Russian Symphony: Thoughts About Tchaikovsky

PHILOSOPHICAL LIBRARYDmitri Shostakovich and others $3.75
MOST of the so-called music criticism we are likely to be exposed to is not authentic aesthetic evaluation. But Marxist music criticism, of which this book is an example, makes even less sense as functional writing than does most of our domestic production. On the other hand, while we may regard Western critics as naïve because of their failure to utilize the principles of art properly, it is quite probable that the Soviet error of applying economic concepts to the world of the spirit represents a much more serious offense. In artistic terms, the present book is downright reactionary.
In one respect, admittedly, Soviet music criticism is an improvement over ours: its application of the familiar Appreciation Racket techniques contains little or no emphasis on Personality, in the Hollywood or Hurok fashion. But Soviet music criticism is less acceptable than traditional Western criticism because the sin is one of commission rather than omission. For instance, I find it difficult to believe, with Mr. Shostakovich, that all of Tchaikovsky’s music is permeated with an intense realization of the Class Struggle. Also, I suspect that the most hopeless romantic would be hard put to locate lofty optimism in, say, the Sixth Symphony, as Mr. Shostakovich does. This might sound like picayune faultfinding, but the unfortunate truth is that a critic can work out a rather impressive case with such groundless premises—but it is like a beautiful house in which nobody lives. The argument of Yuri Keldysh that Tchaikovsky was a great proletarian artist, for example, is certainly somewhat tenuous. There is proof in the composer’s correspondence that he deeply abhorred society. But this historical fact Mr. Keldysh dismisses with a nod. Tchaikovsky, we are told, was fired by the revolutionary tenor of his times; his striving for solitude was merely “relative.” This is arrant nonsense.
Three essays on the composer and his music comprise the first sections of this book. Further chapters are devoted to analyses of his works, and the Tchaikovsky Museum at Klin is described in detail. Musically, technically, the text is contemplative and competent. Extramusically, as a result of a malady known as hyperthyroid Nationalism, the whole business is built on sand. Semantic shenanigans are symptomatic of this overemotional climate of thought, but the present ones fail to convince me that flag-waving and artistic expression have anything in common.
JAMES LYONS