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The USSR Union of Composers or Union of Composers of the Soviet Union (Russian: Союз композиторов СССР), also Union of Composers or Composers’ Union, was a professional organisation of composers in the Soviet Union. It still exists as the Union of Composers of Russian Federation.
The Joseph Stalin era of Soviet Union history was characterised by bureaucratic control and the reign of Socialist Realism in all fields of arts including music. The ideological doctrine of ‘Socialist Realism’ was promulgated in 1934. It was explained as a ‘truthful and historically concrete depiction of reality in its revolutionary development’. In musical terms, this demanded the composing of patriotic, elevating scores, preferably with a topical or folkloric content, that were supportive of the Communist ideology and the regime, as well as simple and accessible to the 'masses'. All experimentation or deviation from these ideals was branded as ‘formalism’, and condemned together with the ‘decadent music of the rotten West’.
The Union of Composers of the Soviet Union 1932-1957 (as well as other creative unions of artists, architects, writers, and so on) was organised according to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Resolution ‘On the Reconstruction of Literary and Artistic Organisations’, issued on April 23, 1932. This was followed by the liquidation of two previously existing composers’ organisations: the Western- and modernist-oriented Association for Contemporary Music (ACM), and the Russian Association of Proletarian Musicians, which proclaimed that mass song should be the basis of Soviet music. In 1939 the government instituted an Organizational Committee (Orgcomitet) of the Union of Composers.
The Union was a powerful organization having control over performing organizations, concert halls, music publishers, radio and television, Ministries of Culture, Rights Agency VAAP, theatres, orchestras, ensembles, conservatories and other music institutions, and music shops. The Union controlled the music profession and negotiated the relationship between composers and the Communist Party leadership. The relationship between creative intelligencia, party bureaucracy and Communist Party elite, though complex and mutable, was naturally inhibiting of artistic expression during this time.
In 1936 Dmitri Shostakovitch was victimized for his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. He was criticised in a series of critical articles in Pravda, the newspaper of the Communist Party, starting with ‘Muddle Instead of Music’, which was rumoured to have been written by Stalin himself. This critical stance was supported by the leadership of the Composers' Union.
In 1946, Andrei Zhdanov issued a decree, nominally aimed at Vano Muradeli's opera The Great Friendship, but in actuality against a wide range of composers who were guilty of 'formalism'. The pressure on the composers Dmitri Shostakovich, Sergei Prokofiev, Nikolai Myaskovsky, Vissarion Shebalin and others reached its peak in the "Party Resolution" of 1948, and the infamous auto-da-fé of the First Congress of the Composers' Union. The First Congress took place on April 19–25, 1948. At the congress, the Organizational Committee of the Composers' Union was replaced by party functionaries, and Tikhon Khrennikov was chosen by Zhdanov and Stalin for the post of general secretary. He held this position until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
The Second Congress took place on March 28 - April 5, 1957; the third on March 26 - April 3, 1962. These events were usually accompanied by a series of official concerts and music festivals. These were followed by the 'election' of the congressional chairman, from a ballot list of a single candidate. The speeches of Tikhon Khrennikov and other secretaries included reports on the situation of creative life in the Union, including criticisms that amounted to official condemnations. Thus, at the Sixth Congress in 1979, the music of the so-called 'Khrennikov's Seven' was criticized as "pointlessness... and noisy mud instead of real musical innovation", a description that harked back to the invective of the First Congress of 1948.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union the "Union of Soviet Composers" was renamed the "Union of Composers of Russia", under its new leader Vladislav Kazenin (b. 1937). A new ACM was established within the Composers' Union in Moscow in 1990, its first chairman being the composer Edison Denisov (1929–1996).
The "Union of Composers of the Soviet Union" was renamed the "Union of Soviet Composers" in 1957. It was also re-structured into the following regional sub-divisions:
The Union had a complex hierarchic system of Secretaries, Commissions, and Administration Boards, Sections and Sub-sections, with Tikhon Khrennikov on top. In 1987, the Composers Union included 2506 members (with 1134 members for the Russian Federation, 586 for Moscow, and 158 for Leningrad).
The structure of the Composers Union has at various times included: