Selected Articles and Writings
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.
'Vladimir Sorokin's scandalous novel Blue Fat (1999) presents several unforgettable episodes, including one about a performance of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin at the Bolshoi, attended by the novel's hero and his girlfriend. An abundance of detail inches its way under the skin of many a reader who has shared such experiences: the bright lights, standing between the columns, waiting in agitation—will she come?...'
Socialist Realist ceremonial art has generally been viewed in the West as a form of high art, because of its air of monumentality and references to classics. Judged by high-art standards, such works are invariably failures, and Western commentators have accordingly treated Socialist Realism as something exotic or inexplicable. This approach is inadequate: firstly, because it does not examine Stalin-era art on its own terms, and secondly, because it refuses to acknowledge any similarities in Western culture.
Socialist Realism was a discipline placed upon artists to provide a suitably dignified backdrop to state ritual. In this sense, it was a species of religious art, in which blandness, anonymity and tedium were by no means vices. This article compares the relatively smooth passage of Myaskovsky into Socialist Realism with the troubled homecoming of Prokofiev, who only mastered the discipline just before the end of his life.
And so yet again we are to consider the Russianness of Russian music. Is there some peculiar shortcoming afflicting Russian music that prevents us from discussing it except in terms of nationality? Although Richard Taruskin has asked why we cannot simply take Russian music out of the surrounding nationalist discourse in order to examine it per se, such an approach may require, even as a precondition, a radically revisionary account of the music's highly mythologised history. So much critical' writing, so many articles, monographs and textbooks of the last 150 years cannot blithely be set aside: they continue to feed programme and liner notes, encouraging and reinforcing audiences' fond belief in an intrinsic Russianness that mysteriously subsists beneath every note of this perennially popular repertoire.
'Prince Igor is an opera that almost didn't happen. Marina Frolova-Walker looks at the troubled gestation of composer Alexander Borodin's most famous work.'
Why is Tchaikovsky still frequently regarded as a cheap sentimentalist, fatally damaged by his homosexuality? On the eve of a major series from the Philharmonia, Marina Frolova-Walker sets the record straight.