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Abstract

This dissertation explores the composition and censorship of art music in the Soviet Union in the first decade after World War II, primarily during the late-Stalinist repression of the intelligentsia known as the zhdanovshchina, named for Central Committee Secretary Andrei Zhdanov. After relatively lax oversight during the war, the late-Stalinist government aggressively reasserted its authority over the arts in the early postwar years through a series of highly publicized resolutions condemning missteps in literature, theater, film, and music and levying harsh penalties against those held responsible. With these decrees, the Central committee put creative workers, arts institutions, and censors on notice that a new standard was required, and serious consequences awaited those who created or sanctions works found in transgression. This dissertation interrogates how Soviet composers, alongside other members of the Soviet musical community, including musicologists, critics, opera theaters, and censors, worked with and against each other to comprehend and satisfy the state’s heightened musical demands. In the course of this inquiry, it investigates key questions of creative autonomy, collaborative authorship, and censorship. Further, rejecting the standard state-versus-artist paradigm as a remnant of Cold War thinking, this dissertation introduces a more complex framework for understanding Soviet art music censorship and authorship as collaborative processes, drawing on censors and composers alike. By analyzing official directives and aesthetic discussions, state and Party censorship agencies’ dealings with each other and with composers, and composers’ interactions within their Union, this dissertation demonstrates the deep dysfunction inherent in the Soviet art music censorship system in this period and its significant impact on composers and their music. This dissertation argues that the state’s requirement that composers conform to the official Soviet aesthetic of Socialist Realism, which lacked a clear application to music, paired with its policy of holding them collectively responsible for individual musical missteps, led composers to take a coercive stance toward one another within the professional space of the Composers’ Union. In addition, it demonstrates that while composers developed often-successful strategies for navigating their interactions with official censorship agencies, these agencies’ internal dysfunctionality and the consequent personalization of censorship functions further undermined the system, ultimately robbing composers of agency by leaving them dependent on individual censors’ whims. Further, this dissertation establishes that new works were so profoundly shaped by the mandatory collaborative process of critique and revision that the colleagues and censors involved are best understood not merely as advisors and regulators, but as co-authors of the final product. With case studies of successful and failed musical works as illustration, this dissertation agues that in the absence of clearly defined aesthetic standards and the presence of high-stakes consequences for transgression, Soviet composers resorted to collective professional group self-censorship, which proved far more effective at controlling their creative production than the state could have achieved alone.

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