On the Music Front. Socialist-Realist Discourse on Music in Poland, 1948 to 1955

by Sławomir Wieczorek (Author)
©2020 Monographs 296 Pages


On the Music Front. Socialist-Realist Discourse on Music in Poland, 1948–1955 is a monograph on one of the key aspects of Poland’s musical culture during the Stalinist period. Among the many texts analysed in this book are addresses given by leading party officials, minutes of musical meetings and conferences, talks before informal ‘get-to-know-the-music’ concerts, and papers on aesthetics and music history. Detailed discussion is devoted to the musicological works of Zofia Lissa, to productions of Stanisław Moniuszko’s operas directed by Leon Schiller, to museum exhibitions on music history, and to the mega-production of the Polish Socialist-Realist film, Chopin’s Youth, directed by Aleksander Ford.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Preface
  • Contents
  • Chapter 1 Introductory Issues
  • 1 Subject matter
  • 2 Theoretical and methodological starting points
  • 3 Research sources
  • 4 Current state of research
  • Chapter 2 Discourse on Contemporary Music: A Hierarchy of Statements
  • 1 Mentors and Setters: Formulation of norms and directives
  • 1.1 “…it’s high time we posed the question…”
  • 1.2 “…these days we can demand that our composers…”
  • 1.3 “…the direction set is clear, and the goal shall be attained…”
  • 1.4 “…the language of Modernism is no entré to the language of Realism…”
  • 1.5 “…whether it has to do with Moniuszko or Hindemith, epigonism remains epigonism…”
  • 1.6 “…we can’t have people assuming they can now do just as they please…”
  • 1.7 “…we should support, cultivate, and help shape even challenging music…”
  • 2 Mentors and Setters: Dispensing reprimands and praise
  • 3 Executors: Reproaching errors
  • Chapter 3 Discourse on Aesthetics and Music Theory: Exegeses and Rationalized Legitimizations
  • 1 Exegesis of Lenin’s Reflection Theory
  • 2 Exegesis of Stalin’s concept of Language
  • 3 Exegesis of Stalin’s Characterization of the Laws of Science
  • Chapter 4 Discourse on Music History: Hagiography and Legitimizing Narratives
  • 1 Parallel lives of composers
  • 1.1 …his life and creative output have been misrepresented…
  • 1.2 …he lived at a time of revolution, of class struggle and down-trodden peasants…
  • 1.3 …he came to maturity under the influence of the Great Masters…
  • 1.4 …he retained a distain for the privileged classes…
  • 1.5 …he maintained objectivity towards religion…
  • 1.6 …he sympathized with the oppressed classes…
  • 1.7 …he made friends with the Russians…
  • 1.8 …he wrote works inspired by the Revolution…
  • 1.9 …he readily drew from folk music…
  • 2 Leon Schiller’s reinterpretation of Stanisław Moniuszko’s operas
  • 3 Elements of continuity in the portrayal of composers
  • 4 Socialist Realism’s invented tradition – rebirth of the “Renaissance” in music
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Index of Persons
  • Series of Index

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Chapter 1 Introductory Issues

1 Subject matter

This book deals with discourse on music in Poland during the period 1948 to 1955. It concerns itself with pronouncements on modern music and its history found in various sources: speeches by State apparatchiks of the time, articles on music theory and aesthetics, musicological analyses, composer biographies, reviews of musical works, and feature films on composers. I should make clear at the outset that the great majority of these pronouncements deal not with the autonomous work of art per se but rather with the biographical, social, aesthetic, and semiotic aspects that bear upon these works.

Importantly, my work constitutes neither a monograph on musical writings in Poland from 1948 to 1955 nor a monograph on any of its key sections: musical criticism, music theory, music aesthetics, or music history. I do not examine every publication from the period, only those containing direct or indirect references to the doctrine of Socialist Realism. Socialist Realism was certainly the most prominent mode of discourse on music during this period, but it was far from being the only mode. That its predominance did not triumph in a hegemonic way sets music apart from what happened in literature. The scope of my work embraces film, protocols from conferences, public lectures that preceded popular concerts organized and disseminated by ARTOS [the State Organization of Artistic Events], and deliberations within certain musical circles that never appeared in print during the Stalinist years.

Discourse about music that can be termed Socialist Realist appears in Polish musical culture in 1948, waning and disintegrating in 1955.17 I must take issue with Michał Głowiński when he states, ironically, that “For historians of literature – admirers of exact periodizations – Socialist Realism in Poland is a veritable gift from the gods, for it enables them to attribute the moment this style-period ←15 | 16→began with a precision elsewhere unknown, namely, the 1949 Congress of the Polish Writers’ Union, Szczecin”.18 This “gift from the gods” conceals a trap over whose existence Mariusz Zawodniak argued so persuasively. Just as in literary-historical presentations, so too with music-historical coverage of Social Realism, the dates of artistic conventions are advanced as the beginning. In the case of music, this was obviously the conference of composers and musicologists held in Łagów Lubuski, August, 1949. I agree with Mariusz Zawodniak’s critique of the premises that have served as basis for previous periodizations. He believes that assuming the dates of particular conventions as the inception of Socialist Realism in Poland moves us dangerously close to a social realist metanarrative. It would have us uncritically accepting the rank of state-planned events as inaugurating a new stage in history. And yet, “Socialist Realism necessarily had its official inauguration – this is entirely obvious. […] In turn, the dates themselves, while extraordinarily significant, remained an element of a larger puzzle, an element of a projected calendar, i.e. a plotting of events accepted from above”.19 When analysing the minutes of conferences, the reader will note that in Łagów, no formulations other than those already present in 1948 are delivered by Socialist-Realist theorists. The year 1948 is significant because changes in the scope of political events in this year would determine the shape of various spheres of Polish social life for the next eight years. I am speaking here of criticism aimed at “rightist-nationalist” deviations, the unification congress of the Polish Worker’s Party and Polish Socialist Party, as well as the retreat from the politics of “gentle revolution” in the cultural sphere. The hypothesis regarding the year 1948 accords with a proposition once formulated by Janusz Sławiński: “the diachrony of events in literary criticism was essentially not intrinsically motivated during that period. It was simply an exact representation of the diachrony of political life”.20 The diachrony of cultural events in a colonized state was largely determined by the sequence of cultural events playing themselves out in the Soviet Union. On 10 February 1948, a smear campaign in the Soviet Union began against Vano Muradeli’s opera, The Great Friendship; this was the second of the anti-formalist campaigns.21 Three months later, the International Congress of Composers and Music Critics, inspired by Andrei Zhdanov, took place in Prague.22 The date of Socialist Realism’s disappearance from Polish culture was a ←16 | 17→concomitant of Joseph Stalin’s death in 1953. A year later, the first manifestations of political liberalization were felt; they manifested themselves inter alia in the appreciable reduction in the number of texts that were still obviously adhering to the rules of “red” discourse. During 1955, this discourse virtually disappears.

Due to the nature of the sources analysed, I do not concern myself with evaluating positions taken by authors of the statements that I discuss. Among the chief traits of totalitarian discourse on music is authorial effacement. With such texts in mind, Michał Głowiński wrote of a “dehumanized conception of the human subject”23, and Janusz Sławiński about a “personal void”.24 To participate in Social-Realist communication was to submit to its norms; retaining one’s place within it necessarily meant abnegation of one’s sense of self. Only on the outside could one retain an identity and speak with one’s own voice, as can be seen in the case of Stefan Kisielewski and the stand he took. Official communication in a totalitarian state does not permit us, I believe, to accurately reconstruct authors’ intentions or the subject-oriented behaviour strategies adopted by particular individuals. Moreover, as is known from the prolific literature devoted to the topic of the individual’s position in a totalitarian system, protagonists in this culture frequently engaged in a sort of game, adopting a sort of dissociative personality that floated between official convictions and private views. This modus operandi received its most persuasive exploration in Czesław Miłosz’s The Captive Mind. Returning to the question of assessing the individuals involved, it remains a complex problem, one aptly illustrated in an essay by Adam Michnik that deals with the stance taken by a French writer in 1940. A proposal was put to the German governor of Paris in 1940 for the publication of a magazine devoted to normalizing relations between victor and vanquished: “each judgement comes burdened by a prognosis. If German victory and oppression were to last six months, the undertaking would be abhorrent. If, however, it should last a hundred years, the undertaking would rank as brilliant, courageous and essential”.25 It is with this perspective in mind that we investigate those individuals whose statements are quoted in this work. Refraining from delving into the issue of evaluation is not tantamount to ignoring or giving short shrift to the issue. The proper place for such an undertaking is in biographical studies on particular composers, critics, and musicologists, in which the full array of sources – official pronouncements, correspondence, notes, and reminiscences – can be brought to ←17 | 18→bear providing a more complete picture of particular cases. In the course of the book, its central undertaking – determining rules of discourse, limits of personal freedom, and the hierarchy of communication – will make apparent the necessity for further biographical research. It is also wise to remember that previous works on Stalinism in Poland, with diametrically opposite evaluations, are redolent of judgements based chiefly on their authors’ political biases and personal preferences.

This book is organized around three themes that constitute points of reflection on the texts analysed: contemporary music, aesthetics of music, and music history. Each theme has a corresponding rule governing a particular field of expression. In the case of debate about contemporary music, it is a hierarchical model; in the case of musical aesthetics, it is the rule of exegesis; and in music history, it is the hagiographical principle. I see the discourse on aesthetics of music and music history functioning in two differing modes of legitimization, viz. the narrational and the rationalizing. The greater length of the Chapter 4 in comparison with Chapters 2 and 3 can be attributed to the number and variety of sources that bear upon its sections. And the popularity of reflecting on music history is also an important feature of the period in question.

2 Theoretical and methodological starting points

Explanations of methodological strategies and definitions of key terms are found in chapter introductions. In this subsection, I am concerned with presenting certain general assumptions linked with the perspective chosen on the subject in question and on the notion of discourse. It is not my intention, however, to delve into a multifaceted discussion of this category.26 In this respect, Jerzy Szacki is surely right when he draws attention to the extraordinary popularity of the word “discourse”: “such is the brilliant career it has made for itself in contemporary humanities studies that it is becoming difficult to know whether there is any meaning left in it. It has been used in such a variety of ways and, not infrequently, as simply an ‘erudite’ term for expatiations on some pronouncement or chosen text”.27 And, to be sure, publications on topics close to our own have not escaped this modishness.28

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Discourse, as understood in this work, takes its conceptual derivation from Michel Foucault’s Archaeology of Knowledge, where the approach, though narrower, is more formative.29 Discourse in Foucault, as Szacki reminds us, “has been transformed into a category that is epistemological par excellence, with relevance not only to the analysis of language but also to systems of knowledge”.30 I shall be employing his idea as a method of textual analysis, an alternative to the traditional history of ideas. (This latter approach, given the nature of our sources, would yield little.) In this way, the most controversial aspects in the archaeology of discourse are neutralized, and one might go so far as to say something of the scathing and refined complexity of many ideas is foregone. It lends itself well as a tool for the analysis of public speech in totalitarian systems, and the fact that it does so does not strike me as paradoxical.31 My practical, reductive treatment of his achievements remains consonant with the declaration Foucault once made: “I would like my books to be a kind of tool box which others can rummage through to find a tool which they can use however they may wish in their own area. […] I write for users, not readers”.32 Accordingly, I look to Foucault’s writings with an eye to retrieving instruments useful to my purpose. Discourse for Foucault is a “group of statements in so far as they belong to the same discursive formation”,33 and thus subject to specific regularities: “Wherever one can describe, between a number of statements, such a system of dispersion, whenever, between objects, types of statement, concepts, or thematic choices one can define a regularity […], ←19 | 20→we will say, for the sake of convenience, that we are dealing with a discursive formation”.34 Foucault introduced four groups of formative rules. They refer to: the objects of statements, enunciative modalities, contained terms, and the strategies revealed within them. We provide a succinct characterization of each, more to sketch out a “ground plan” of this conception than to describe its underpinnings.

The author lists three types of rules responsible for the creation of discursive objects: surfaces of their emergence (“sets of social relations in which particular practices or symptoms become object of scientific investigation and concern”),35 authorities of delimitation (institutions decisive in the placement of objects in discourse), and grids of specification (criteria for the classification, regrouping, and deriving of objects). He describes enunciative modalities as the rules for validation of statements made by subjects and places of their formulation. In the contexts of expression, Foucault asks: “Who, among the totality of speaking individuals, is accorded the right to use this sort of language (langage)? Who is qualified to do so? […] What is the status of the individuals who – alone – have the right, sanctioned by law or tradition, juridically defined or spontaneously accepted, to proffer such a discourse?”36 Numerous rules for the formation of concepts refer to: forms of succession, i.e. schemata of organization (ordering of enunciative series, types of statement dependence, rhetorical schemata); forms of coexistence (field of presence, field of concomitance, field of memory); and procedures of intervention, i.e. procedures of producing new concepts (techniques of rewriting, methods of transcribing, modes of translation, approximation of statements, delimitations, transferring, or systematization of statements).

In turn, strategies are understood by Foucault as “particular theories or themes that emerge within discourses”.37 The group of rules for strategy formation contains points of diffraction, incompatibility, and equivalence, but also link points of systematization. The conception discussed abounds in ideas and, at the same time, is quite complex. A portion of the categories listed seem clear overall, but others seem somewhat problematic. I do not intend to use them all; instead, I will select specific passages for my purpose.38 The latter are linked ←20 | 21→with the fact that my fundamental concerns are musicology and music history, and to a lesser extent, bibliographic research into existing studies on Socialist Realism in music. I do not dismiss the dimension of language in discourse on music, for example, the issue of rhetorical schemata. Quite simply, in the context at hand, they carry less significance (and the analytical competence demanded is also different). The “map” of Foucauldian conceptions I have sketched out will facilitate orientation both in those places that I intend dealing with and in those which will remain “blind spots” due to the fact that they would require a dramatic broadening of the body of sources analysed. Descriptions of statement modality and forms of statement coexistence constitute a nexus in my work: the fields of concomitance and memory. My understanding of these last two notions is taken from Foucault: “statements that concern quite different domains of objects, and belong to quite different types of discourse, but which are active among the statements studied here, either because they serve as analogical confirmation, or because they serve as a general principle and as premises accepted by a reasoning, or because they serve as models that can be transferred to other contents, or contents, or because they function as a higher authority than that to which at least certain propositions are presented and subjected. Thus, the field of concomitance of the Natural History of the period of Linnaeus and Buffon is defined by a number of relations with cosmology, the history of the earth, philosophy, theology, scripture and biblical exegesis” as well as “statements that are no longer accepted or discussed, and which consequently no longer define either a body of truth or a domain of validity, but in relation to which relations of filiation, genesis, transformation, continuity, and historical discontinuity can be established”.39

This decision is, indeed, justified by the present state of research on Socialist Realism in Polish music. I sympathize with presentations of Socialist Realism that reject identifying this phenomenon as a propagandist, panegyric art. It is also these sorts of diagnoses, with a few exceptions, that have prevailed in Polish musical historiography. This is akin to presenting Socialist Realism as a historical bubble. Having recourse to the Archaeology of Knowledge, I believe one can successfully fulfil two tasks – by indicating the field of concomitance and field of memory particular to Socialist-Realist discourse on music. First, one can reveal certain unforeseen overlaps with religious or avant-garde discourse, and ←21 | 22→secondly, one can emphasize aspects of continuity. I am aware that the second point may sound somewhat odd, since the accentuation of discontinuity, rupture, and breaks in history, or accusing traditional historiography of dismissing or constantly masking discontinuity, is one of the leitmotifs in the work of this French philosopher.

We might ask, why no reconstructed field of presence among the listed basic aims? After all, it is the first element among forms of coexistence, understood as “statements formulated elsewhere and taken up in a discourse, acknowledged to be truthful, involving exact description, well-founded reasoning, or necessary presupposition”?40 In the case of Socialist-Realist discourse, describing the field of presence – in contrast to the field of memory and concomitance – is a relatively straightforward task, and obviously results in accentuating statements by political leaders and classics of the Marxist-Leninist canon. I do not delve into the relationship between Socialist-Realist and Marxist discourse. In contradistinction to other authors,41 I eschew beginning my deliberations with the usual obeisance to the writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, and with attempts to define the aetiology of Socialist-Realist aesthetics. In this respect, too, Foucault’s pointers are helpful: “discourse must not be referred to the distant presence of the origin, but treated as and when it occurs”.42 Accordingly, I am more concerned with what function in the discourse is played by having recourse to utterances from the aforementioned classics or party leaders.43 The characterization of enunciative modality I regard as essential to the argument because of its fundamental significance in discourse. It is taken up at the beginning of the next chapter; reconstruction of it assumes a progressively significant role throughout the book. “Dehumanized conception of a human subject” and “subjective void”, categories presented earlier in this chapter, were first proposed by Polish scholars of Socialist Realism, but the phrases could just as easily have come from the French historian who advocated presenting discourse cut off from all its “anthropological references”.44 Questions that go to criteria for validating enunciations, to their importance and domain of formulation, are fundamental ←22 | 23→to any analysis of statements in a hierarchical communicative system, where form and significance derive not from authorial volition but from the rules of discourse and depend on where, in the pecking-order of the communication ladder, sat the enunciating subject.

In many of the works to date by authors engaged with the topic of totalitarian discourse, the fundamental concern has been to define recurring elements. In his book devoted to the poetics of the novel-as-product, Wojciech Tomasik writes about “sloppy semantics” and “doctrinal intertextualities” as being core determinants of the style.45 Katarzyna Kasztenna, in her description of surveys of Polish literary history written during the Stalinist period, posits the notion of the “big hypotactic rule”, the subordination of the empirical to the ideological,46 and the “enthymematic rule”, the omission of ideological premises when drawing conclusions. In turn, Maciej Gołąb, in reference to Józef Michał Chomiński’s musicological works from the 1950s, proposes the category of “strategic paste-ins”, ideological evaluations that are dropped into “genuine musicological discourse”.47 Submissive obeisance to the utterances of Karl Marx and Joseph Stalin, that is, situations where a particular text – irrespective of whatever – is held to be true and binding, exemplifies, according to Michał Głowiński, “the allegatio principle”.48 Maria Janion, writing on totalitarian discourse, discusses exegesis, the interpretation of ideological texts in absolute terms.49 Boris Groys, for his part, discusses the hagiographical model for presenting the life and work of great figures from cultural history.50 And finally, Janusz Sławiński advances his three-tier enunciative hierarchy for literary criticism.51

What follows is a reconsideration of a number of the abovementioned categories pertaining to totalitarian discourse seen through the lens of Michel Foucault’s concept of discourse. On his theoretical presentation of discourse, I endeavour to overlay specific determinants of Socialist-Realist discourse on music. “We must grasp the statement in the exact specificity of its occurrence; determine its conditions of existence, fix at least its limits, establish its correlation with other statements that may be connected with it, and show what other forms of statement in excludes”.52 This quotation aptly sums up the procedures ←23 | 24→which Michel Foucault employs in his analyses of discourse and encapsulates the approach to be taken in the following chapters.

3 Research sources

The choice of source materials has taken in consideration the range of criteria associated with the research perspective adopted. First, for reasons already discussed, the period chosen, 1948–1955. Secondly, the concern with texts that are part of official discourse exclusively. The status of these texts is unrelated to whether they appeared in print during this period. A fair number of the sources consulted are accessible only in archives: the minutes of events specific to Stalinist cultural life, i.e. symposia, meetings, conventions, conferences, and auditions with the participation of composers, artists, musicologists, and representatives of the state apparatus. Similarly, while access to typescripts of public talks given at the opening of the broadly popularized ARTOS concerts is restricted to the archives, these talks certainly constituted part of the public sphere of discourse in Stalinist Poland. Thirdly, within this circumscribed corpus of texts, I focus on those that make reference (independently, directly, or covertly) to the doctrine of Socialist Realism. As mentioned previously, sources devoid of doctrinal content are outside the remit of this study. Consequently, my work does not pretend to be an anthology of writings on music nor a study of musical discourse during the period 1948–1955.

My conception of text is a broadly semiotic one not restricted to written texts. I take into consideration film sources (feature films and the Polish Film Chronicle) as well as iconographic sources (museum exhibits). Due to the sheer number of sources available, most frequently I have recourse to those expressed in writing, while employing film and iconographic sources primarily in the chapter on discourse related to music history.

The basic rule governing my exploration of the selected source materials was not completeness, but rather variety. A variegated selection of sources yields greater significance than would an exhaustive treatment of just one type. Variety in the selection of sources takes several forms. I use written, cinematographic, and iconographic sources. Written sources encompass statements by all participants in the hierarchical communication of Socialist-Realist musical culture: from President Bolesław Bierut to musicologists, music critics, musicians, and popularizers of music, to listeners who penned letters to magazines. The potential readerships of these texts vary widely in number: mass audiences (the hit film of Polish Socialist Realism, Chopin’s Youth), listeners to public preconcert talks organized by ARTOS, visitors to the National Museum’s Chopin exhibit, ←24 | 25→readers of monographs on popular composers, fictionalized biographical novels about Fryderyk Chopin, and finally, readers of musicological articles and those attending musical occasions of various types. The same principle was applied to the selection of press material. Here, the focus was on both national, specialized musicological periodicals (Muzyka, Życie Śpiewacze) and cultural magazines of a more general nature (Przegląd Kulturalny).

4 Current state of research

Many authors have noted the paucity of research on musical culture in Stalinist Poland: “analyses of Socialist Realism await their authors” (Władysław Malinowski); “studies on this set of problems in the most recent Polish musicology are not yet very advanced” (Maciej Gołąb).53 In comparison with the prolific and prominent achievements in studies of literature, visual arts, theatre, and film, contemporary research on Socialist Realism, as manifested in Polish musical culture, had been modest indeed. This situation changed with the appearance in quick succession of four significant publications. In late 2013, David G. Tompkins’ doctoral dissertation, Composing the Party Line: Music and Politics in Poland and East Germany, came out.54 Completed in 2004 at Columbia University, portions of it had appeared earlier in the form of several articles. It is undoubtedly a very important treatment of the subject, soundly based on an abundance of archival sources. Tompkins chiefly studied totalitarian influence on the institutions of musical life, comparing the situation in Poland with that in the German Democratic Republic. Tomasz Tarnawczyk presented the musical output of Polish Socialist Realism with respect to symphonic works.55 On the Socialist-Realist reception of Moniuszko and Chopin, two studies on their historical influence have appeared: Agnieszka Topolska’s on Moniuszko in Polish culture56 and Iwona Sowińska’s on Chopin in Polish and international cinematography.57

In the secondary literature, the contributions have been mostly of a fragmentary or very general nature concerning the Stalinist period. Musical Socialist Realism has been touched on tangentially in biographies of prominent figures ←25 | 26→of twentieth-century musical culture in Poland, and in synoptic presentations of compositional output from this period. Secondary literature predating 1989 has not been included.58 Those publications are useful for research into perceptions of Socialist Realism in the Polish People’s Republic after 1956.

Our knowledge about the musical output from this period is still scanty, both the propagandist (massed songs, panegyric cantatas, opera and arrangements of pieces inspired by Polish folklore) and the, as yet unexamined, aspects of musical ensembles and writings on music (the disciplines of musicology and music criticism). Lacking, too, are works providing a glimpse of Socialist Realism from more contemporary, unconventional theoretical perspectives, for example, on the peculiarity of soundscape in Stalinist times59 and the role of music in performative, propagandist events.

My concern is with the chief works of Polish Socialist Realism as they fall into seven thematic categories. In the first category, works that embrace the entirety of the Socialist-Realist phenomenon in music in Stalinist Poland: doctrine, aesthetics, output, and musical life. I make mention of Władysław Malinowski’s essay and responses to its publication.60 Both constitute important sources of information about Socialist Realism. As with Malinowski’s, so, too, my assessments reflect a critical approach to the presence of a metanarrative calling into question the methodological soundness of applying source categories to descriptions of Socialist Realism. Malinowski rejects interpretations of Socialist Realism as art propaganda. He reveals the utopian nature of doctrine and highlights the quasi-religious character of this phenomenon.

A more traditional approach to Socialist Realism was taken by various authors of monographs on Polish twentieth-century music whose purview took this topic into account. The publications of David G. Tompkins,61 Adrian ←26 | 27→Thomas,62 Krzysztof Baculewski,63 Jadwiga Paja-Stach,64 and a work edited by Marek Podhajski65 evince a number intertwining strands: description of musical life, characterizations of important compositions, composer self-reflections, observations about music criticism, and statements by state apparatus officials establishing doctrinal premises and the means whereby they can be realized. Thomas’s work commands our attention through his abundant use of hitherto unknown archival material. This English musicologist’s work also includes several articles that address the general state of Socialist Realism.66

Several other works also deserve mention. Ewa Rzanna-Szczepaniak tackles the problem of influence exerted by cultural politics on musical culture,67 while Jarosław Szurek68 and Małgorzata Gąsiorowska69 draw a general picture of musical culture in the period of Socialist Realism. In Maciej Gołąb’s coverage of twentieth-century modernism, while the focus is on the stance composers adopted and on seminal works of the period, there is forthright recognition of Socialist Realism’s place in Poland – “modernism enslaved”.70

In my second category, I address myself to the musical output during the period of Socialist Realism, that of individual composers and of approved genres. A key publication for this context is the aforementioned monograph dissertation by Tomasz Tarnawczyk on the Polish Socialist-Realist symphony. Massed song is treated under its namesake entry by Wojciech Tomasik,71 while Polish massed songs texts are the subject of analysis by Jakub Sadowski in his book on totalitarian culture.72 The position of Andrzej Panufnik and Witold Lutosławski in the late 1940s and early 1950s is discussed in monographs devoted to both ←27 | 28→authors73 and in a number of articles.74 Kazimierz Serocki’s massed songs are also discussed.75

The third category of publications are works reconstructing Socialist-Realist aesthetics. Małgorzata Szyszkowska’s article must be mentioned first for it questions the validity of employing the category of aesthetics with regard to Socialist-Realist doctrine. Instead, Szyszkowska proposes the label, “ideological discourse”.76 Nonetheless, referring to Socialist Realism as an aesthetic is broadly accepted in the secondary literature. In two articles, Leszek Polony presented the chief premises of Socialist-Realist aesthetics and advanced his arguments within the traditional framework of discussions of the essence of music – a debate that has been engaged in for as long as musical aesthetics have been written about in Poland.77 Into the same category fall Zofia Lissa’s writings. An exhaustive study of her writings on aesthetics is yet to appear. In its absence, the gap is filled by Zbigniew Skowron’s two articles and his introduction to a selection of her aesthetic writings from the decade 1945–1955.78 Krzysztof Bilica’s article neatly presents the key ideas found in Zofia Lissa’s work.79

The fourth category consists of publications on the subject of music criticism. The most thoroughly investigated research is that found in Stefan Kisielewski’s study of the polemics of key figures in Socialist Realism. Adam Wiatr’s book80 provides a comprehensive (and most engaging) account of these discussions. The topic also appears in Małgorzata Gąsiorowska’s monograph,81 and, more modest scope, in a publication by Michał Szyszka.82 Stefan Kisielewski appears in Leszek Polony’s publications.

The next category comprises articles devoted to a reinterpretation of history in terms of contemporaneous aesthetic ideals. Though not often undertaken, ←28 | 29→this has been carried out with respect to Fryderyk Chopin and Stanisław Moniuszko: Aleksander Ford’s Chopin’s Youth; works by Ewa Mazierska83 and Tadeusz Lubelski84; and Iwona Sowińska’s monograph on “cinematographic” Chopin. Written from the perspective of film studies, they locate Ford’s piece in the context of the poetics of Socialist-Realist cinema. Ewa Maziarska’s work also refers to Jan Rybkowski’s film, Warszawska premiera, based on Stanisław Moniuszko’s opera, Halka. Jarosław Mianowski, making reference to popular publications by Witold Rudziński, outlines in his dissertation the problem of mythologizing the composer as an individual in the context of changes in how his output is perceived.85 This theme is developed in a monograph-length study by Agnieszka Topolska. For her part, Iwona Miernik reconstructs a vision of Socialist-Realist music history on the basis of ARTOS public concert lectures. Drawing on archival material, she provides a detailed discussion of how this important institution in the musical life of the 1950s functioned.86

The sixth group consists of works on musicology in the 1940s and 1950s. Maciej Gołąb has produced a monograph on the life and work of Józef Michał Chomiński in which he touches on the influence of “ideological concessions” on the methodology adopted by Chomiński.87 He also crafts from the Polish musicologist’s biography a fascinating picture of the period of interest to us. Adam Izdebski has produced a lively dissertation on the creation of Warsaw’s Institute of Musicology and this centre’s significance in the introduction of Socialist Realism into Polish music.88 Elżbieta Witkowska-Zaremba, in an article about Polish musicology during the period of the People’s Republic, outlines the influence of ideology on musicological research.89

The seventh and final group consists of works devoted to folk music and jazz. The reception of folk music in the Polish People’s Republic is the subject of an article by Tomasz Nowak.90 And finally, Igor Pietraszewski, in his sociological analysis of jazz, describes how this genre fared during the Stalinist period in Poland; and he discusses its long-term ramifications on the identity of Polish jazz.91

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17 Several articles on music history by Stefania Łobaczewska and Zofia Lissa published in Lviv, from the entry of the Red Army in September 1939 until the outbreak of war between the Third Reich and the U.S.S.R. in June 1941, do not constitute a strong enough basis for extending the period of inquiry back to 1939. Nonetheless, in terms of chronology, these were indeed the first instances of Socialist-Realist discourse. Although I begin the narrative in Chapter 2 with an article by Zofia Lissa dating from 1947, it seems to me both unnecessary and even misleading to back date by a whole year, on account of just one text.

18 Głowiński, “Wokół ‘Poematu dla dorosłych’ ”, 133.

19 Zawodniak, “Zaraz po wojnie”, 29–30.

20 Sławiński, “A ‘New Type’ of Literary Criticism”, 79.

21 See Taruskin, The Late Twentieth Century, 813; Gołąb, Musical Modernism, 116–18.

22 See Carroll, Music and Ideology in Cold War Europe, 3749.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2020 (March)
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2020. 292 pp., 1 fig. b/w.

Biographical notes

Sławomir Wieczorek (Author)

Sławomir Wieczorek is a lecturer in musicology in the Institute of Musicology, University of Wrocław. His interests are twentieth-century music, contemporary music, historical soundscapes, and the methodology of sound studies and cultural musicology.


Title: On the Music Front. Socialist-Realist Discourse on Music in Poland, 1948 to 1955