Monthly Archives: October 2013

The Phantom Purges of the Opera

Russian opera was under strict scrutiny in the 30’s. Ideas, people, subjects, or traditions that went against the Soviets were not tolerated in 1936. Cultural norms were not to be violated. Once they were, it could potentially have life-threatening ramifications. Two composers faced accusations of violating cultural norms. This was especially dangerous because of the “Great Purges” were occurring throughout Russia. Lenin wished to destroy any person that posed a threat to the Soviets. Therefore, any person that was labeled as an “enemy of the people” was arrested and possibly executed.

Dmitrii Shostakovich was a Russian composer during the time of the “Great Purges”. He was accused of violating cultural norms in 1936 at the young age of 29. He had been praised for his wonderful work prior to the accusations. The opera “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk” was a controversial piece of work. It pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable socially and boldly stepped past those lines. Many loved the opera, though some did not believe it to be acceptable. Most notably of those people was Stalin himself, who stormed out of the opera. A newspaper editorial appeared later in the week accusing Shostakovich of violating cultural norms.

Dmitrii Shostakovich in the 1930s
Dmitrii Shostakovich in the 1930s

Another notable Russian composer was Semian Bednyi. Bednyi was a different kind of composer than Shostakovich. He loved satire, and used it as a weapon. His opera ‘Ancient Heroes’ was a satire of the first Russian national heroes. He mocked the men, and made them into drunken idiots.He had been hugely popular for his previous work. However, he was condemned for this opera.

Music that was even slightly controversial was shunned during this time period. The population was terrified of having an accusation being made that condemned them as an “enemy of the state”. The Soviets had an incredible amount of power, and this affected cultural and social dynamics. They had the power to arrest and execute anyone that did not conform to social norms. For that reason, musical modernism did not appear until much later in history.

Sources:

http://www.soviethistory.org/index.php?page=subject&SubjectID=1936opera&Year=1936&navi=byYear

Image: Grigori Chudakov, Olga Suslova, and Lilya Ukhtomskaya, eds.: Pioneers of Soviet photography. New York: Thames and Hudson. 1983.

Freeze, Gregory. (2009). Russia, A History. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc.

The War on Orthodoxy

The government’s relations with the Orthodox Church in 1929 were not pleasant. To fully understand the declining relations between the two, we need to go back a few years.

In 1918, the Soviets declared that there was a separation between state and Church. They also decreed that church land was nationalized property and could be seized at anytime without compensation. That was not even the worst of it. Militant forces destroyed religious buildings and churches, in addition to killing priests and bishops. Buildings were then converted to cinemas, libraries, clubs, or factories.

Many people also began to convert to other religions. The Baptist Church particularly gained many new members. Other liberal break offs from the church were more appealing than the Orthodox Church.

1929 was a particularly tough blow to the Church. The state passed a law that “restricted religious activity only to registered congregations, banned all religious instruction and proselytizing, and presaged the still more brutal assault on the Church soon to come” (Freeze, 336). The war on religious was renewed with new vigor. The authorities used violence towards the Church far more readily than they had before. Church property was continually seized. The church bells were taken and melted down for the great industrialization project.

Church bells are taken and melted for their metal
Church bells are taken and melted for their metal

A new workweek was also introduced in 1929. The nepreryvka was put into place to try to raise productivity and keep the machines running through the whole year. The “five-day week” was then introduced. The employees worked for four days and then had a one day break. This was in order to take any special meaning away from Sundays and religious holidays. This five day workweek was to happen during the entire year, except for one period of five days that celebrated revolutionary holidays.

On Easter Day Nobody Skips Work
On Easter Day Nobody Skips Work

Therefore, the workers were supposed to slowly lose their interest in religious holidays. However, with the continuous work schedule the machines began to break down and it decreased productivity. In 1931, Stalin adopted back the 6-day week to try to increase productivity.

Works Cited:

http://www.soviethistory.org/index.php?page=subject&SubjectID=1929religion&Year=1929&navi=byYear

Destruction of Church Bells (1929)Felix Corley, ed.: Religion in the Soviet Union: an Archival Reader. New York: New York University Press. 1996.

On Easter Day Nobody Skips Work! (1929)Hoover Political Poster Database. 2007.

Freeze, Gregory. (2009). Russia, A History. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc.