Author Topic: Tikhon Khrennikov, Russian composer, bureaucrat, and enforcer, dies at 94  (Read 2865 times)

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Offline RebLem

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August 15, 2007

Tikhon Khrennikov, Prolific Soviet Composer, Dies at 94
 
By ALLAN KOZINN   |New York Times

Tikhon Khrennikov, a prolific Russian composer and pianist best known in the West as an official Soviet antagonist of Shostakovich and Prokofiev, died yesterday in Moscow. He was 94.

His death was widely reported in the Russian media. The English-language Web site Russia-InfoCentre said his farewell ceremony would take place in Moscow tomorrow.

Mr. Khrennikov, regarded as a promising young composer in the 1930s, was able to survive in the perilous currents of Soviet politics from the Stalin era on. In 1948 Josef Stalin personally selected him to be the secretary of the composers’ union. He was the only head of a creative union to retain his post until the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Mr. Khrennikov saw the value of ingratiating himself with Soviet leaders early in his career, when he adopted the optimistic, dramatic and unabashedly lyrical style favored by Soviet leaders. He based his first opera, “Into the Storm” (1939), on “Loneliness,” a novel by Nikolai Virta that Stalin was known to have liked.

By the mid-1940s, his star was rising on the strength of works like his broad-shouldered, blustery Symphony No. 2, as well as his First Piano Concerto (1933), his incidental music for Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” (1936) and many wartime patriotic songs.

In the late 1940s he endeared himself to both Stalin and the cultural ideologue Andrei Zhdanov by endorsing Zhdanov’s decree that music must embody nationalistic Soviet values and by criticizing composers who seemed to be abandoning those values in favor of modernist experiments.

Whether or not he was behind Zhdanov’s public denunciation of Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Khachaturian and others for “formalism” in 1948 (he insisted, in his 1994 memoir, “That’s How It Was,” that he was buffeted by the same winds as everyone else), he threw his weight behind it. At the first Congress of Composers, two months after Zhdanov’s attack, he took up the cudgel himself, declaring: “Enough of these symphonic diaries, these pseudo-philosophic symphonies hiding behind their allegedly profound thoughts and tedious self-analysis. Armed with clear party directives, we will stop all manifestations of formalism and popular decadence.”

In “Testimony,” the supposed and still hotly disputed posthumous memoirs of Shostakovich, published by Solomon Volkov in 1979, Shostakovich is quoted as saying that his problems with Mr. Khrennikov began when he sent him a long, friendly letter discussing what he saw as problems with “Into the Storm.” Until then, Shostakovich said, Mr. Khrennikov kept a portrait of Shostakovich on his desk. But he took the criticism amiss and became Shostakovich’s mortal enemy.

In a 1979 speech, Mr. Khrennikov denounced “Testimony” as a “vile falsification concocted by one of the renegades who left our country.” But Shostakovich did leave an unassailably authentic comment about Mr. Khrennikov, a lampoon in the form of a cantata, “Rayok,” which remained hidden until after his death in, 1975, but was performed privately in his home (and has been performed publicly since 1989).

Mr. Khrennikov was able to play both sides of the political fence, however, particularly when prodded by other musicians. After the 1948 denunciation of Prokoviev, the cellist Mstislav Rostropovich persuaded Mr. Khrennikov to provide money quietly to buy Prokofiev food. Harlow Robinson, the Prokofiev biographer and expert on Russian music, has said that Prokofiev’s widow, Lina, told him that Mr. Khrennikov had been kind and supportive to her in the late 1950s, after her husband’s death.Mr. Khrennikov did occasionally support composers who were in danger of official attack, even supporting the Sinfonietta by Moshe Vaynberg during the anti-Semitic purges of 1948-49.

Mostly, though, he is known for the composers he opposed. Although he reportedly helped Alfred Schnittke get his First Symphony performed, in 1974, he denounced him soon thereafter, and never relented. In 1979 he criticized seven Russian composers — Elena Firsova, Dmitri Smirnov, Alexander Knayfel, Viktor Suslin, Vyacheslav Artyomov, Sofia Gubaidulina and Edison Denisov — for allowing their works to be performed outside the Soviet Union. He declared an official ban on their works.

Tikhon Nikolayevich Khrennikov was born in Yelets, in central Russia, on June 10, 1913. He began his musical studies as a pianist but was composing as well by the time he was 13. He enrolled at the Gnessin School in Moscow in 1929 and at the Moscow Conservatory in 1932. He completed his First Symphony (1935) as his graduation work and began to win attention with his music for a production of “Much Ado About Nothing” at the Vakhtangov Theater in Moscow.

In the 1960s he returned to the concert stage to perform his three piano concertos. He also wrote a cello concerto, which was given its premiere by Rostropovich in 1964, and two violin concertos, both given their premieres by Leonid Kogan, in 1959 and 1975. His catalog also includes 10 operas, 3 symphonies, 6 ballets, 2 musical theater works (“Wonders, Oh Wonders,” for children, from 2001, and “At 6 P.M. After the War,” from 2003) and many chamber works and songs.

“I was a person of my times,” Mr. Robinson, the Prokofiev biographer, quoted Mr. Khrennikov as repeatedly telling him about his history under the Soviets. “It’s very hard for anyone who did not live here through those times to understand them and the way we lived.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/15/arts/music/15khrennikov.html?ref=music

On the plus side, after the fall of the Soviet Union, a movement arose to restore the citizenship of Mstislav Rostropovich.  Some, though, thought he should had to apply for its restoration.  Khrennikov opposed this, saying, "Rostropovich did not apply to have his citizenship taken away, and he should not have to apply to have it restored."--RebLem
"Don't drink and drive; you might spill it."--J. Eugene Baker, aka my late father.

Harry Collier

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Thanks for the NY Times obituary. It should have mentioned, however, that Khrennikov's two brothers died in the Stalinist purges in 1937. Difficult for those who did not live under such a regime to start criticising and blaming others. On the whole, he probably did better than I would have done!

Offline Rabin_Fan

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Harry - I suppose you have a recording of his VCs? How do they sound like?

Cheers - Lee

Offline Dundonnell

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The odd thing about Khrennikov-given his appalling reputation in the West-is that his fellow musicians continued to elect and re-elect him to the post of First Secretary of the Union of Composers in Russia after the fall of Communism. I could never understand why, if he terrorised his colleagues as we are told he did both under Stalin and under Stalin's successors, they did not exact appropriate revenge on him in the 1990s.

I must say that having bought a CD of his three symphonies I found them as mediocre as the critics had indicated!

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Well, a lot of people in the post-communist states had a hard time getting used to the new reality, and many of them, ironically, wished for the "good old times" to come back. They may not have been free, but in the communist regimes, if you shut up and always did what others told you to do, you had a fairly easy life. Maybe not very pleasant and luxurious, but it was relatively safe (remember the times of excessive terror in which uncounted numbers of people disappeared just like that were decades in the past), you couldn't really lose your job. Plus they didn't know anything else and found the post-communist times wildly confusing and were afraid they wouldn't make it in the new times. Which many of them didn't. So they clung to the remains of the old order desperately. At least they knew people like Khrennikov had all the right contacts and could be helpful to them if they sucked up to them.

I agree with Mr Collier that we are in no position to understand and pass judgment on people who lived under far, far more difficult and dangerous circumstances than any of us ever had to. I can understand that Khrennikov must have been traumatized by what happened to his family, but things like that happened to many people, and not all of them were as active pointing fingers and denouncing fellow citizens in order to help themselves as Khrennikov apparently was. He was just a mediocre composer and small character, and he will only be remembered for what he did to other, greater musicians than himself, not for his irrelevant compositions. History is cruel, but in the long run, usually fair.

Harry Collier

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I can understand that Khrennikov must have been traumatized by what happened to his family, but things like that happened to many people, and not all of them were as active pointing fingers and denouncing fellow citizens in order to help themselves as Khrennikov apparently was.

True. But don't forget that Stalin -- unlike Hitler -- instituted a thoroughly nasty "root and branch" policy whereby if any family member were tainted, they all died (in case later generations instituted a vendetta and turned against the regime. Georgians understood such things). This was an extremely nasty side of Stalin, and no one living in the 30s, 40s or early 50s would have been ignorant of it. Granddad was condemned; you all quaked. Khrennikov's brothers died; he would have been on the watch list and no one would have been surprised if he, too, had vanished one night. Didn't make him a better composer, however.
« Last Edit: August 18, 2007, 05:13:41 AM by Harry Collier »

Harry Collier

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Harry - I suppose you have a recording of his VCs? How do they sound like?

Cheers - Lee

Well, in your honour I have just listened to his second violin concerto, played by the faithful Leonid Kogan, no less. The first and last movements are Socialist Realism at their very worst; probably even the workers in the Urals turned up their noses. The second movement is reasonably pleasant and would merit an occasional airing if the current era didn't turn up its nose at "isolated movements" being played (a great pity for the many works that have one excellent movement amongst a load of dross). for Soviet violin concertos of this era, save your money and go for Prokofiev x 2, Shostakovich x 2, Myakovsky, Khachaturian, Taktashivili (the first concerto in F minor) -- to mention the obvious ones.
« Last Edit: August 18, 2007, 05:50:15 AM by Harry Collier »

Harry Collier

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Lilas Pastia

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Re: Tikhon Khrennikov, Russian composer, bureaucrat, and enforcer, dies at 94
« Reply #8 on: September 02, 2007, 03:14:19 AM »
Honestly, I thought he had died at least 40 years ago. :P

Come to think of it he probably did, only nobody noticed, including komrad Khrennikov himself.

Online vandermolen

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Re: Tikhon Khrennikov, Russian composer, bureaucrat, and enforcer, dies at 94
« Reply #9 on: September 02, 2007, 08:01:51 AM »
I actually saw him on a visit to the USSR in 1985. I was in the Bolshoi theatre listening to an innocuous sounding ballet on New Year's Day (most of the friends I went with remained hung-over in their hotel rooms). Anyway, I was curious to know who the composer was and as I can't read russian, I couldn't tell from the programme notes; anyway at the end of the ballet a spotlight lit up one of the boxes in the auditorium, and there sat the lugubrious figure of Tikhon Khrennikov, whom I recognised from a picture on an old LP sleeve.
« Last Edit: September 02, 2007, 08:04:59 AM by vandermolen »
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

'The test of a work of art is, in the end, our affection for it, not our ability to explain why it is good' (Stanley Kubrick).

Offline Cato

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Re: Tikhon Khrennikov, Russian composer, bureaucrat, and enforcer, dies at 94
« Reply #10 on: September 02, 2007, 03:21:13 PM »
Another life scarred by Communism: beyond Stalin's body count of c. 70 million (estimates vary from 35 to over 70 million: he had killed more people than Hitler's camps before they connived together to start World War II) are the scars on the millions of survivors like Shostakovich and - perhaps - Khrennikov.  Certainly he seems reprehensible, but perhaps he was "just trying to survive" as best he could.

On the other hand his musical life is a warning:    0:)

If you are mediocre, have the good sense at least to be quiet about it.    :o
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Offline Dima

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Listen to his best composition in my opinion - it is song from soviet film of 1954 ("True friends"):
https://drive.google.com/open?id=1tzqvnVMbd4q0sDswCkUZHLfJemfG9grb

Offline Maestro267

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Why do forum newbies often seem to have this incredible ability to dig up long-dead threads and revive them? How the hell did you find this?!! It's THIRTEEN damn years old!

Online vandermolen

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Why do forum newbies often seem to have this incredible ability to dig up long-dead threads and revive them? How the hell did you find this?!! It's THIRTEEN damn years old!
The thread was in hibernation - it wasn't dead.  ;D
Actually I've always liked Khrennikov's Second Symphony which is memorable and 'catchy' and not lacking in depth, especially the slow movement.
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

'The test of a work of art is, in the end, our affection for it, not our ability to explain why it is good' (Stanley Kubrick).

Offline DaveF

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Why do forum newbies often seem to have this incredible ability to dig up long-dead threads and revive them? How the hell did you find this?!! It's THIRTEEN damn years old!

Just shows what an interesting forum it is, that they're prepared to dig so deep.  But it's worrying when they do, because you find yourself thinking I'm sure he died thirteen damn years ago.  Perhaps Khrennikov has been reunited with the guy who had a heart attack during the première of Shostakovich 14 (just looked him up - Pavel Apostolov).
"All the world is birthday cake" - George Harrison

Offline Dima

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Why do forum newbies often seem to have this incredible ability to dig up long-dead threads and revive them? How the hell did you find this?!! It's THIRTEEN damn years old!
Because his songs are still very popular in Russia. Just listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dIvnN3cFZa8

Offline Sergeant Rock

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Listen to his best composition in my opinion - it is song from soviet film of 1954 ("True friends"):
https://drive.google.com/open?id=1tzqvnVMbd4q0sDswCkUZHLfJemfG9grb

I like this. Very affecting.

Sarge
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"hey, they made a movie about
Mahler, you ought to go see it.
he was as f*cked-up as you are."
                               --Charles Bukowski, "Mahler"

Offline Dima

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I like this. Very affecting.

Sarge
Thank you. Till your answer I was very upset that nobody take attention to listen the song.

Offline Dima

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Because his songs are still very popular in Russia. Just listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dIvnN3cFZa8
The same song in opera like style with D.Hvorostovsky: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1MaDh2X7e7M

Offline Maestro267

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Thank you. Till your answer I was very upset that nobody take attention to listen the song.

Goodness me, if that's all it takes to upset you that much, maybe this isn't the place for you.