Khrushchev on Music in Soviet Society

Nikita Khrushchev, Declaration on Music in Soviet Society. March 8, 1963

 

In music, as in other arts, there are many genres, styles and forms. No one proposes to declare a ban on any of these styles and genres. But we want to stipulate our own attitude towards music, its tasks and its creative direction. To put it briefly, we are for melodic music, rich in content, which stirs the souls of men, generating strong feelings. We are against cacophonic music … When I hear the music of Glinka, tears of joy appear in my eyes. Perhaps it is no longer fashionable, and I am not a young man, but I like to listen to David Oistrakh when he plays the violin, and I like to hear the massed collective of violins in the orchestra of the Bolshoi Theater. I do not know what this violin collective is called in professional terms. I have heard it many times, and always had great pleasure. Of course, I have no pretensions to claim that my feeling for music should become a general norm for everyone. But we refuse to encourage people who pass off cacophony for real melody and who regard music universally loved by the people as obsolete. Every nation has its musical traditions and loves its popular songs. I was born in a Russian village and was brought up in an atmosphere of Russian and Ukrainian music, of its folk songs. I derive great pleasure from listening to songs by Soloviev-Sedoi, or to Kolmanovskii’s song to the words of the’ poet Evtushenko, “Do Russians Want War?” I like many Ukrainian songs, for instance Rushnitchok by Maiboroda. I listen and want to listen more and more. We have many good composers who have written many fine songs, but as you understand I cannot enumerate them all. In musical composition there are serious defects. One cannot consider the current infatuation with jazz music as a normal phenomenon. We are not against all jazz music; there are all kinds of jazz music. Dunaevskii knew how to write good music for jazz orchestra. I like some songs performed by the jazz orchestra conducted by Leonid Utesov. But there is also music which makes one feel like vomiting, and causes colic in one’s stomach. After the recent plenum of the Union of Composers of the Russian Socialist Federal Soviet Republic, Comrade Shostakovich invited us to a concert at the Kremlin Convention Hall. Although we are all very busy we went to hear it, because we were told that it was going to be an interesting concert. And indeed there were some interesting numbers on the program. But then they put on a jazz band, then another, then another, and then all three together. Even good jazz is hard to take in quantity, but this kind of jazz bombardment was beyond endurance. And there was no place to hide. Music in which there is no melody produces nothing but irritation. They tell us that such opinions as mine reveal a lack of understanding. It is true that it is impossible to understand some jazz music which is repugnant to the ear. We must object also to so-called modern dance seeping through from the west into our land. I traveled through the country a great deal. I watched Russian, Ukrainian, Kazakh, Uzbek, Armenian and Georgian dances. They are beautiful dances and pleasant to watch. But what they call modern fashionable dance is simply indecent, an orgy and the devil knows what. They say that such obscenities one can witness only among the shakers. I cannot vouch for it because I never attended shakers’ meetings. But it seems that among our creative workers there are young people who are eager to prove that melody in music has lost its right to exist and that it ought to be replaced by some new kind of music, dodecaphonic music, music of noises. A normal person finds it difficult to understand what is hidden behind the word dodecaphonic, but in all probability it is the same as cacophonic. Well, this cacophonic music we totally reject. Our people cannot include such trash in our ideological armament. (Shouts in the audience: “Right!”) We need music that inspires, that calls for heroic deeds and for constructive labor. When a soldier goes to war, he takes all that he needs with him, and the regiment band never leaves him. It inspires him during the army march. Music for such bands can be written only by composers who adhere to positions of socialist realism, who remain close to everyday life and to the problems of national struggle, those who are supported by the people. Our political stand in art is that of intransigent opposition to abstractionism, formalism and other bourgeois perversions of this type. It is Lenin’s line, which we have unswervingly followed, and which we will continue to follow. (APPLAUSE)

Source: Nicolas Slonimsky, ed., Music since 1900 (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1971), pp. 1377-1378.

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