The two organizations battled each other for years as Stalin’s government cracked down on modernist culture. In 1932, they were both dissolved, and the aesthetic values of the Russian Association of Proletarian Musicians formed the basis of the Union of Soviet Composers. Roslavets was exiled to Tashkent, Uzbekistan, where he conducted a high school band for two years. The state increasingly censored and censored modernist music, with composers often facing dire consequences if accused of what it saw as Western decadence. The Leontovych Music Society – as well as its successor, the All-Ukrainian Association of Revolutionary Musicians – was almost lost in history.
However, a group of Ukrainian musicians and critics is trying to change that, with efforts like Ukrainian Live Classic, an initiative to promote Ukrainian classical music around the world. With the scores and sounds of Ukraine from centuries past, the organization’s smartphone app serves as a sort of digital repository of the country’s music history. With the whole world looking to the country, the initiative allows artists and scientists outside Ukraine to perform and learn about this music.
And stories are important, perhaps now more than ever. “The idea that ‘culture is beyond politics,'” said music critic Morozova, “has long been promoted by those who put culture at the service of ideology and war crimes.” Performing music by canonical composers like Tchaikovsky or Shostakovich, she suggested, obscures the reality of Putin’s Russia. Instead, she argued, their music has become a sort of “cultural weapon” serving to “make Russia attractive to Europeans.”
Ukraine’s absence from stages and science from Western Europe and the United States is a product of this policy, said ethnomusicologist Sonevytsky. “This is an excellent time to reflect on why we attach the term ‘greatness’ to Russian, but not Ukrainian culture,” she said. “There is a kind of exceptionalism that the rich produce and make appear virtuous, that smaller countries, portrayed as the ‘threatening nationalists’ at the border, are denied. So why do we only know composers we consider ‘great Russian’ composers?”
She paused, let out a deep sigh and added, “It’s all Russian soft power on the world stage.”
Gabrielle Cornish is an assistant professor of musicology at the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music, where she researches experimental music in the Soviet Union after Stalin.