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Soviet Union


The Soviet Union has produced some of the world's foremost composers and musicians. The authorities, however, have sought to control their music as well as their performances. As a result, composers struggled to produce their works under strict limitations. Some artists emigrated, but their works endured and continued to attract large audiences when performed.

Restrictions on what musicians played and where they performed often caused artists to leave the country either of their own accord or through forced exile. Great composers and musicians such as Dmitrii Shostakovich, Mstislav Rostropovich, and Vladimir Fel'tsman were persecuted, and some ultimately emigrated. In 1986, however, Moscow and Leningrad audiences were privileged to hear several memorable performances by the brilliant pianist Vladimir Horowitz, who left the Soviet Union in 1925 and who previously had not been allowed to reenter the country. A composer who decided to remain in the Soviet Union was Alfred Schnittke, acclaimed as the best Soviet composer since Shostakovich and a formidable technician of surrealist expression. Although at times he was restricted by the authorities to presenting unoriginal and party-line works, Schnittke attracted both avant-garde and mainstream audiences because of his original, deeply spiritual, and often mystical compositions. When not confined by the regime to recording certain compositions, Schnittke created such masterpieces as (K) ein Sommernachtstraum, Concerto No. 4 for Violin and Orchestra, Concerto Grosso No. 1, and Concerto Grosso No. 2, which appealed to audiences around the world.

In addition to classical music, jazz endured and survived the official denunciations the government had cast upon it over the years. The regime distrusted this form of music because it had originated in the United States and because its essence was improvisation. As a symbol of artistic freedom and individual expression, jazz was difficult to control. In the late 1960s and 1970s, jazz was one of the most popular forms of music in the Soviet Union. Such famous jazz artists as Vadim Mustafa-Zadek and Aleksei Kozlov became music idols to a generation of jazz lovers. In the late 1980s, however, the popularity of jazz declined because of the emergence of rock and roll.

The rhythms and sounds of rock and roll appealed mainly to the young. In the 1980s, the popularity of the once leading rock bands Winds of Change and The Time Machine faded in favor of younger groups. Leningrad rock groups such as Boris Grebenshchikov and his band Aquarium and the group Avia, which incorporated slogans, speeches, loud sounds, unorthodox mixtures of instruments, and screams, provided an important outlet for youth. Some of their music supported themes along the lines of Gorbachev's policies, expressing a desire for change in society. Rock-and-roll lyrics sometimes exceeded the boundaries of the politically permissible. Yet, the leadership realized that this music could not be eliminated or even censored for long because it not only appealed to many citizens but also could help disseminate the leadership's policies.

For many youth, rock and roll served as a means to live out dreams and desires that might not be possible in daily life. Aspiring rock or popular musicians expressed themselves publicly in the more open political environment during the late 1980s. In that period, Moscow and Leningrad permitted performances of music by punki (punk fans) and metallisti (heavy metal fans), whose loud, raucous music appealed to alienated and rebellious youth. Most rock music, however, portrayed the artist as explorer and expressed the desire for new styles and forms.

Data as of May 1989