“The Thaw and the Idea of National Gemeinschaft: The All-Russian Choral Society.”
The ideology of Russian nationalism within the USSR and its development, together with the movements that gave rise to it, appear to have been studied fairly thoroughly. Research began with Mikhail Agurskii’s classic Ideology of National Bolshevism and has been advanced by Andreas Umland, David Brandenberger, Yitzhak Brudny, Nikolai Mitrokhin, Marlène Laruelle, Viktor Shnirel´man, and others. Two aspects of the problem, however, require further investigation: the prerevolutionary roots of the Soviet Union’s nationalist movements and the interrelationship between modernizing and antimodernizing tendencies within those movements.
Both aspects can be addressed by investigating a significant sociocultural movement—the history of the All-Russian Choral Society (Vserossiiskoe khorovoe obshchestvo, VKhO)—which has heretofore been ignored by historians of Russian nationalism in the post-Stalinist period and has hardly been touched upon by social historians of Russia. This neglect can primarily be attributed to scholars’ preoccupation with writers, literary journals, and publishing houses and, somewhat less frequently, with artists and the communities they belonged to. Music has barely been addressed, except for pathbreaking investigations by Laura Olson, Susannah Lockwood Smith, and, for the period prior to Stalin’s death, Marina Frolova-Walker.
In this article I trace the history of the developmental movement for Russian choral singing in the framework of the All-Russian Choral Society, which was founded in 1957, remained in operation until 1987, and was unexpectedly resurrected in 2013. I reconstruct the prerevolutionary genesis of the Society’s guiding principles, their deep transformation under the influence of modernizing and antimodernizing elements in its ideology and institutional praxis, drawing on its organizers’ writings and their biographies. As the sources show, the All-Russian Choral Society should be understood as an aesthetic and sociological project, one that dovetailed with the state’s cultural politics in the late 1950s and early 1960s, drawing from and contributing to them.