Friday, December 21, 2007

Celtic Music

Episode Number: 014
Title: Celtic Music
Introduction Music: The Marsh of Rhuddlan - Traditional; Performed by Cheryl Ann Fulton, Triple Harp*
Exit Music: Megan's Daughter - Traditional; Performed by Cheryl Ann Fulton, Triple Harp*
Narrated by Nicolas Caporale - December 21, 2007

Let us begin by discussing the meaning and origin of the word “Celt.” It has been used over the centuries to describe many different things. Archeologists and historians usually associate the term with the indigenous peoples of Europe that thrived before Roman conquest. However, the adjective “Celtic” can refer to the styles or traditions of the peoples of the British Isles, past or present.[1] “Celtic” can also refer to the ancient languages of Gaulish and Old Irish and modern languages like Irish and Scottish Gaelic, Welsh and Breton. The term is loosely used now to describe anything Irish or Scottish especially in art and music. You can thank marketing execs for the last one.

The word Celt comes from the Greek word keltoi which was used by authors such as Herodotus to describe the peoples living in what is now southwest Germany.[2] The Romans later called these people the Gauls and many accounts of them were recorded by Julius Caesar at the time of the Roman conquest of Gaul. However, whom Classical authors were referring to is still rather ambiguous. Allow me to quote Michael Dietler’s article in the September 1994 article of American Anthropologist:
Julius Caesar, for example, noted that Romans used the term "Gauls" to designate people who called themselves "Celts" (De Bello Gallico 1.1). Strabo, on the other hand, wrote that the inhabitants of the hinterland of the Greek colony of Marseille in southern France were called "Celts" and that Greeks simply projected this name onto all the barbarian peoples of northwestern Europe (The GeographyIV.I.14).

Around In this same region of continental Europe, archeologists have discovered significant amounts of artifacts with like designs and patterns that we refer to as the La Tène style, after a site in Switzerland where a large trove was discovered in 1867. Some characteristics of La Tène style artwork is “intricate spirals and interlace, on fine bronze vessels, helmets and shields, horse trappings and elite jewelry, especially the neck rings called torcs and elaborate clasps called fibulae. It is characterized by elegant, stylized curvilinear animal and vegetable forms, with elements akin to Scythian animal designs from the area of Ukraine, allied with the Hallstatt traditions of geometric patterning.”[3] It was in the fifth century B.C.E. that the La Tène culture first emerged and over the next five hundred years Celtic groups spread out over Europe.[4] They spread out as far East as modern day Turkey and as far west as the British Isles. Modern archeology has assumed that the Celts referred to by the Classical authors were the same peoples of the La Tène culture because they both inhabited the same region and because the Classical authors really did not mention anyone else living there. [5] The only written history of Celts in the British Isles comes from Caesar, who recognized that the inhabitants on the British Isles were closely related to the Gauls of the mainland.

Over the last couple of centuries, there has been much interest Celtic origins for the sake of national identity. In the early nineteenth century it was discovered that the surviving Celtic languages (referring to Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, Breton, Manx and Cornish) were part of the Indo-European language family. All of a sudden they were taken much more seriously by the academic communities in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, as well as in German and other universities on the mainland. The Celts were seen as the first people to emerge as a unified culture in Europe, though probably they were individual communities that were united through trade and common religion practices. After the French revolution a national identity was needed to unify the people and Celtic heritage was the perfect solution. After Rome declined in the West, a Germanic group called the Franks established their kingdom over what was previously Gaul. Through the late 18th century the French nobility traced their lineage back to the Frankish king Clovis to establish their right to rule.[6] Therefore, it was the people of Celtic ancestry that stormed the Bastille and overthrew the long-reigning Frankish regime. At least this is what the revolutionists would claim. Napoleon even funded many archeological programs to uncover more evidence that further identified the French as the natural descendants of the Celts. Old Celtic maps defining Gaul’s ancient borders gave credence to Napoleon’s plans to expand over Europe.

When we use the word Celtic to describe nationalities we are describing the same nationalities that share the languages listed above. These languages are themselves split into two categories: Irish, Scottish, and Manx are referred to as “Q” Celtic and Welsh, Breton and Cornish are referred to as “P” Celtic.[7] What unites all these peoples is the fact that they now (or did) speak some Celtic language. When we use the word Celtic to describe music, the situation gets even more complicated. Nowadays the term is used to describe music that is traditionally Celtic, as well as anything that could be remotely included in the Celtic category if it means more record sales. According to Celtic Music by June Sawyers, “Traditional music refers to music that is oral and belongs to a living popular tradition.” Each Celtic area has its own unique customs and traditions but they all share common similarities. Piping is a common tradition throughout all Celtic lands. The Highland bagpipe, or Great Highland bagpipe of Scotland is probably the most commonly known, but Ireland has the uilleann pipe, northern England has the Northumbrian pipe, Brittany in northwest France has the biniou and Galacia has the gaita. The way notes are ornamented is also somewhat similar. Ornamented notes as applied to singing have singers playing with the syllables of words to stretch or shorten the word. For example, again citing Celtic Music: A Complete Guide: “...the word country – two syllables – may be turned into count-ter-ie, with three syllables, if the song demands it.” One might think of traditional Celtic music as music created by peoples that speak a Celtic language, or simply the “indigenous music of the Celtic lands.” [8]

As I mentioned previously, each Celtic land has its own unique musical history and tradition. When the Normans entered Ireland, music was already an established part of Irish life. Bards were patronized by the aristocracy until the English began invading the island. In an attempt to subdue the Irish culture in the early 16th and 17th centuries, musicians were persecuted. Henry VIII realized how important music was to Irish social life and he issued laws forbidding the practice of Irish musicians. Queen Elizabeth even decreed in 1603 that any bards or harpists found would be executed and their instruments destroyed.[9] It was not until the late 18th century that these laws were relaxed. In 1792 Edward Bunting (who was a young folk music collector,) transcribed the music played at the Belfast Harp Festival, but being classically trained he recorded the tunes in a major/minor tonal system rather than the modal system that they were conceived. This was evident in the fact that some of the pieces of music would have been impossible to play on the Irish harp as he had recorded them. Still, many Irish tunes may have been lost if he had not recorded them.

Traditional Irish singing or seanós is very ornamented and can be traced back to the days of the bards, when poetry and music was passed down orally. Macaronic songs were songs that alternated English and Irish text, as English became the dominant language in Ireland.[10] The jig, found in 6/8, 9/8 and 12/8 time may have originated in Italy but have become a stable of Irish dance music. There are three forms of the Irish jig: the single, which is usually in 6/8 though can be in 12/8; the double that is also in 6/8; and the slip that is in 9/8 time. Instruments common to traditional Irish music include the flute, tin whistle, uilleann pipes, the Irish harp and the fiddle. The oldest Irish harp still in existence dates back to the 14th century. It is named the Brian Boru harp, after and Irish king who died at the battle of Clontarf, on Good Friday, 1014.

Scottish music has three major sources of influence – Celtic culture in the Highlands, Anglo Saxon culture in the Lowlands, and even Norse culture near Shetland and Orkney. For those of you unfamiliar with the geography of Scotland, the Highland Boundary Fault roughly runs northeast from the bottom of the middle third of the country in the West to the top of the middle third of the country in the East. Look up this episode on the website and you can see a diagram of this. The Orkney Islands are at the northern tip of Scotland and the Shetland Islands are still north of the Orkneys. Scottish Gaelic is mostly spoken in the Highlands and Islands, but there are multiple dialects of Gaelic spoken. In the Lowlands, English and Scots is primarily spoken. Music that is unique to Scotland is the waulking (which means working) songs and bothy songs. Waulking songs were very rhythmic and bothy songs were about living conditions under the bothy system. The bothy system was a system of housing unmarried males that worked on a farm for the farmer.[11] Traditional Scottish music is more vocal than instrumental, and traditional vocal music is usually unaccompanied. There were times when Scottish music was also banned so musicians developed techniques of emulating instrument sounds with their mouths. “Mouth music, for example, consists of nonsense syllables sung rapidly in a rhythmic manner.”[12] Generally speaking, bagpipes and fiddle dominated the dance music in the Highlands. The Highland bagpipe is comprised of a chanter with three drones, which is attached to a bag. The bag is filled with air through a blowpipe, which is refilled every few seconds to keep a continuous flow of air. The air then passes through the three drones (pitched at A) and through the chanter, which has a double reed in it to produce the melody. The chanter has holes that allow the player to play a melody. Applying modern terminology, the notes of the chanter make up the G Mixolydian mode. Nobody knows for sure when the bagpipe gained its popularity in the Highlands, but some scholars estimate it was around the year 1400. Traditional bagpipe music can fall into two broad categories: Piobaireachd and Ceòl Beag. Ceòl Beag, or “light music” is the more common of the two styles. Light music consists of marches, airs and dances such as the Strathspey, Reel, Hornpipe or Jig. Piobaireachd can only be played by a solo piper and is usually more expressive. Piobaireachd is the traditional style of Bagpipe playing. There is no steady rhythm, and each piece of essentially a theme and variations; the ground is played, and then repeated with different grace notes and ornaments to differentiate each variation from the others. A Piobaireachd can last between 10 and 20 minutes.

The native Welsh are the ancestors of the original British Celts. The Celts, being pushed westward out of continental Europe and then southwestward again by the Anglo-Saxons ended up in Wales. The Anglo-Saxon word for foreigner was weahlas and this is what they called the people living in what became known as Wales. When Henry VIII was king of England he ruled that any Welsh-speaking person could not own land or hold public office. This was yet another attempt to squash Celtic culture. Luckily some of traditional Welsh music prevailed and there is still a unique brand of “Welsh” music. The Welsh choir and the Welsh triple harp are good examples. The triple harp is different from the modern pedal harp in that it has three rows of strings to make all the chromatic pitches available rather than a pedal. The outer rows of strings are tuned to a diatonic scale (no accidentals) and the middle row contains the sharps and flats. Traditional Welsh musicians still play the triple harp though many players have begun to favor the modern pedal harp.

Brittany is a peninsula on the northwest tip of France. It has more cultural ties to the British Isles than that of France – it remained culturally independent from France as a duchy until the French Revolution in 1789. Dance music dominates traditional Breton music. Traditional accompaniment for dance music is played by the sonerion, which is made up of the bombarde and biniou playing the same melodic line. The bombarde was an early form of the oboe and the biniou was a bagpipe with only one drone. Breton music uses various modes which gives it a distinct sound. Here are some examples from the July 1918 issue of The Musical Quarterly that were collected by Charles Quef after his regiment was forced to retreat into Brittany during World War I[13]: EXAMPLES IN PODCAST.

The Anglo-Saxons also pushed the native Celts directly west into an area they called kern-weahlas, or, the land of the West Welsh. By the 10th century England absorbed this area, translated to Cornwall, into its formal boundaries. Carols are very popular in traditional Cornish music. However, rather than being associated with Christmas, in Cornwall carols can be any dance tune played at any religious feast. The feast could be Christian or pagan. The Isle of Man shares many musical similarities with Cornwall, though the native language was Manx. The last native speaker of Manx died in 1974.

All of the Celtic lands mentioned above have struggled to maintain cultural independence from larger bordering nations. Fortunately, they all were able to retain at least a portion of their unique brands of music that we can trace back to the middle ages in some places. Cultural revivals or renaissances have been chiefly responsible for modern interest in what is Celtic. These revivals occurred independently in each region, some in the mid-1800s and many in the 1970s. The folk music boom of the late 60s and 70s played a large role in modern interest in Celtic music and culture as well. On a side note, have you ever wondered why Boston’s professional basketball team is pronounced seltic and not keltic? The pronunciation of this word is a largely debated throughout the world. Most dictionaries list both pronunciations as being correct, though keltic is usually listed first. As mentioned before, the word came from the greek word keltoi (k-e-l-t-o-i). This word was borrowed by the Romans, but they did not have a K in their alphabet so they used a C. The Roman version may have found its way into English and they pronounced it with a soft C. Meanwhile German scholars pronounced it still with a hard C and that way was also introduced into English. Technically both pronunciations are correct but if I ever find myself in a situation where I am discussing East-Coast basketball teams I will probably still say keltic to avoid confusing looks from bystanders.


[1] Peter S. Wells, Who, Where, and What Were the Celts?, American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 102, No. 4.  (Oct., 1998), pp. 814-816
[2] Ibid.
[3] La Tène culture “”
[5] Wells, 814-816
[6] Michael Dietler, “Our Ancestors the Gauls": Archaeology, Ethnic Nationalism, and the
Manipulation of Celtic Identity in Modern Europe” American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 96, No. 3.  (Sep., 1994), pp. 584-605.
[7] June Sawyers, “Celtic Music: A Complete Guide”.  Da Capo Press, 2000., pg 5
[8] Sawyer, 7
[9] Ibid., 28
[10] Ibid., 10
[11] J. Drummond Smith The Housing of the Scottish Farm Servant, The Economic Journal, Vol. 25, No. 99 (Sep., 1915), pp. 466-474
[12] Sawyer, 12
[13] Charles Quef; E. Adcock, Breton Music The Musical Quarterly, Vol. 4, No. 3 (Jul., 1918), pp. 402-408

*These pieces are available for purchase at

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Government Censorship of Music in Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia - Part II

Episode Number: 013
Title: Government Censorship of Music in Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia - Part II
Introduction Music: Chaconne for Violin - J.S. Bach
Narrated by Nicolas Caporale - Recorded December 20, 2007

The Nazis in Germany preferred the style of post-Romanticism[1], and Hitler especially liked the music of Richard Wagner.[2] Atonality was shunned because it could not be incorporated into propaganda very easily;[3] music with text was expected to be in German. Carl Orff (1895-1982) was one of the most famous composers of the Nazi era and he got along well with the Nazi regime for most of the time that they were in power. Orff never joined the Nazi party but he benefited much from their patronage. Orff’s music fortunately shared many of the same aesthetic features the Nazis looked for, such as “the use of ostinato rhythms, melodic economy, rudimentary diatonicism, repetition and monophony, and thematic allusions to Volksmusik (folk-music).”[4] Carmina Burana (which was comprised of all the aesthetic features listed above) propelled Orff into the international spotlight and it soon became very popular with the Nazis. Orff was not commissioned to compose Carmina Burana and he was anticipating it being rejected by the government.[5] Fortunately for Orff it became a success and was granted a prize of 500 Reichmarks (RM) only two weeks after the premier.[6] Orff was motivated by financial rewards for working with the Nazis, even though he may not have agreed with their ideologies.[7]

In March of 1938 Orff was asked by the Nazis to write music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Orff desperately needed the RM5, 000 cash advance and quickly jumped at the opportunity.[8] The significance of new music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream was in the fact that it was intended to replace Felix Mendelssohn’s famous version from the mid-nineteenth century. The Nazis blacklisted all of Mendelssohn’s music because of his family’s Jewish background. Even if Orff was not a Nazi at heart, it was still morally wrong for him to take on that endeavor and he knew it. As soon as the Nazis left power, Orff tried to distance his version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream from the Third Reich as much as possible. Apparently, Orff created multiple legends to justify his own reasons for writing the new music that “gave away his bad conscience.”[9] By 1944, Joseph Goebbels had taken particular interest in Orff and Goebbels’s Reich Culture Chamber asked Orff and several other artists to contribute a homily in honor of Hitler. Orff did so and never worried again about falling out of favor with the Nazis.[10]

Paul Hindemith was another famous composer of the Nazi era, though he did not share the same level of success that Carl Orff had found. Before the Nazi party took over Germany Hindemith was known for his avant-garde stage works and his modernist style of compositions.[11] By the 1930s, Hindemith’s style shifted slightly towards a style representing “an extension of traditional harmony”.[12] In 1932, he began working on his next opera, Mathis der Maler. He formed a three-movement symphony based on excerpts from the yet unfinished opera, and this was a huge success. Even Nazi critics of Hindemith greeted the work with enthusiasm.[13] One critic hailed, “[Mathis] conformed very precisely to the official expectations for modern German music in the Third Reich”.[14] Unfortunately for Hindemith, his modernist and avant-garde works predating Nazi-Germany could not be forgotten. Despite all attempts to “rehabilitate” himself he could not escape his own past. He had many enemies in the Nazi party as well as outside, all of which constantly made efforts to keep Hindemith from being successful. He wrote music that conformed to Nazi ideals and even met with representatives of the Hitler Youth to discuss grand plans for the musical education of the “new” Germany.[15] These actions suggest that Hindemith was conforming to Nazi ideologies. They also suggest that he was attempting to “play a constructive role in Hitler’s Germany for as long as was humanly feasible.”[16] Many high-ranking Nazis noticed these efforts, yet Hindemith still had powerful enemies intent on ruining him. In a last effort to restore his grace with the party, he traveled to Turkey as an ambassador of music education to promote German culture and values. All of these efforts were to of no avail and Hindemith was forced to leave the country. He remained in self-imposed exile until after World War II. When he returned in the mid-1940s, his music was once again played and he enjoyed much more success than he had during the Nazi rule. Still, though the Nazis were no longer in power, the German people had been brought up with the “phony culture of the National Socialists”[17]and not everyone was open to Hindemith’s bold style.

Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia had similar goals, and similar means to reach those goals, even though their ideologies were not exactly the same. Each had a dictator that ruled with an iron fist, though in Germany the Nazi party fell with Hitler while in the Soviet Union the communist party continued well after Stalin’s death. Each nation sought to shape public opinion by manipulating the media and by means of propaganda. This required the cooperation of many, including artists, writers, and musicians and composers. If a composer was not willing to cooperate, each country had various methods of achieving cooperation. Both countries used public humiliation as a punishment and both could keep work and income from the composer until he had to choose between starving and cooperation. By cooperating, these composers created bodies of work that reflected the ideologies of their government. This meant the rejection of ideas from outside the country’s borders and usually revered past musical aesthetic features while shunning modern aesthetic features. Eventually these regimes would both fail, inviting innovation and fresh ideas back into their musical communities. When studying the music from these countries during this period one must consider the political atmosphere. One must know that the choice of notes the composer used in a particular may have been based on whether he or she wanted to have running water again or if he or she would be able to provide food for their family. I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode of Music History podcast. Please visit the website at and take a moment to sign the guestbook or take a listener poll. I’ve recently added a bibliography section so you can see my sources and if you’re interested, read them for yourselves. There’s also a section to look up names and dates of composers and theorists, and I’m working on a searchable database of complete composers’ works. Thanks for listening.

       Paul Hindemith in 1928 Carl Orff Felix Mendelsohn Adolph Hitler


[1] Michael H. Kater, Composers of the Nazi era: eight portraits (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 123
[2] Barry Millington: “(1) (Wilhelm) Richard Wagner,” Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (Accessed 21 October 2007),
[3] Eric Levi, “Music in the Third Reich,” The American Historical Review, Vol. 101, No. 3. (June 2006), (accessed October 22, 2007), 867.
[4] Kater, 128.
[5] Ibid., 123.
[6] Ibid., 124.
[7] Ibid., 118-19
[8] Kater, 125.
[9] Ibid., 127.
[10] Ibid., 132-3.
[11] Ibid., 31.
[12] Ibid., 33.
[13] Kater, 33.
[14] Ibid., 33.
[15] Ibid., 35.
[16] Ibid., 35.
[17] Kater, 50.

Government Censorship of Music in Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia - Part I

Episode Number: 012
Title: Government Censorship of Music in Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia - Part I
Introduction Music: Chaconne for Violin - J.S. Bach
Narrated by Nicolas Caporale - Recorded December 20, 2007
Exit Music - Violin Concerto I: II. Vivacissimo - Sergei Prokofiev*
Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia each controlled their own country’s media, including the music that was written by their composers. Some composers cooperated and some fought the system, but ultimately the government helped shape the collective body of music that emerged from these countries while their dictators were in power. Both countries used propaganda to shape public opinion to have continual support from the citizens living there. In Germany, the Reich recognized the importance of the arts as a means to "promote German culture on behalf of the German Volk and Reich."1 The Soviets were concerned with arranging historical events prior and directly after the revolution in order to help create a solid Soviet ideology. Composers and musical societies were heralded as either revolutionary villains or heroes, depending if the framers of communism felt the music supported or hindered their cause.2 It is interesting to note that though the Nazi and Soviet parties despised each other’s ideologies they both used similar means to achieve their own goals. Composers in Germany could be accused of Bolshevism3 while composers in the Soviet Union could be accused of fascism.

Both regimes used similar methods to control their artists, ranging from methods of positive reinforcement to methods of negative reinforcement. Awards, prizes and coveted employment positions were used to encourage artists to conform to party ideologies. Blacklisting or banning composers’ works and public humiliation were also used to control the artistic community. In the Soviet Union, shutting off the composer’s water was not unheard of either.4 Some composers happily went along with the party line while others struggled to voice their own opinions that were not part of the parties’ ideologies. Whether or not the composer went along with the party willingly or grudgingly, the body of music produced in these two countries while Hitler and Stalin were in power was ultimately affected by the government.

Soviet domination of the arts did not immediately begin after the Bolsheviks seized power in 1917. Intellectual revolutionists like Anatoliy Lunacharskiy, who would become the first Commissar of Education and Enlightenment,5 and Leon Trotsky felt that the party need not meddle with the arts because the arts would eventually conform to whichever type of society prevailed6. Vladimir Lenin is quoted saying:

Art belongs to the people. It must spread out with its deep roots into the very thick of the vast labouring masses. It must be understood by these masses-- loved by them. It must create and develop artists from among them.4

In other words, the early leaders of the communist party felt that once they had achieved a classless society by means of social manipulation, the culture and art would automatically reflect this new society. Before the classless society could be implemented, a temporary dictatorship was needed to organize the economy. This resulted in the nationalizing of the Moscow and Petrograd conservatories, as well as all music stores, warehouses, and publishing houses in July of 1918. Lenin and Trotsky did not expect the temporary dictatorship to last so long. When Stalin took over for Lenin it was realized that the arts could be manipulated as well to create great propaganda.7

During and after Stalin’s reign composers were closely watched to make sure their music conformed to Soviet ideologies. In Soviet Composers and the Development of Soviet Music (1970), Stanley Krebs writes about the creative elements of Soviet nationalism:

-Party glorification and service, exclusive creative and critical recognition of the Russian nineteenth century, denial of Western influence and isolation from the West, methodical eclecticism, concentration on programme genres, high propaganda content, humourlessness, and simplicity of idiom geared to the widest audience of the moment. Generally, the more fame the composer had the closer he or she was watched by the government.

Dmitri Shostakovich was a Russian composer who felt the oppression of the Soviet regime no less than any other of his colleagues did. Though he never lessened his hatred for the tyranny of the state he lived in, he was forced pretend to go along with the government.8 Since the glasnost in Soviet Russia, much information has been made available about the type of society Shostakovich lived and worked in.9 It was important for the sake of propaganda and public morale to keep popular composers in the spotlight. If a composer rebelled, he or she was forced to undergo “rehabilitation” which usually involved public humiliation. Eventually the composer would see the error of his or her ways and make a public statement proclaiming their own folly. Posthumous rehabilitation also occurred when a deceased composer’s reputation is altered to reflect that of a composer who was a model communist.10 Often the famous would be asked to sign statements supporting a colleague’s rehabilitation or denouncing a fellow colleague as a traitor. It was common practice for most people to just sign what they were given without even reading what they were signing. Shostakovich did this quite often, to keep the government from interfering in his life too much. With this attitude, Shostakovich was able to get by, because he knew that most people understood that he did not believe any of public statements attributed to or made by him. 11 Galina Vishnevkaya, a well-known soprano whom Shostakovich remained loyal to all of his life12 stated:

…He made statements in the press and at meetings; he signed ‘letters of protest’ that, as he himself said, he never read. He didn’t worry about what people would say of him, because he knew the time would come when the verbiage would fade away, when only his music would remain. And his music would speak more vividly than any words. His only real life was his art, and into it he admitted no one…

Thus, the oppressive system Shostakovich worked in helped shape the music he created, because it was his only outlet to express himself truthfully. Often his music was a response to government meddling in his personal life.

Shostakovich was in a position to reach many people though his music due to an early start at a successful composing career. On May 12, 1926, his first symphony premiered and received international acclaim. The Soviet system was starting to gain momentum and Shostakovich’s success was propagandized as a positive product of the new Soviet system.13 Shostakovich’s popularity continued to grow throughout the next ten years. In 1931 he completed his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsenk which was enormously popular at home and abroad.14 It remained popular until Stalin visited a performance of it in December of 1935. Even though Shostakovich intended it to satirize “pre-socialist, petty-bourgeois, Russian morality” critics in the Soviet press accused the opera of excessive eroticism.15 The result of this sudden reversal of popularity was devastating to the composer. In the wake of the criticisms Shostakovich even contemplated suicide, but later changed his mind.16 He put on a show of gratitude and subtitled his newly published Fifth Symphony, “a composer’s answer to just criticism”.17 It is probable that Shostakovich did not actually alter his style of composition for this symphony, as it can be viewed as a direct step in the evolution of his style. 18 After this episode Shostakovich decided to depart from the theatre altogether and the music of the next period of his life reflects this departure. This was his own decision that he made of his own volition, but “external factors would have forced such a decision in any case”.19 In the mid-1930s with his music being seen as “ideologically and socially” wrong, Shostakovich ultimately conformed regardless of how he felt about it.

Sergei Prokofiev was another Russian composer who suffered under the thumb of the Soviet party. Prokofiev enjoyed an early success as a Russian composer but decided to leave the country in 1918. Some speculate he left to avoid the turmoil of the revolution but many agree he left to earn more money. “All Russian musicians of accomplishment went abroad”.20 In 1927, he began to consider moving back to the Soviet Union. At this point in time the Soviets were trying to regain some of their lost intellectuals that left in the wake of the revolution.21 Around 1936 Prokofiev and his family officially returned to the Soviet Union, but not without serious negotiations with the party. It can be inferred that these negotiations included protection from party criticism and interference, release from the obligation to submit works-in-progress for peer review, a certain financial security and freedom to leave the country at will.22 By 1944, his protection began to wane with the premier of his Ballad of an Unknown Boy. Prokofiev believed that “more than one style [of music] was possible for, perhaps even demanded of, the contemporary artist.” 23 In Ballad he introduces some near twelve-tone passages to represent Nazi soldiers. He tried to balance these passages with diatonic passages representing other characters. Unfortunately, this work was attacked and so was most of his subsequent works.24 After Ballad Prokofiev issued an official apology which expressed his gratitude towards Stalin and the Party. However, there was still a small hint of insincerity which earned him even more criticism.25 For the remainder of his life Prokofiev struggled to write music that adhered to Soviet ideology. He even spent time reworking some of his earlier pieces. These actions seriously undermined the integrity of his compositions and as a result many (but not all) of his later works ended in personal and political failure.26



1 Alan E. Steinweis, Art, Ideology & Economics in Nazi Germany: the Reich chambers of Music, Theater, and the Visual Arts (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, c1993.), FIND PAGE NUMBERS.
2 Stanley D. Krebs, Soviet Composers and the Development of Soviet Music (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc, 1970), 22-23.
3 Michael H. Kater, Composers of the Nazi era: eight portraits (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 34, 42.
4 Allan B. Ho and Dmitry Feofanov, Shostakovich Reconsidered (City N/A: Tocatta Press, 1998), 9.
5 Steinweis, 33.
6 Ibid., 46.
7 Steinweis, 47.
8 Ho, 115.
9 David Fanning, “Shostakovich, Dmitry (Dmitriyevich),” Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (Accessed October 24, 2007), <>
10 Fanning, 47.
11 Ibid., 65.
12 Ibid., 106.
13 Krebs, 185.
14 Ibid., 52, 192.
15 Ibid., 52-3.
16 Fanning, Section 2 (online).
17 Krebs, 53.
18 J. Daniel Huband, “Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony: A Soviet Artist's Reply...?,” Tempo, New Ser., No. 173, Soviet Issue. (Jun., 1990), 11-16.
19 Ibid., 195.
20 Krebs, 141.
21 Ibid., 151.
22 Ibid., 152.
23 Ibid., 154.
24 Ibid., 158-9.
25 Ibid., 161.
26 Ibid., 163.


*Exit music from the Columbia University Orchestra, (Sarah Kishinevsky, violin)