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The Current Century: Terrible or Golden?

 Nothing is good or bad unless we think so

A loose translation from Shakespeare Brutes

No, I am not a pessimist. Pessimism is life without any goal. I see so many unsolved problems around me that I am afraid, neither time nor people will be enough.

Osvald Spengler


Last week I could observe unprecedented rise of readers attention to my e-mail address. Several people sent me a link to the results of the poll, taken up by musical review Notonosets

The golden age of Russian music is ahead/ is in the past/ has settled in. 

The majority of respondents (71%, no exact figure) agreed to the fact that the golden age is in the past... Alexei Tcharykov, the editor of the musical review published his commentaries to the results. Id like just to contemplate on the subject.

Perhaps, someone is shocked by such results. I am primarily puzzled by the question itself. First of all, it is not quite clear what is meant by Russian music? I, personally, have a few variants of approach to this term and I havent decided on any of them as to now. One can at least think whether academic music or pop music is meant. Those who enjoy the discussion about their difference are not to be disturbed, since I drew the demarcation line between them for myself long ago. In a nutshell, it looks like this. 

Academic music requires from the listener a certain intellectual level and besides, doesnt forgive background listening, as it implies some intellectual and emotional feedback. Popular music, on the contrary, doesnt require any intellectual investments and doesnt need any other feedback but physiological. A good example is the difference in meanings of words performer and entertainer, where the latter best characterizes a representative of the pop musical culture.

As far as popular music is concerned, Ill give no comments whatsoever, since I dont consider myself an expert in this field. If we speak about academic music we should clarify what is implied by golden age, that is what the criteria are. 

Russian musical culture fully realized itself as national approximately by the middle of the 19th century. It was precede by an accumulation period, when Russian musicians werent widely famous in the world (although no doubt there were wonderful musical phenomena, for instance, Fomin or Bortnyansky). But the middle of the 19th century brought about a quality change which resulted in Russian music paving its way into the world more active than before. So active that in about 150 years Russia gave the world musically more than Germany or Italy (the musical history of which is much longer) and by all means more than, say, England or USA (though mentioning USA in such a s context is not quite appropriate). 

Id like to clearly exemplify my thought. Within the background of the titans such as Glinka, Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, etc. some other names have been unduly unconsidered. Say, Sergei Ivanovitch Taneev is primarily known to us as director of the Moscow Conservatory and music theoretician. The fact of his being a composer is hardly ever mentioned - just a quirk of his... In comparison with Tchaikovsky. Meanwhile, he was quite a good composer, at least if he had been born in, say, England, the British would have made such a fuss about him, promoted the name everywhere and played, played, played... In Russia, in fact, his works are performed quite seldom. What for, if there are lots of other Russian composers? The Western musicians only copy our attitude to this composer.

On the other hand, look at the attitude of the Finns to their Sibelius. No doubt, he is an outstanding composer, but all the same not Tchaikovsky or Prokofyev...

Why all this? By all means, not to hurt the Finns. Merely in the last 150 years we (Russians) have managed to be spoiled so much that just good music doesnt suit us, we are used to music of genius. But the 20th century also brought a number of brilliant musicians!

 I dont think it necessary to discuss the world performing art and the role played in it by Russia in equal details the conclusions seem to be forced by themselves. I cant only help mentioning that up to nowadays all the strings in the world try to learn from Russian professors or those of Russian heritage.

Its time to come back to the initial point of our talk the golden age. In the light of what has been said, what period in the history of Russian music can be called golden? The late 19th century (Tchaikovsky, Borodin, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov)? Or early 20th? (Rahmaninoff, Glazunov, Skriabin)? Or maybe the middle of the 20th (Rahmaninoff, Prokofyev, Schostakovitch)? Laying aside modesty, we can say that there are quite a number of wonderful composers among our contemporaries: Boris Tischenko, Alexander Tchaikovsky, Sofya Gubaidulina, Tikhon Hrennikov... Its as far as composers are concerned, speaking about performers - we can observe approximately the same picture: Mikhail Pletnev, Victor Tretyakov, Natalia Gutman, finally Mstislav Rostropovitch, Yuri Bashmet, Borodin Quartet... All these names are not a history, they are from today!

Frankly, I myself at times of spiritual weakness take to speculating with my friends on the subject: where has it all gone. But pessimism is good only to some extent, as a matter of fact, the topic where it all comes from is much more burning. 

Recently an acquaintance of mine expressed an idea, which seemed to me quite interesting, at least much more constructive than common yearning caused by insuperable problems.

 ... Ill go to the theatres why dont they say they are dead but make premieres? We retort: what premieres? we are having crisis. <...> Everything is dying not because of the crisis, but absence of interest in it. I dont want the theater to die and no one wants...

So, someone goes to the theater, someone - to the concert hall. And there are some people on the stage there is no avoiding it, of course... And the country is meanwhile having crisis and this ... financial crash.

It seems to us that the time we are living in doesnt look like golden age at all. But maybe...

Sincerely yours,

Boris Lifanovsky  

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