A Musical Representation of Communist Russia
In the musical world, no one is as controversial as Dmitri Shostakovich. Although he died not 30 years ago, many aspects of his life still remain to be a great mystery. When he was alive, many in the world believed he was a Communist and a devoted servant of Stalin. It was not until after his death that the truth had come out. Or had the truth been there all along? Many believe that this was because his music expressed a lot of nationalism and idolized Stalin. However, in an attempt to escape the red fist of Stalin, Shostakovich made his music appear to be nationalistic when really it is full of sarcasm and hidden messages. Shostakovich showed his contempt Stalin and Communist Russia through sarcasm and the themes of anti-Semitism and persecution in his music. In order to understand Shostakovich's music, one must look at Russian history. When Communist Russia was first established early in the 20th Century, many believed it to be a vast improvement over the previous tsar regime. For the first time in history a government had been created that had complete control over the economy ("History"). Within a year the industrial output had increased by 334 percent. Everything seemed to be going well, but underneath the surface was a harsh reality. While the economy of Soviet Russia under Stalin's rule appeared to be flourishing when the rest of the world was in a post-war depression, the country was actually climbing a mountain only to fall off a cliff on the other side. In an attempt to industrialize Russia and salvage the economy, many peasants were forced off their land, their herds slaughtered and their crops destroyed. In an attempt to revolt, these peasants were deemed "kulaks" and were executed. This industrialization of Russia was referred to by Stalin as the "Five-Year Plan." During this time, Stalin would manage to gain more power then any tsar had ever had, repressing many in his quest for power. Tens of thousands of citizens were arrested, deported, or executed. While establishing his regime, Stalin used his power to destroy any sort of resistance there was in the Soviet Union. Stronger and stronger regulations were made towards anyone who expressed individualism. This meant that religion was abolished and any sort of art that did not express nationalism or communist ideals was strictly forbidden. Many artists resisted this repression, but unfortunately many of them were taken away by the Secret Police during the night and never seen again ("History").
Before starting to analyze specific works of Shostakovich, one must know not only about Russian history, but about Shostakovich's life. During his life, Shostakovich wrote operas, fifteen symphonies, fifteen string quartets, six concertos, and many film scores. Many of his earlier works expressed his opposition to the new form of government. His career had been a major success and he had gained a national audience by 1927. Unfortunately, in 1927 he had written a satirical opera by the name of "The Nose" which was deemed "formalist" by the Stalinist Musician's Organization. Had it not been for his international stardom, Shostakovich may have very well been taken away by the Secret Police as many of his counterparts had ("Dmitri"). Despite the danger he was in, he continued to compose until 1934 when he wrote yet another opera titles "Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District." The opera was a success, but due to the direct criticism of the government that laid within it, Stalin instigated' an attack on Shostakovich. Stalin had an critical article of the opera published that publicly accused Shostakovich of being a "formalist." This article accused the opera of being "muddle" and this propaganda was spread until Shostakovich was unable to get any more commissions and became poverty stricken almost overnight. During this time he had written his 4th Symphony, and it was in the process of being rehearsed. The...
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