photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
the sometimes acrimonious relationship between raw POLITICAL POWER and POPULAR CULTURE continues to be an enduringly provocative subject of inquiry. look no further than current stateside governmental efforts at curbing speech by southern conservative state legislatures and school boards effectively repressing classroom literature or even relevant scholarly pursuits writ large. it is outright embarrassing how pertinent themes of REPRESSION from the documentary THE WAR SYMPHONIES: SHOSTAKOVICH AGAINST STALIN (RHOMBUS, 1997) are to the current AMERICAN experience.
the film engages in a vigorously debated perspective on the career of SOVIET-era RUSSIA composer DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH, specifically his 4th through 9th symphonies which parallel the rise to power and depths of depravity that was the reign of JOSEPH STALIN. the film contends that SHOSTAKOVICH was anti-COMMUNIST and that his peers and family correctly interpreted various of these symphonies to be in direct opposition to the horror of the period and STALIN himself, boldly and publicly protesting his reign in plain sight at immense personal risk. it is quite literally a DAVID versus GOLIATH narrative, with SHOSTAKOVICH succeeding in being celebrated in cultural perpetuity for prodding and degrading his political enemy. aural tools utilized in this endeavor included a savant-level use of tones that ranged from the sarcastic, allegorical and passionate to the caustic, mournful and reflective.
what i found interesting about this film is how it is essentially about the mercurial nature of INTERPRETATION. in the 1930s and 1940s when these symphonies were created and performed, officially the only opinion that mattered was that of STALIN. the leader was more interested in perpetuating pastoral themes of plenty rather than polemical themes that revealed the harsh and violent brutality of his regime (with its attendant purges and gulags). its interesting how some SHOSTAKOVICH symphonies were supposedly "misinterpreted" by STALIN and the state, which hints at the inscrutable and ultimately ungovernable nature of ART.
labeled a composer "against the people" by STALIN himself after his "ironic" 9th symphony which pantomimed and ridiculed the hollow sanctioned nationalistic anthems of the period favored by the autocrat
i imagine those that contend with this interpretation are sympathizers who seek to WHITEWASH the evident political ramifications of noteworthy composers (TCHAIKOVSKY), writers (TOLSTOY, GOGOL, CHEKHOV) and artists (REPIN) in favor of promoting a RUSSIAN cultural tradition devoid of historical perspective and pumped with false NATIONALISM.
sounds to me like MAGA, indeed. tragically.