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Studien zum russischen Musikdenken um 1920.

If Commissar Anatoly Lunacharsky likened the 1917 Revolution to a "grandiose symphony," the musical response itself was more akin to free jazz, as the halls and theaters resounded with quarter-tone experiments, imported and domestic atonality, late Romanticism, urban pop, proletarian chorus, and the folk songs of various peoples. While English-language surveys have uncovered the varieties of music-making, documentation and interpretation of the maelstromic crosscurrents of musical thought has been minimal, the best presentation being the anthology Russian Musical Thought, edited by Gordon McQuere (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1983). Andreas Wehrmeyer examines some of the same issues but because of a more restrictive time frame can address them in a broader context.

Wehrmeyer's five subjects include the philosopher Aleksei Losev (1893-1988), theorists Georgii Conus (1862-1933) and Boleslav Yavorsky (1877-1942), and two composer-pioneers of alternative compositional systems Ivan Vyshnegradsky (1893-1979) and Nikolaii Roslavets (1881-1944). Each of the book's five main sections contains a brief biography of the thinker, bibliography of secondary sources, and historical context for his thought, followed by a critical assessment; the translations are grouped together as appendixes.

Furthest removed from the concerns of practicing musicians is Aleksei Losev's treatise on the metaphysical nature of music, oddly entitled Muzyka kak predmet logiki (Music as an Object of Logic) (Moscow: Izdanie avtora, 1927). Losev's purpose was to show the limitations of logic with its principles of identity, cause and effect, and so on, in conceptualizing music, thereby providing justification for his own language of metaphor and paradox. This language is amply illustrated in the excerpted chapter of the book entitled "Musical Mythos," which Losev claims to have transcribed from an unnamed source. Based on the specific metaphors, terms, and flow of argument, Wehrmeyer deduces that Losev has fabricated a foreign source to hide his own authorship and affinity with the suspicious philosophies of Arthur Schopenhauer, Henri Bergson, and Vladimir Soloviev. The episode is valuable for what it reveals about underground philosophical currents, censorship in the 1920s and techniques of circumventing it. In the larger commentary, Wehrmeyer makes note of the logical flaws and ambiguities. He concludes that Losev's attempt to capture "music's being" in paradoxical statement is merely a "disguised paraphrase of the Romantic topos of music's ineffability".

The "metrotechtonic" theory of Georgii Conus aimed to uncover underlying macrorhythmic design in musical works, most often resulting in multitiered and rigidly symmetrical arch forms. So great was the theory's prestige in the 1920s that a project was devised of analyzing all the major monuments of music, commencing with the instrumental works of the revolutionary hero Ludwig van Beethoven. Wehrmeyer includes Conus's own analysis of the first movement of the Moonlight Sonata, complete with polemical assault on Hugo Riemann's earlier attempt. Thanks to Wehrmeyer's balanced commentary, the reader concludes that Conus's metrotechtonic approach is hardly more prescriptive than Riemann's application of the Auftakt model; though diametrically opposed, both yield insights into the work's peculiarities.

Lexicographers know Ivan Vyshnegradsky to be an early twentieth-century Russian proponent of quarter-tone composition and champion of the Paris-based emigre Nikolai Obukhov. Wehrmeyer glosses two early articleS: the first calling for a utilization of quarter-tones as a new "ultra-chromatic" expansion of inherited twelve-note chromaticism, and the second calling for an emancipation of rhythm from the restrictions of meter and simple proportions. Analyses follow, including a discussion of Vyshnegradsky's quarter-tone piece for two pianos Sept variations sur la note Do, op. 10 (1918-20). It is a brief and rather primitive work, based mostly on intervallic expansions away from c' and on a C-diminished chord changing pitch by parallel motion. More intriguing perhaps are Vyshnegradsky's later efforts to conceive and implement a total pitch continuum, in effect a simultaneous sounding and blending of pitches as an acoustic reflection of the underlying unity of sounds.

The truly indispensable figure for a knowledge of Russian twentieth-century theory is Boleslav Yavorsky. His theory of "modal rhythm" antedates the 1920s but reached a peak of popularity in the later decade. In his highly readable essay Wehrmeyer focuses more on basic premises than did McQuere (Russian Musical Thought, 109-164) as he seeks out philosophical roots and affinities with Riemann, Francois-Joseph Fetis, and Ernst Kurth. Yavorsky's use of the Russian lad (generally translated as "mode") emphasizes intervallic relationships but does not fix a single tonic pitch; rather the modes are derived from the arrangement of all six tritones and their semitonal resolutions. Modal rhythm itself is the harmonic rhythm and its interaction with all other musical parameters. The defining aspect of Yavorsky's theory, namely that tritones and their resolutions are the generative element behind all music, is at once its greatest weakness and its greatest potential analytic strength. Undeniably dogmatic (as are all theorists of consequence), Yavorsky was in addition monistic, postulating that tritones are always active, even when a crucial tone is missing from the score. Thus the C-E and E-G dyads in a C triad ("stable" chord of the "major mode") resolve the B-F tritone but also a tritone formed of D and A flat (implicit) and one of D sharp (implicit) and A. Out of context such derivations appear ridiculously forced, particularly when one misreads Yavorsky's modal relationships as the raw material of traditional add hypothetical scale types. But, as Wehrmeyer indicates, the theory's real strength lies in its ability to explain tonal motion precisely in those repertories that do not yield up scales, e.g., Russian folk music, late Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov, and Alexander Scriabin. Adherents of the octatonic model of Igor Stravinsky's music would find it prefigured in two of Yavorsky's "duplex" modes, where its pitches are also assigned characteristic resolutions.

Last considered is the composer Nikolaii Roslavets, colloquially branded the "Russian Schoenberg." In a footnote, Wehrmeyer acknowledges the pathbreaking work of Aina Puchina on the Violin Concerto of 1925 ("Kontsert dlia skripki s orkhestrom N. Roslavtsa i ego mesto v tvorcheskom nasledii kompozitora" [diploma essay, Moscow State Conservatory, 1981]), which drew the attention of Western scholars and helped to destigmatize the composer's name in his native land. Roslavets's literary output is small, comprising a few polemical articles and an unpublished apologia for his compositional system; a translated text of the latter is contained in the appendix. Wehrmeyer paraphrases little, concentrating instead on the implications of Roslavets's characteristic "synthetic chord" and how it differs from the systems of Arnold Schoenberg and Scriabin. According to Wehrmeyer, the chord contains six pitches and is susceptible to transposition. Analyses of piano pieces and songs follow, marred unfortunately by a lack of rigor and confusing employment of the vocabulary of common practice tonality. Roslavets's system based on transposable "synthetic chords" is distorted by an overemphasis on root tones and the inconsistent labeling of certain pitches as systemfremd. The neutrality and flexibility of pitch-class analysis beckon.

Allowing for the unfortunate but necessary omission of Boris Asafyev for reasons of space, Wehrmeyer's book is an effective introduction to the multiple currents of thought and main philosophical influences to which musicians of the early Soviet period were exposed. Reading these essays, one finds that the often disconcerting leaps from musical fact to philosophical dogma, so characteristic of later Soviet scholarship, were not confined to Marxist criticism. Wehrmeyer has provided a cohesive and readable account of a complex but crucial transitional period in Russian music and letters.

DAVID HAAS University of Georgia
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Author:Haas, David
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 1994
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