For me, one of the most fascinating subjects in music history is the life and work of composers in the Soviet Union. It is close to my family history and always forces me to imagine my life had I been born 60 years earlier.
When I was in Ukraine last fall, my grandfather showed me a fascinating document: a torn up issue of the Ukrainian Pravda, an affiliate of the most important Soviet newspaper, dated from 1944. He had torn up and burned most of it before realizing what he was holding. What makes this issue special is that it is dedicated to the one-year anniversary of the liberation of Kiev from German occupation. It also contains an article by the Soviet composer Konstantyn Dankevych. What he has to say is an incredible glimpse into the kind of political and psychological environment that Soviet composers lived in.
“…our dearest and wisest father and chief. Now and forever our Soviet land is cleansed of German occupiers. The Red Army is preparing to fulfill a historic mission – to raise the emblem of our victory over Berlin!
“In this bright hour we are all thinking about Stalin. There is no challenge more enlightening and absorbing for an artist than to recreate the image of Stalin as he really is: the image of a person, chief of the nation and the party, military leader, man of learning. Perhaps this would only be possible for a whole collective of writers, composers, artists and scientists. Perhaps this image can only be created by a generation of masters of the arts – a whole generation.
“Most likely that is the case. Because Stalin is an epoch.
“But we live today and today our chest is tearing open in song and gratitude. Today our hearts yearn towards the Kremlin, and today we want to sing what is in our souls.
“I open my eyes and look out the window. A bright, sunny morning has come. I tell myself:
“‘This is Stalin!’
“I walk down the street. I see people. They hurry to work. They rebuild their city. They innovate. They write new books. They learn. They truly live. I tell myself:
“‘This is Stalin!’
“In the heart of this great and simple man…[the newspaper is torn here]…the hands of all peoples of the Soviet Union in great, unbreakable friendship? Who raised our country before the whole world, forcing them to deeply respect and love her? Who lives in everything that is dear to us, in the very thing we breath?
“I recently completed a symphonic choral work, setting the poem “The wreath of glory to the great Stalin,” which was performed on the 6th of November at the triumphant parliamentary session in Kiev. The poem was written for the 27th anniversary of the Great October Revolution and the one-year anniversary of the liberation of Kiev from German attackers. It is dedicated to the great Stalin.
“An immense challenge was before me, an ordinary Soviet composer. Is my poem worthy in the smallest degree of the image of the one, to whom it belongs with its every note? I know only one thing: never before have I written with such passion. And I would have never been able to write it had I not felt on my breast the warm hand, to which I cling like a son, the hand of Stalin.
“The people sing about the greatest triumph of the Russian, Ukrainian and all the people of the brother nations of the Soviet Union! It was Stalin’s friendship of the nations that won today!
“The trumpet-like voice of the victors sings, it rises high above the earth, and in this voice I hear the praise to the man, whose name has given glory to our age and whose image will forever live among the people.”