This article examines the fate of lyrical songs of the Great Fatherland War in the post-war, late-Stalin period. Despite a relentless attack by critics, songs that emphasized loss and suffering continued to be written, recorded, and performed after the war. These kept a narrative of individual struggle alive during a period when the Party attempted to impose a state-heavy, heroized interpretation of the war that emphasized the glory of Stalin’s leadership. The article includes analyses of performances by Mark Bernes and Klavdiia Shul’zhenko, traces the continued popularity of songs written during the war, and examines songs of return and memory written in the post-war period. It also makes a plea for increased attention to this neglected era: the tensions between the attempts to restalinize culture in various ways after the war and the need to promote escapism and create culture that was truly popular made for a level of complexity during the post-war period that has been largely neglected by scholars. Since the lyrical songs of the Great Fatherland War secured a public place in Soviet culture, this article also challenges the notion that the so-called cult of the Great Fatherland War was simply bombastic and dehumanizing.
Most notably Richard Stites, ed., Culture and Entertainment in Wartime Russia (Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1995), and Suzanne Ament, “Reflecting Individual and Collective Identities: Songs of World War II,” in Helena Goscilo and Andrea Lanoux, eds., Gender and National Identity in Twentieth-Century Russian Culture (DeKalb: Northern Illinois Univ. Press, 2006), pp. 115–130. Robert A. Rothstein’s “Homeland, Home Town, and Battlefield: The Popular Song” in the Stites collection was a direct inspiration for this article, which could not have been written without the research and insights therein. An earlier version of this article was presented at the AAASS 2006 National Convention. Richard Stites was the discussant on the panel and subsequently offered many useful suggestions for revisions to the paper. I was first introduced to the topic of Soviet songs when I worked as a teaching assistant for Stites at the time he was writing his landmark Russian Popular Culture: Entertainment and Society since 1900 (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1992). I will always owe him an enormous debt of gratitude for his inspiration, assistance, and fellowship. Research for this article was conducted under the auspices of a St. Mary’s College of Maryland Faculty Development Grant. Most of the songs and performances mentioned in this article can be heard on the excellent Russian website retro.samnet.ru.
Nina Tumarkin, The Living & the Dead. The Rise and Fall of the Cult of World War II in Russia (New York: Basic Books, 1994), pp. 100–105; Peter Kenez, Cinema and Soviet Society, 1917–1953 (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1992), pp. 228–235; Brooks, Thank You, Comrade Stalin!, pp. 185–201.
Katharine Hodgson, Written with the Bayonet: Soviet Russian Poetry of World War Two (Liverpool: Liverpool Univ. Press, 1996), pp. 257–277. See also Vera Sandomirsky [Dunham], “The Sad Armchair: Notes on Soviet War and Postwar Lyrical Poetry,” Harvard Slavic Studies, 3 (1957): 289–327. Brooks has an excellent discussion of the demonstration of gratitude in the press in Thank You, Comrade Stalin!, pp. 198–209.
Anna Krylova, “‘Healers of Wounded Souls’: The Crisis of Private Life in Soviet Literature, 1944–1946,”Journal of Modern History, 73, no. 2 (June 2001): 301–331, and Ann Livschiz, “Children’s Lives after Zoia’s Death: Order, Emotions and Heroism in Children’s Lives and Literature in the Post-War Soviet Union” in Fürst, Late Stalinist Russia, pp. 192–208.
On Ruslanova, see V.D. Safoshkin, Valenki, valenki, ne podshity, staren’ki (Moscow: Eksmo, 2003), pp. 139–154 and V.L. Strongin, Tiur’ma i volia Lidii Ruslanovoi (Moscow: Molodaia gvardiia, 2005), pp. 148ff.; on Rozner see Ruth Turkow Kaminska, I Don’t Want to Be Brave Anymore (Washington, DC: New Republic Books, 1978), pp. 77–80, and 131, and Iuri Tseitlin, Vzlety i padeniia velikogo trubacha Eddi Roznera (Moscow: “Oniks” LTD, 1993).
Ia. Iarustovskii, “O bytovoi muzyke,”Izvestiia, June 5, 1947, p. 3; Iu. Korev, “Sovetskaia massovaia pesnia,” in Soiuz sovetskikh kompozitorov SSSR (Muzykovedcheskaia komissiia), Sovetskaia muzyka po pod’’eme (Moscow-Leningrad: Gosudarstvennoe muzykal’noe izdatel’stvo, 1950), p. 236.
Danilevich, “Massovaia pesnia,” p. 10; K. Petrova, “Nuzhny pesni khoroshie i raznye,” Sovetskaia muzyka, no. 3 (1950): 102; A. Danilevich, Muzyka na frontakh Velikoi otechestvennoi voiny (Moscow-Leningrad: Gosudarstvennoe muzykal’noe izdatel’stvo, 1948); L. Lebedinskii, “Lirika v pesennom tvorchestve,” Sovetskoe iskusstvo, Dec. 27, 1947: 2. Other songs specifically mentioned include “Proshchaite, skalistye gory,” “O chem ty toskuesh’, tovarishch moriak,” “Solov’i,” “Ogonek,” “Na solnechnoi polianochke,” and “Sinii platochek.” Indeed, some continued to attack these songs during the Thaw; see Akademiia nauk SSSR. Institut istorii iskusstv, Istoriia russkoi sovetskoi muzyki, 4 vols. in 5 (Moscow: Gosudarstvennoe muzykal’noe izdatel’stvo, 1956–1963), 3: 129. If music critics during the Thaw continued to lambast the “doleful” lyricism of wartime mass songs, it was also a time when popular culture more fully reinterpreted the meaning of the Great Fatherland War and recognition of suffering and loss became more widespread and accepted.
Danilevich, Muzyka na frontakh, pp. 22, 44–47. In fact “V zemlianke” was greatly popular with soldiers, one of whom wrote to the lyricist Aleksei Surkov that he was chagrined at the attack on him for those words and that he and his comrades sung the song as he wrote it, realizing full well themselves how close they were to death. See Valerii Safoshkin, Leonid Utesov (Moscow: Eksmo, 2005), p. 218. Istoriia russkoi sovetskoi muzyki, 3: 129, reverses Danilevich’s argument and claims that songs like “Temnaia noch’” were popular because of the words and not the music.
Rybak, Mark Bernes, pp. 114–115. His song from the banned second part of Bol’shaia zhizn’, “Tri goda ty mne snilas’,” endured as a hit. See K.V. Shilov, ed., Mark Bernes v vospominaniiakh sovremennikov (Moscow: Molodaia gvardiia, 2005), p. 230.
Iarustovskii, “O bytovoi muzyka,” p. 3; Danilevich, “Massovaia pesnia,” p. 7. The lyricist Vladimir Agatov was arrested in 1949 and accused of bourgeois propaganda and bourgeois Jewish nationalism. Robert Rothstein writes that, despite its great popularity, as late as 1963 “Kostia-moriak” was not included in a volume of the composer Nikita Bogoslovskii’s songs. See Robert A. Rothstein, “How It Was Sung in Odessa: At the Intersection of Russian and Yiddish Folk Culture,” Slavic Review, 60, no. 4 (2001): 792–793.
See, for example, N. Vlasov, “Slushaia muzyku po radio. (Pis’mo iz zapoliar’ia),”Sovetskaia muzyka, no. 6 (1950): 70; “Bol’she vnimaniia legkoi muzyke,” Sovetskoe iskusstvo, April 12, 1952: 1; “Letnii kontsert. Reid po parkam stolitsy,” Sovetskoe iskusstvo, Aug. 6, 1952: 1. See also S. Frederick Starr, Red and Hot: The Fate of Jazz in the Soviet Union 1917–1980 (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1983), pp. 213–228.
G. Skorokhodov, Zvezdy sovetskoi estrady (Moscow: Sovetskii kompozitor, 1986), pp. 95–96. For the revival, Bernes sang it first at Luzhniki as part of a show – everyone stood up, hung their heads, and cried. When he went on tour with it, he experienced the same response. See Rybak, Mark Bernes, pp. 131–133.