusively listen to rock music, and even then only from the 90s and 00s. The difference between me and Stalin however, besides the obvious, is that I wouldn’t straight up walk out of a concert hall in disgust at something I chose to attend, which is EXACTLY what he did four days after the premiere of Lady Macbeth of Mtensk. Lady Macbeth is an opera written and composed by renowned Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovitch, who is known especially for his Jazz Suite No. 2. To understand why Stalin would be so rude as to walk out of a legend’s concert, one must understand the politics of his reign beginning in the late 20s.
If you haven’t figured out any of my musical references by now then I’m doing a pretty good job! But yeah, if you don’t know what “raion” means that’s fine, even big leaguers swing and miss. Raion in Russian (at least from Google Translate) means specifically “district”, which are abound and very diverse culturally in Russia.
Stalin refers to a lot of the things he dislikes as “Left”. Maybe this is because of the ideological divide in the Left and Right over his direction after the NEP. Stalin didn’t like the Left, to put it bluntly. Which is sort of contradictory because he actually backed the Left after admitting an overflow of young Bolsheviks into the Politburo, but initially sided with the Right to distance himself from rival ideologue Leon Trotsky.
Why is this schism important? We’ll discuss that in the next section!
Another Critic Writing Report
Shostakovitch’s Lady Macbeth took off in a rather popular fashion upon release, and is regarded as one of his seminal works to this day. However, Stalin happened to attend one fateful night, January 26th, 1934. He didn’t like it. He stood up and walked out of one of the most celebrated and accomplished RUSSIAN composers of all time. The nerve, right? Well, it gets better. The DAY after that performance, the DAY after, a critique of the performance was written in the Pravda, Russia’s premiere propaganda machine. The critique is entitled “Chaos Instead of Music” and is hilarious even to this day. Seriously, this is worse then some Yelp reviews. Let’s discuss!
I didn’t cuss, I swear! Just another reference from modern music. I really hope y’all find them out . . .
“The singing on the stage is replaced by shrieks. If the composer chances to come upon the path of a clear and simple melody, he throws himself back into a wilderness of musical chaos – in places becoming cacophony.”A good example of a bad critique, straight from “Chaos Instead of Music”.
So the above quote is a cut right out of the review that premiered in the Pravda the day after Stalin’s concert attendance. That quote gives you the gist of the entire critique, it basically just says the singers screamed a lot and the instruments were too loud. I begin to wonder if Stalin wrote this or had someone right it from his falsified memory. Although I will say this is much more avant garde musically compared to his Jazz Suite, Shostakovitch is an artist. What do artists do? They push boundaries, otherwise every rock star or rapper nowadays would be covering Fur Elise. I listened to a couple tracks of the opera, which can be found here, and I found really nothing out of the ordinary. I never really was an opera man myself either. But I surely didn’t think it was a harsh “cacophony” of sound. Maybe that’s my modern sensibilities talking, but believe me when I say this operatic composition is harmless. Screeches, yes, but only to express emotion and “passion”. Heavy use of dynamics above forte? Yes, and below piano. This dynamic contrast is one reason why this opera has such staying power. That and no one’s really going out and making an opera these days.
But why is this critique important? Here we return to the old “Left vs. Right” sparring match. The author of the review explicitly labels Shostakovitch a “Leftist”, and downplays the whole Leftist art movement: “‘Leftist’ Art rejects in the theater simplicity, realism, clarity of image.”
Simple. Real. Clear.
Get On With It . . .
ANYWAY. What’s my point of all this? My point is that this would not be the last attempt at censorship and lambasting by the Soviets even against their own people, their own superstars. Shostakovitch was just a starter, it would happen again with the likes of Boris Pasternak, the author of “Doctor Zhivago”, which got a critically acclaimed film adaptation of the same name and would also be downplayed by the Soviets. It wasn’t until 1987 that Gorbachev readmitted Pasternak back into the Union and let his book be printed in the country, 29 years after it’s release. Propaganda and censorship was THE vehicle of Soviet tyranny, and is a lasting fact that we hold true to Russia and communism as a whole even today. These tenants helped build so-called “socialism” in the Soviet Union during the 30s and would remain with the nation for decades, even after its fall.
All These References
Okay, okay, I’ll just give you the list of all the references I used. Here they are!
Title: Shock Value of Success – FEAR. by Kendrick Lamar (‘shock value of my success’); Rebel to the Grain – Da Mystery of Chessboxin’ by Wu-Tang Clan
First Heading: High Maintenance Taste – Poetic Justice by Kendrick Lamar (‘your taste is a little bit, hmm, high maintenance’)
Second Heading: Raion Politics – Hood Politics by Kendrick Lamar
Third Heading: Another Critic Writing Report – Yonkers by Tyler, The Creator
Fourth Heading: S*** Reviews – The Ringer by Eminem