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An Inclusive History for a Divided World?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2020


The article discusses various historiographical problems created by Soviet music and, more broadly, music under the so-called ‘totalitarian’ regimes for the conventional modernism-driven narrative of the twentieth century. It reviews a number of existing challenges to the dominant narrative within musicology and related fields such as art and architectural history, and it proposes ways in which we can move forward. In conclusion, the author considers the new challenges to the breaking down of cold-war barriers, not only in a historical sense, but also today, in the midst of a new cold war.

Research Article
Copyright © 2018 The Royal Musical Association

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This text is based on the speech I gave as the Dent Medal address during the September 2016 conference of the Royal Musical Association in London. I have added several references and asides in preparing it for publication, but it has otherwise been left with only minimal alterations; it therefore retains all the rhetorical idiosyncrasies and limitations of its original genre.


1 <> (accessed 8 December 2016).

2 The so-called ‘Shostakovich Wars’ stemmed from the debate around the authenticity of Shostakovich's purported memoir, Solomon Volkov, Testimony: The Memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich, trans. Antonina W. Bouis (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1979).

3 There is, of course, literature that presents a more balanced view: scholars like Laurel Fay and Leonid Maximenkov have presented evidence of Shostakovich's privileged position within Soviet society. However, this has had little effect on musicologists outside Russian music studies, and has left music journalism virtually untouched.

4 Simon Morrison, The People's Artist: Prokofiev's Soviet Years (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).

5 Anthology of Twentieth-Century Music, ed. Robert Morgan, The Norton Introduction to Music History (New York and London: Norton, 1992).

6 Eric Salzman, Twentieth-Century Music: An Introduction, Prentice-Hall History of Music Series, 4th edn (London: Pearson, 2001), 120.

7 Elliott Antokoletz, A History of Twentieth-Century Music in a Theoretic-Analytical Context (New York and London: Routledge, 2013).

8 Alex Ross, The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2007).

9 In fact, the use of the word ‘ghetto’ for historiographical exclusion is very much associated with Taruskin (‘P. I. Chaikovsky and the Ghetto’ is a chapter title in his Defining Russia Musically: Historical and Hermeneutical Essays (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997)), and I am using it here in the same vein.

10 Richard Taruskin, The Oxford History of Western Music, 6 vols. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), iv: The Early Twentieth Century, and v: The Late Twentieth Century.

11 Frances Stonor Saunders, Who Paid the Piper? The CIA and the Cultural Cold War (London: Granta, 2000).

12 Ian Wellens, Music on the Frontline: Nicolas Nabokov's Struggle against Communism and Middlebrow Culture (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2002).

13 Charles Rosen, ‘From Troubadours to Frank Sinatra’, New York Review of Books, 53/3–4 (23 February and 9 March 2006), <> and <> (accessed 1 August 2006).

14 Richard Taruskin, ‘Afterword: Nicht blutbefleckt?’, Journal of Musicology, 26 (2009), 274–84.

15 Taruskin, The Oxford History of Western Music, iv, 499.

16 Ibid., 505.

17 Music in the Cold War, ed. Peter J. Schmelz and Elizabeth Bergman, special issue, Journal of Musicology, 26 (2009).

18 J. P. E. Harper-Scott, The Quilting Points of Musical Modernism: Revolution, Reaction, and William Walton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012). See also Harper-Scott, Edward Elgar, The Modernist (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

19 Harper-Scott, The Quilting Points, xiv, xii.

20 Before Harper-Scott, several others had examined more conservative musical styles within a modernist framework, such as James Hepokoski (on Sibelius) and Daniel Grimley (on Nielsen), but none was so radical.

21 Totalitarian Art and Modernity, ed. Mikkel Bolt Rasmussen and Jacob Wamberg (Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 2010).

22 Art since 1900: Modernism, Anti-Modernism, and Postmodernism, ed. Hal Foster and Rosalind Krauss (London: Thames & Hudson, 2004). Totalitarian Art and Modernity, ed. Rasmussen and Wamberg, 7.

23 Clement Greenberg, ‘Avant-Garde and Kitsch’, Art and Culture: Critical Essays (Boston: Beacon Press, 1961), 3–21.

24 Totalitarian Art and Modernity, ed. Rasmussen and Wamberg, 9.

25 Slavoj Žižek, Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism? Five Interventions on the (Mis)Use of a Notion (New York and London: Verso Books, 2011).

26 Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception (Chicago, IL, and London: University of Chicago Press, 2005).

27 Mikkel Bolt Rasmussen, ‘Approaching Totalitarianism and Totalitarian Art’, Totalitarian Art and Modernity, ed. Rasmussen and Wamberg, 109–29 (p. 112).

28 Danielle Fossler-Lussier, Music Divided: Bartók's Legacy in Cold War Culture (Berkeley, CA, and London: University of California Press, 2007), xii.

29 Olga Manulkina, ‘“Foreign” Versus “Russian” in Soviet and Post-Soviet Musicology and Music Education’, Russian Music after 1917: Reappraisal and Rediscovery, ed. Patrick Zuk and Marina Frolova-Walker, Proceedings of the British Academy, 209 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), 221–43.

30 For example, an investigation of how a ‘national music history’ was formed and entrenched in Hungarian musicology during the times of state socialism can be found in Lóránt Péteri, ‘The “Question of Nationalism” in Hungarian Musicology during the State Socialist Period’, Nationality vs Universality: Music Historiographies in Central and Eastern Europe, ed. Sławomira Żeranska-Kominek (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2016), 125–44.

31 Russkaya muzïka i XX vek, ed. Mark Aranovskiy (Moscow: Gosudarstvennïy Institut Iskusstvoznaniya, 1997).

32 Andrey Ikonnikov, Arkhitektura XX veka: Utopii i real'nost’ (Moscow: Progress–Traditsiya, 2001).

33 Ibid., 8–9. All translations are my own unless otherwise stated.

34 The promotion of the most radical modernism by the BBC, as outlined by Jennifer Doctor, met with great resistance from the public and most critics, and did not translate into commissioning British composers’ works in this vein. See Doctor, The BBC and Ultra-Modern Music, 1922–1936 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999). For a discussion of a more conservative turn in literature and the fine arts, see Alexandra Harris, Romantic Moderns: English Writers, Artists and the Imagination from Virginia Woolf to John Piper (London: Thames & Hudson, 2010).

35 Harper-Scott, The Quilting Points, 155.

36 Clement Greenberg, ‘The State of American Writing’ (1948), quoted in Christopher Chowrimootoo, ‘Reviving the Middlebrow, or: Deconstructing Modernism from the Inside’, ‘Round Table: Modernism and its Others’, Journal of the Royal Musical Association, 139 (2014), 187–93 (p. 187).

37 Theodor Adorno on Shostakovich and Britten, in Adorno, The Philosophy of New Music, trans. and ed. Robert Hullot-Kentor (Minneapolis, MN, and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2006), 9.

38 Chowrimootoo, ‘Reviving the Middlebrow’.

39 There are several prior treatments of a similar nature by Svetlana Boym, Katerina Clark, Evgeny Dobrenko and Vera Dunham, among others, that cover arts other than music.

40 I am referring here to Vitaly Komar and Alex Melamid's web project ‘The Most Wanted Paintings’. See <> (accessed 9 December 2016).

41 See, for example, Michael Kube, Hindemiths frühe Streichquartette (1915–23): Studien zu Form, Faktur und Harmonik (Kassel and London: Bärenreiter, 1997).

42 Jane Fulcher, The Composer as Intellectual: Music and Ideology in France 1914–1940 (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005). The ballet Chout was premièred in 1921, not in 1923, and the ballet Le pas d'acier in 1927, not in 1928. See ibid., 95.

43 One notable exception is William W. Austin, Music in the 20th Century from Debussy through Stravinsky (London: J. M. Dent & Sons, 1966). For Austin, Prokofiev is one of the seven major composers of the century, together with Bartók, Debussy, Hindemith, Schoenberg, Stravinsky and Webern. Austin noted that Prokofiev's reputation rose in the decade after his death, and assembled several of Prokofiev's Western ‘friends’ (Bloch, Honegger, Milhaud, Szymanowski, Vaughan Williams, Villa-Lobos and others) for a wider discussion in the Prokofiev-headed chapter. In contrast, Shostakovich's presence in the book is entirely marginal, reflecting Western audiences’ relative indifference to him prior to the publication of Testimony.

44 Hervé Lacombe, Francis Poulenc (Paris: Fayard, 2013).

45 I discuss this in more detail in ‘Monsieur Prokofieff: Prokofiev in Paris’, Rethinking Prokofiev, ed. Rita McAllister and Christina Guillaumier (Oxford: Oxford University Press, forthcoming).

46 Poulenc's letter to Prokofiev of 17 January 1923, Francis Poulenc, Correspondance 1915–1963, ed. Myriam Chimènes (Paris: Fayard, 1994), 187.

47 Harper-Scott, The Quilting Points, xix–xx.

48 The advertisement was shown on CNN in 2015 and early 2016. See <> (accessed 9 December 2016).

50 Alexander Etkind, ‘Post-Soviet Russia: The Land of the Oil Curse, Pussy Riot, and Magical Historicism’, Boundary 2, 41/1 (spring 2014), 153–70 (p. 157).

51 Andrew Monaghan, ‘A “New Cold War”? Abusing History, Misunderstanding Russia’ (2015), <> (accessed 9 December 2016).

53 The topic of alleged Russian influence on the US election has now received some scholarly coverage, as in the special online issue of Slavic Review (1 August 2017); see <> (accessed 8 August 2017). Participants in the forum approach the topic from different political standpoints and with varying degrees of scepticism towards the scant concrete evidence that has emerged, although no one denies that ‘something must have gone on’. They issue stark warnings, however, against assuming a causal link between the hacking and the outcome of the presidential election, as well as against using inflated rhetoric with regard to Russia. As Julie Hemment writes, ‘We all lose when skepticism becomes “treason”, and when statements about the desirability of having a good relationship with Russia become marked as beyond the pale.’ Hemment, ‘Red Scares and Orange Mobilizations: A Critical Anthropological Perspective on the Russian Hacking Scandal’, Slavic Review, 76 (2017), 66–80 (p. 69).

54 Steve Kolowich, ‘Russia Scholars Hope for an End to their Field's Bear Market’, Chronicle of Higher Education (17 February 2017). See also <> (accessed 7 August 2017).

55 I thank Connor Doak and Alexandra Smith for sharing their thoughts with me.

56 Marina Frolova-Walker, Russian Music and Nationalism from Glinka to Stalin (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007).

57 Elvira Panayotidi, ‘“Novaya” istoriya russkoy muzïki’, Problemï muzïkal'noy nauki, 1/12 (2013), 164–7. The author assesses the revisionist trend in Western studies of Russian music (as exemplified by Richard Taruskin, Francis Maes and myself) as ‘grotesquely’ ideological and tendentious.

58 Alexander Belonenko, ‘Proshloye i budushcheye klassicheskoy muzïki yevropeyskoy traditsii: Zametki po povodu monografii The Oxford History of Western Music’, Vestnik Sankt-Peterburgskogo universiteta, 15/3 (2015), 160–218 (214–15).

59 This story is related in Richard Taruskin, On Russian Music (Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 2009), 18.

60 ‘But I promise you, folks can make a lot more, potentially, with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art history degree. Now, nothing wrong with an art history degree – I love art history. (Laughter).’ Remarks by the President on Opportunity for All and Skills for America's Workers, GE Energy Waukesha Gas Engines Facility, Waukesha, Wisconsin, 30 January 2014, <> (accessed 15 December 2016).

61 ‘We are oversaturated with people from the humanities. In this respect the problems of cultural institutions of higher education stem from the general malaise in this country's education system. As they say: “You got into the Conservatoire, now start planning for your future: rent a [busker's] spot in the subway”’; <> (accessed 5 August 2017).

62 Nicky Morgan, Your Life Campaign Launch in November 2014, London; <> (accessed 15 December 2016).

63 This wave of redundancies, begun in 2015, was prompted by the president's demand for state-sector workers to have their salaries raised to more acceptable levels, but this coincided with the economic crisis and an overall cut in funding for education (institutions of higher education, for example, had to manage a 30% cut). To comply with the president's instructions, educational institutions therefore have to engage in a process of ‘optimization’ (as it is called), that is, they have to cut staff numbers and increase teaching loads. At my own alma mater, the Academic Music College of the Moscow Conservatoire, which provides specialized secondary education for 15- to 19-year-olds, the teachers’ contact time has been increased from 14 to 36 hours per week, leaving no time free for preparing lessons or marking students’ work. Since doing the job under such conditions borders on physical impossibility, individuals and institutions are pushed into cheating the system.

64 This move was part of the process of making wider cuts in the arts and humanities budget at Helsinki University, begun in May 2016. The world-renowned Professor Eero Tarasti retired at this point and was not replaced, but still greater outrage was caused when two prominent composers, Harri Suilamo and Harri Vuori, were made redundant. The loss of these three faculty members meant the end of music-theoretical teaching at the university, leaving music to be integrated into the general arts programme. This decision was made on grounds of ‘economic efficiency’ and came as a complete shock to members of the department. See <> (accessed 5 August 2017). I thank Elina Viljanen for this reference.

65 <> (accessed 9 December 2016). See also Kevin Birmingham, ‘The Great Shame of our Profession: How the Humanities Survive on Exploitation’, Chronicle of Higher Education (12 February 2017), <> (accessed 7 August 2017).