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C:\documents and settings\kasutaja\my documents\koorilugu\ernesaks\rilmartikkel.wpdPaper presented at the conference of the RILM "Music’s intellectual history: founders, followers and fads" The City University of New York Graduate Center 16 19 March 2005 A man and his portraits:
The image of Gustav Ernesaks in (Soviet) writings on music
Urve Lippus (Estonian Academy of Music, Tallinn)
The idea of this paper goes back to the early 1990s, when I was asked to update some articles concerning Estonian music for the new edition of Grove dictionary. Having analyzed different entries about a choral conductor and composer Gustav Ernesaks (1908 1993) in several music dictionaries, I was somewhat upset by the incompatibility of those brief portraits and my own ideas of how to introduce him. Gustav Ernesaks is among the most complicated persons for a study aiming to understand musical life in Soviet Estonia and generally in Soviet Union. He was trusted and beloved by people as the leader of the national choral movement, but at the same time he was one of the leading figures supported and promoted by the Soviet authorities to represent Estonian music.
In 2003 the Society of Estonian Men’s Choruses began to plan a monument to commemorate the first decade since his death and initiated a fund-raising campaign. The inauguration of the statue of Gustav Ernesaks took place at the XXIV Estonian Song Festival in July 2004, attended by thousands of singers. It was thirteen years after Estonia had become independent in 1991. Since the late 1980s, public opinion had been extremely critical towards the celebrities of Soviet time. However, the inauguration of this statue became an important cultural event. Certainly, the Society of Estonian Men’s Choruses would never have raised money to commemorate a prominent communist leader. All through the Soviet years Ernesaks had been recognized by Estonians as "our man", not one of "them", and often he was called by an honorary nickname "Laulutaat" (Father of Song). His song My Fatherland is my love, composed during the war in 1944, had become an unofficial national anthem and whenever it was sung, people stood up. True, he was also the composer of the official Soviet Estonian anthem, that nobody seemed to remember. He had a unique talent for composing simple, but beautiful and expressive melodies, and he was skilled in choral writing.
Getting acquainted with Gustav Ernesaks using only written sources, the impression is somewhat different. According to them, firstly he was a composer, secondly a founder and long-time leader of a professional chorus, thirdly a professor of conducting, and lastly a leader of the amateur choral movement. In brief entries this final fact is often omitted.
According to most written sources, his most important contribution were five operas (he is also included in Opera Grove). Hence the problem of the present paper: how the presentation of a person in a music dictionary is shaped by certain traditions of writing about music history. I would like to use this case of Ernesaks to discuss a more general problem, because this tradition, with its established patterns and values, can easily lead to diminishing the role of important figures of musical life and composers of more popular genres ,while concentrating on the masterpieces of high genres (operas, oratorios, symphonies, etc.).
Beginning with Guido Adler’s famous manifesto in the first issue of Vierteljahrschrift für Musikwissenschaft in 1885,1 the main subject of music history has been "music itself," that is, compositions. Earlier in the 19th century writings about music usually concentrated on the creator of music, the composer, and Adler’s goal was to shift the focus from the composer’s biography to his output, the music itself. Performers have always received less attention from historians, although prominent singers, virtuosos of different instruments, and conductors were highly recognized celebrities in their own time. But their art was evanescent; only composers created permanent masterpieces of musical art and were equal to poets and painters. For a long time music history has evaluated composing higher than any other musical activity; it has been the history of written music. As for compositions, the aesthetics of the 19th and early 20th centuries appreciated absolute music and placed the genres of concert music and opera much higher than functional music or music for amateurs.
Accordingly, the tradition of writing about music considers large-scale compositions more important than small-scale, complex structures more interesting than simple, etc. This hierarchy of values affects the compilers of historical surveys and reference works like music dictionaries: the space dedicated to one person in a survey or in a lexical entry is strictly limited, forcing the writer to select only the most "important" works or facts of life. Without any direct evaluations, only through its structure and the selection of works to be mentioned, such a text becomes strongly value-loaded. The format of a traditional music dictionary fits best for a composer whose most important works are operas, oratorios and symphonies.
Writing about some other important figure in musical life or a popular composer of songs needs a creative attitude and can sometimes lead to confrontation with the editor, whose task it is to unify the style and format of the articles. That is certainly not a problem specific to Soviet writings about music. However, in the Soviet system the conventions of writing about music were supported by the high degree of bureaucracy in publishing and furthered by the Soviet hierarchy of values and formats of writing. In many respects the Soviet musical value-system was extremely traditional. One example: it placed a composer and his written music at the top of the hierarchy.2 The most important organization in Soviet musical life was the Composers’ Union. Musicologists (and ethnomusicologists) were also members of the Composers’ Union and their research was largely considered to support composing or record its history. Prominent composers like Dmitriy Shostakovitch or the long-standing president of the Soviet Composers’ Union Tikhon Hrennikov were considered to be authorities on musical life in general, not only on newly composed music. For example, one of the most important international events of Soviet musical life was the Tchaikovsky-competition for pianists, violinists, cellists and singers, first held in 1958. The organizing committee of the first three competitions was headed by Dmitriy Shostakovitch, the most prominent composer (i.e. the most authoritative musician) of that 1 Guido Adler, Umfang, Methode und Ziel der Musikwissenschaft. Vierteljahrschrift für Musikwissenschaft, 1885, 1, SS. 5 20.
2 Composers were paid by the state only for written scores, which could be stored in time in the Soviet Union, not by a prominent performer. Information about Soviet music was mostly distributed by the central administration of the Composers’ Union in Moscow, because only the central organization was a member of international societies and different networks. Various reports collected by Moscow from the local organizations were naturally in Russian and they were formatted according to general standards and official values. For example, official titles (e.g., People’s Artist) and state prizes were considered the most important information about a person. Membership in the Communist Party and in governing bodies of the CP and the state was recorded. As for compositions, politically engaged works were certainly listed as important ones.
Thus, in the case of Gustav Ernesaks we can observe two different molds that have shaped the writings: first, the general tradition of music history to value activities as a composer more than activities in other areas of musical life; second, the Soviet tradition to value official titles and state prizes. Finally, Ernesaks himself was not fluent in Russian and therefore somebody else translated information about him into Russian. Later, when everything was translated into English, German, or French, it was from the Cyrillic back to the Latin alphabet. All through the Soviet years even the largest international dictionaries, such as Grove and MGG, commissioned most entries concerning musicians active in the I have compared the articles about Gustav Ernesaks in the following dictionaries: (1) Grove 1980: The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Ed. Stanley Sadie, Macmillan Publishers, London 1980: Vol. 6, p. 237 (by I. M. Yampol’sky).
(2) Opera Grove: The New Grove Dictionary of Opera Online. Ed. L. Macy, OUP 2004, accessed 14. 02. 2005, <http://www.grovemusic.com> (without writer’s name, probably compiled using the entry of the Grove 1980 edition).
(3) ME: Muzïkal’naya entsiklopediya. Ed. Yuri V. Keldïsh, Sovetskaya entsiklopediya, Moskva 1982: t. 6, s. 548 549 (by Avo Hirvesoo; in Russian, quoted in my translation).
(4) Riemann: Riemann Musik Lexikon. Ergänzungsband, Personenteil A K, Hrg. C.
Dahlhaus, B. Schott’s Söhne, Mainz 1972, S. 329 (without writer’s name).
(5) Honegger: Dictionnaire de la musique. Les hommes et leurs oeuvres A K. Collection Marc Honegger, Bordas, Paris 1993 (1st edition Paris 1970), p. 373 (without writer’s name).
(6) Grove 2001: The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Ed. Stanley Sadie, John Tyrrell, Macmillan Publishers Ltd, London 2001:Vol. 8, p. 304.
As we know, the Grove dictionary published in 2001 is not a new dictionary, but an extensively appended, edited and updated new edition. In the mid-1990s I was not commissioned to write an article about Gustav Ernesaks, but rather to update the earlier one.
It became practically a new article and was published under my name, but the result would probably have been different if I had started writing from zero. A question may arise, why German dictionaries are represented in the above list by Riemann and not MGG. That is because there was no entry about Ernesaks in the first edition of MGG and the recent edition includes my own article based on the entry in Grove 2001.
With the exception of my own article written after the fall of the Soviet Union, all other articles are based on the information distributed by the Composers’ Union of the USSR in Russian. The author of the entry in the Soviet dictionary (ME) is an Estonian, Avo Hirvesoo (and we find less mistakes in the facts in this article), but the design and the style of the article follow the standards of this dictionary.
Let us see how the sources present Ernesaks (Table 1). All the sources calling him Gustav Gustavovich are based on Russian tradition Estonian tradition has never used patronyms and this information is not recorded even in passports or other ID documents. In Soviet time the Russian tradition of addressing people officially not by their title and family name (e.g. Professor Ernesaks or Mr. Gustav Ernesaks), but by the first name and patronym (Gustav Gustavovich), was a universal rule while communicating in Russian. Another small mistake originating from Russian translation is the name of his birth place. The village is Perila; German and French dictionaries are correct. In Russian, the final "a" is a common declination ending and, probably, that is why the translator of Yampol’sky’s article in Grove All western sources have put his work as a composer first and that is rather characteristic to the general value system. The French dictionary has presented him as an orchestral conductor, although Ernesaks avoided conducting orchestras and his field was a cappella choral music. This was the result of using multiple translations and secondary sources. The following phrase "Artiste de l’Union soviétique (1947)" is also not precise. He received this title in 1956; in 1947 he received the title of People’s Artist of the Estonian SSR. The Soviet dictionary lists his titles and membership in governmental bodies in the first sentence. Although it is not directly said, we also learn that Ernesaks was not a member of the Communist Party if he were, it would certainly have been mentioned. Further, let us compare the different entries with regard to what is considered to be his more important activities (Table 2). Most articles mention that he was an important conductor, but there are different opinions as to what were his main achievements as a leader of choruses. When Ernesaks studied at the Tallinn Conservatoire there was no class in choral conducting. Many aspects of directing a chorus were included in the curriculum of a speciality called "high school singing and music teacher." That was the class from which Ernesaks graduated in 1931. Its final exam included both musical and pedagogical subjects.
After that Ernesaks continued studies in composition, working at the same time as a music teacher and a conductor of several amateur choruses. He had no time to dedicate himself to composition studies and never taught either composition or theory. It is not correct to mention only his studies in composition; if studies in music teaching are not worth recording, then it would be better to skip all his studies. All dictionaries agree that he has conducted important choruses, but they differ in appreciating his professional chorus or his role as leader of the amateur choral movement. For an Estonian writer, Avo Hirvesoo (ME), it is important that he is the leader of Song Festivals. The German dictionary has changed that into a more familiar term: it has made him "Vorsitzender des Estnischen Sängerbunds." Actually, amateur Estonian choral societies, wide-spread during the first half of the 20th century, had been forbidden as independent entities by the Soviet authorities choruses belonged to a school, collective farm, factory, etc. For Estonians, the first thing to remember about Ernesaks is that he was the leader of the Estonian nationwide choral movement. This vast area of amateur music making has not been important for the compilers of international dictionaries. The choral movement was not important for the Grove 1980 version, although Ernesaks’ short- time occupation as a conductor at the Estonian State Artistic Ensemble in 1942 1944 is mentioned. That is a clear political choice: artists who were active in the Soviet Union during the war created a firm foundation for their future career. This fact was later always mentioned in their official records, like membership in the Communist Party.
When the war broke out in 1941 Ernesaks was drafted into the Soviet Army. Later, musicians, actors, writers, and other artists were brought to Jaroslavl to create the State Ensembles. A unique fact about Ernesaks is that having received a request to found a professional chorus at the State Philharmony of the Estonian SSR in 1944, he decided that it should be a men’s chorus. In a relatively short time he achieved remarkably high performing standards with it. At that time, most of his singers were not trained as professional musicians and the greater part of the repertory came from the old pre-war men’s singing tradition. In the early 1950s the chorus was renamed The State Academic Men’s Chorus of the Estonian SSR (now called the Estonian National Men’s chorus). However, the German dictionary has omitted his work with this chorus. Most probably, for the German musical imagination "Vorsitzender der Estnischen Sängerbunds" is representative of everything related to men’s choruses that normally is not a part of professional musical life. The French dictionary has omitted his relations to the choral movement and the fact that his group was a men’s chorus, i.e. activities referring to amateur musical life. We may ask why all other entries except ME have "forgotten" his pre-war professional career and start their surveys from the 1940s.
However, I would not give that a political significance. Certainly, a tendency to diminish the achievements of Estonian musical life before the Soviet time did exist and we can track it in some other writings. But Ernesaks became an outstanding figure only in the Soviet period; my own article has skipped the earlier years only because of space. Finally, it is not quite clear why Yampol’sky in Grove 1980 has not mentioned his professorship. Rewriting the article for the new edition I decided not to bring this up because I preferred to use the limited space for writing about Estonian Song Festivals and Ernesaks’ role as the leader of the Table 2. Gustav Ernesaks as a musician.
(1) Grove composition . and was conductor of the (2) Opera composition . in 1944 formed the first Estonia. Under his direction Soviet regime 1975), the ensemble became time leader in We have already observed (the last column of Table 1. Who was Gustav Ernesaks?) that most writings introduced Ernesaks first as a composer. Let us now compare what the articles have to say about his music (Table 3). In presenting his compositions, there is even more distortion: the writings give most space for introducing his operas, mention some of his few cantatas or cycles of songs (as if they were large-scale compositions), and, in the end, add that he has composed many popular songs. Actually, his most important compositions are just some of those numerous choral songs: they are still often performed in Estonia, while operas are completely forgotten. Evidently, the fact that he has composed music for the Soviet Estonian anthem was something extraordinary and worth mentioning. If Ernesaks were primarily a composer it would have been normal to observe his large-scale compositions first and only then to speak about his songs. But his more important occupation was that of a choral conductor and he composed, like many of his colleagues, mostly for his own choruses.
His favourite concert programs were carefully selected sets of small-scale a cappella songs and he avoided conducting large-scale compositions for voices and orchestra (he did not conduct his operas himself). Therefore, a cappella song was the genre he really knew and could masterly write himself. Trying to resolve this problem of how to present his compositions in Grove 2001, I considered most important the fact that some of his songs have become extremely popular, therefore I included even one title in the main text. However, in the work-list I had to comply with the unified format: first listing stage works, then cycles and a selection of more complex choral compositions, and concluding with the phrase "many other choral works, solo songs and songs for children." However, this "other works" is the The fantastic orthography of titles in some articles is the result of multiple translations and transcriptions: from Estonian to Russian and then from Russian to English, German, or French (see Table 3, (1) Grove 1980, third column: Pyukhayarvn pro Pühajärv, i.e. The Sacred Lake; the year is also incorrect the opera was staged in 1946 and in 1947 Ernesaks received the Stalin prize for it). To save time and space, I have not included work-lists in this table, but only noted whether it was added to the article or not. The ortography and language of titles is rather a problem of a work-list than that of the entry itself. Further, the selection of Ernesaks’ titles and prizes included in the analyzed articles (see the last column in Table 3) seems somewhat incidental. The Soviet hierarchy of official titles and prizes was complex and, evidently, it was puzzling for a foreign editor to make choices among Ernesaks’ many awards. A question may arise, why in I. M. Yampol’ky’s article (Grove 1980) only the title of People’s Artist of the ESSR is mentioned while Ernesaks was also a People’s Artist of the USSR (that was a much higher title). Perhaps, the original article listed more titles and awards, so that the editor had to shorten it without understanding the small differences in their value. "Lenin Prizewinner" certainly refers to the highest state prize in the USSR, the Lenin prize, that Ernesaks received in 1970. It was something like Soviet Nobel prize and higher than Stalin prizes (Ernesaks received Stalin prizes twice, in 1947 and 1951, in later records they were referred to as State prizes). The French dictionary has confused facts including one of his titles and one prize: in 1947 Ernesaks received the title of People’s Artist of the ESSR and only in 1956, of the USSR; it is unclear why only the last of his two Stalin or State prizes is mentioned while much more important Lenin prize is not. We may ask whether he received the titles and prizes as a composer or a conductor? That was combined.
For example, the Stalin prize in 1947 was given for the opera "Pühajärv" and in 1951 for the opera "The Coast of Storms", but the Lenin prize in 1970 was for the compositions and a series of concert programs with the State Academic Men’s Chorus. Titles like People’s Artist were more often given to performers.
. and choral works [.];a Ernesaks is also a talented Baptism of Fire (1957); The Opern Pühajärv ("Heiligensee", Käsikäes ("Hand in Hand", 1955), Tuleristsed ("Feuertaufe", 1956) und Vigased pruudid ("Bräute mit Several of his own songs, His operatic compositions take the Finally, let us see how Ernesaks was introduced to Estonian readers. A small book surveying his life and works was written by his close colleague and former student Artur Vahter. Can we expect it to be a reliable source? This book has served as the main bibliographic source for the articles we have analyzed. It was published in 1959 and, evidently, planned for the 50th birthday of Ernesaks in December 1958. A shortened version of the same book translated into Russian was published in Moscow in 1961. Artur Vahter was the assistant conductor of Ernesaks at the State Academic Men’s Chorus in 1947 1956; in the 1950s he also taught courses in music history at the Tallinn Conservatoire. However, writing the book, he just followed the most traditional models of that time as to how to write about a composer (the book was published in a series "Estonian composers"). In Table 4 the chapters of this book are listed together with the number of pages given for each subject.
Table 4. Artur Vahter, Gustav Ernesaks. Eesti Riiklik Kirjastus, Tallinn 1959 (shortened version in Russian: Sovetskyi kompozitor, Moskva 1961).
7. At cultural reconstruction work after the war 8. G. Ernesaks as the main conductor of the Song Festivals 5 9. G. Ernesaks and the State Academic Men’s Chorus 11. Compositions from the period of the bourgeois regime 9 12. Compositions from the time of the Great Patriotic War 6 13. Choral compositions from the after-war period In writing a historical survey there are different evaluative processes at work and one of them is the distribution of space: more important subjects are discussed in more length.
Also, the order of dealing with issues (if not strictly chronological) establishes another hierarchy if importance: it is normal to start from more important topics. In this book different principles of presenting the material are mixed: thematic chapters (biography, oeuvre) are combined with chronological divisions (pre-war, war-time, after-war) and compositions are observed by grouping them according to the musical genres (choral songs, cycles, solo songs, operas). Analyzing the structure of the book we can get some idea of the preferences or values of the writer: according to the space given to different subjects, operas are the most important issue for discussion (58 pages). The description of choral music is divided chronologically and generically between the chapters 11 14. All together these chapters have 42 pages, though the amount of music introduced is immeasurably larger and more interesting than the five operas. The Russian version is slightly abbreviated, but the proportions are the same. Partly, those proportions result from Vahter’s way of dealing with music: he retells us the stories of operas in detail and that takes most of the space. There are no analyses of music, just some general characteristics and a few music examples. This style of introducing music was very common at that time and in several books chapters about the opera were more extensive, because there were stories to tell.
The chapter concerning Ernesaks’ operas in the book by Artur Vahter started with the following statement: "Gustav Ernesaks would never have become a creator of operas if he had not feel responsibility to the people; the feeling common to all those composers who had passed through the school of ideological and artistic development in the demanding survival tests of the Great Patriotic War. He understood that it is not possible to satisfy the improved cultural needs of people only with choral songs and strived to apply all his creative strength for resolving the great tasks confronting the Soviet community." This awkward introduction is very different from the initial paragraphs of Vahter’s chapters dealing with Ernesaks’ choral compositions: writing choral songs had been a natural part of his creative work since the 1930s and they did not need any "awakening" forces. At the time of composing his first opera in 1946 Ernesaks had neither the experience of orchestral writing nor earlier contacts with theater to learn the rules of stage music. Best known of his operas is "The Coast of Storms" (1949), a story about the conflict between coastal villagers and a local German baron. The villagers are supported by the captain of a Russian ship that has run on a rock near the coast. The plot is clearly political: a Russian leader coming to support Estonians in their fight against German barons. This opera was presented in Moscow and got a Stalin (later When speaking about Ernesaks with his former colleagues and students, they seem to remember most vividly his everyday work with choruses and the sound of his men’s chorus in the 1950s and early 1960s. According to the memoirs it was unique: well-balanced, soft, deep, lyrical. Some remarkable recordings conducted by Ernesaks have survived, but tone is one of the qualities that makes live performances so enchanting and usually changes in recording. The State Academic Men’s Chorus became also famous in Russia and several prominent composers wrote for it. The chapters dedicated to the State Academic Men’s Chorus in Vahter’s book tell the story of founding the chorus, survey its more important concerts and tours. However, Ernesaks’ actual life’s work has deserved twice less pages than the presentation of his forgotten operas: chapters introducing the Song Festivals (5 pages), the Men’s Chorus (16 pages), and his teaching (4 pages) cover all together only 25 pages. We may add here chapters 5 and 6 (10 pages) dealing with his choral work before the war, but that will not help to balance the subjects.
In the 1950s, when Artur Vahter wrote his book, it was not yet possible to use sound recordings as a source for investigating music history, although recordings and sound archives already existed. At present, technology has made sound recordings easily accessible and contemporary researchers can study performing arts using not only concert programs and reviews as their source material, but also old recordings. In my presentation, I would like to demonstrate one of Ernesaks’ recordings made at the Estonian Radio in 1959. The interpretation of his own song "The winter loneliness of a poet" is a good example of Ernesaks as a conductor. The song is extremely slow and reveals his skill at keeping up tension, bringing out very small nuances in the texture and articulation. We can say that Ernesaks, both as a conductor and a composer, was a master of Liedertafel style. However, within the value-system of Estonian music history writing, any association with Liedertafel style would immediately imply being influenced by low German music, bad taste, sentimentalism, primitive and conservative musical language, etc. Artur Vahter would never had said anything like that about Gustav Ernesaks, his great teacher and one of the icons of Thus, though Ernesaks was an important figure in actual musical life, it was not so self-evident according to the rules of writing music history. It is possible to reserve an important place for him in music history in one of two ways: either to adjust his portrait according to the conventions of writing about music, or to expand the subject of music history, to include musical life and shift it closer to the center of attention, to include also amateur music making and its leaders in the narrative, etc. Recent changes in music history writing allow us to take the second way. In Ernesaks’ life-time most of his biographers tried to adjust his portrait to the conventions of music history and presented him as a composer, a creator of several operas. This distortion is not as strong in Estonian writings: the role of the choral movement in the formation of our national culture is a recognized part of the Estonian historical narrative. The prestige of choral music is higher in Estonia than in many other countries. But even in Estonian writings Ernesaks’ operas are often presented as important masterpieces only because of their genre, revealing that the writer of a survey is following the conventions of general music history rather than reflecting on his/ her particular subject.
Linda Report, Apr.2, 2011 Thank you to all those who have expressed their encouragement, visited Linda and sent positive thoughts and prayers these last few weeks. As you may have seen from a quick-report I did on Mar. 4, Linda and I took a trip to the Ottawa General hospital on Mar. 1 in order to have her ventricular shunt tested with radioactive dye – and apparently it shows that her shunt