The Symphonic Juncture

A [Symphonist]: "The one who is not afraid to raise the primal force."

- Boris Asafiev (1917)

Moment in History: Anna Akhmatova, 'But You Thought I was Also' (1921)

The artistic [including Musicological] universe of the late 1910s to early 1920s Soviet-Russia was unblushingly typical and yet paradoxically cosmopolitan for a newly ‘liberated’ country who had been presented a million paths forward and no externally mandated glass-ceiling except literal death itself [ although this option was used a path forward by 'revolutionaries' like Lenin and Stalin]. Setting up the scene, Liveri Sacchetti, Russia’s ‘first’ Professor of Music History and Aesthetics (Panteleeva 2019) had died [1916] and following, after having ‘officially’ started his legacy as a Music critic [although not yet a Idealogue] in 1914 (Viljanen 2016), Boris Asafiev [whom I consider to be Sacchetti’s unconscious prodege] became then Russia’s pedagogical leader, schooling her composers, performers, listeners and Institutions alike on how to properly embody and receive this ‘crystallizing’ substance perceived through organized intonations as music. The need for musical reform was so great and yet, because of the blind embrace of Western rationality and compositional effects [neither Glinkian nor Tchaikovsian, but the Glazunovian and Mighty Five type], Russian music was not yet close to ‘бытовая музыка’ [everyday music], but closer to quite literally the exact opposite, ‘music of [the] Intelligentsia’. Asafiev cared not for the Bolshevik movement, but did care deeply about the re-inculcation of Russian culture into the music it was producing, ‘the only that does and should exist for us [he was a composer] is Russian music [...]’ (Frolova-Walker 2012), and this faithful vigour permeated throughout this transitory period, in 1918 providing the fire needed to embark on a [re]articulation of how to ‘listen’ and the construction of new modes of music-education based on the living qualities of music, [re]introducing Russian folk heritage as the authentic arbiter’s of a melodic potency unattainable through calculated measure, ‘pesenost [songfulness]’ further described as ‘the singing origin’ of Russian music.

In 1919, he was appointed as the professor of ‘Russian folk music’ at The Leningrad Institute of Arts History, later becoming the Dean of RITM [renamed OTIM] in 1920 (Auhagen 2017), the same year that he published his ostensibly ‘first academic achievement’, Путеводитель по концертам. However, 1919 was also the year of deep suffering for Artists of every-kind, ballet dancers were rendered malnourished, instrumentalists no longer arrived for performances, singers lended their voices out of fear of death, and stupendous Artistic failures marked this realization, i.e., R.K’s Koschei The Deathless which was thought to perfectly embody a ‘revolutionary opera’ with its ‘soulless’ and ‘revolting’ demeanor, and even [less-than-unknown] A. Davidenko’s unfinished opera The Year 1919, displaying technical flaws and incorrect mass portrayals (Nelson 2000). Making these times a [lot of] bit more sour [to put it lightly] was the founding of Proletkult in 1917 dedicated to creating a Soviet artistic culture and the reformation of the past for a ‘better’ future, “Proletkultism was associated with the idea that under socialism everything should be new - not like the old[...]’ in short stratifying the mindset of Soviet Russia into that which was bad, ‘Bourgeois’ vs. the perceived good, ‘Proletarian’ [going so far as to denounce the past entirely, something even Lenin recognized as diasterious]. Having introduced only a small fragment of Russian cultural society during this time, I want to redirect our focus to Anna Akhmatova, acclaimed [and award-winning] Soviet poet who, in 1919, was living with her second husband Vladimir Shileiko in Sheremetev Palace [nicknamed The Fountain House], although under Soviet control it was partly used as organizational meeting space and later a Museum, although later being moved to The Winter Palace.