Tomaso Bueno
Music of the XX Century: Composer Alexander Lokshin

This article requires a little foreword. It was written for an Italian musical magazine Amadeus, and originally it was meant for the Italian readers. But since it concerns the fate of a Russian musician, whose name is known but to few even in Russia, it seemed important to me to present an abridged translation of the article to the Russian audience, for it is in Russia rather than abroad (for instance, in Italy) that the reader and the musical audience have the right to be first to learn about a part of their cultural heritage, which so far has been undervalued.
    I would like to tell in a few words how I came to know the music of A.L. Lokshin. The first time I heard it was in 1993, when some friends of mine on their return from Russia gave me a number of records with his music. I immediately felt an urge to get to know the music better. But it was not until a few years later that I could realize the idea. Visiting Moscow I was very lucky as I got a chance to meet A.L. Lokshin's family. This acquaintance provided me with a unique opportunity to listen to his music, to realize its beauty and importance, for it is almost impossible to find any records with Lokshin's music either in Russia or abroad. There is one striking thing about Lokshin's entire life: the total imbalance between his musical talent and the popular acclaim it has received. I tend to think that the situation should touch any person of common sense and good taste. And this is yet another reason why I immediately decided to write about this man, to tell, to make people aware of his music. Of course, I have no intention whatsoever to claim the "discovery" of A.L. Lokshin's music - it is quite unnecessary, since his name is, no doubt, known to the Russian musical community, at least to those who still remember the recent past. I was prompted to write this article only by my innate love of music, and out of the natural "duty" a writer has to inform his reader. Also I hope I will be able to introduce A.L. Lokshin, in this concise and simple a manner, to musical publishers, record companies, conductors, as well as numerous lovers of symphonic music.
    Our century, stormy in all of its manifestations, including the musical life, is being played into its final bars. But can we say that we have uncovered all of its treasures? Experience tells us, that momentary black-outs and belated discoveries are in the nature of art, of which fact there are many examples. Perhaps we are too preoccupied with the past to take notice of the present - that's what a philologist, turned theomachist, thought.
    I suppose Alexander Lokshin who passed away in 1987, could become one of the discoveries of the future. The discovery already has happened several years ago, but somewhat on the quiet: in Russia the composer's name is still unknown to the majority of audience (in Germany, France, Britain the situation is slightly different). Maybe some will see my claim as just a heated remark thrown into the public: indeed, it is not easy to judge on a composer's importance, while due to an external pressure his work has never come in touch with the world. In his homeland Lokshin had to put up with countless hurdles, for the sole reason of being a Jew and rejected conformity. A certain role was played also by his not exactly idyllic relationships with colleagues who got on better in life.
    One could cite a whole series complimentary remarks about Lokshin made by some outstanding representatives of the Russian musical world. But I believe, such praises are of little real effect, if nothing is known about the musician himself, or nobody has ever heard a single sound of music he wrote. I didn't succeed in finding any information about Lokshin in reference books, his name is not mentioned in any reviews on the history of music, besides concert performances and records of his work have long become a rarity. In fact, too little has been done for him so far. With this article I will try to improve the situation as much as possible, and the starting point shall be a story of his life, in many respects both reveling and implicitly tragic. It will help to understand what was the Soviet musical life like in the post-war period.
    Alexander Lazarevich Lokshin was born on September 19, 1920, in Biysk, in the Altay region. Musical talents of little Alexander manifested themselves at a very early age. The first person to notice them was an exiled German lady, a pianist, who lodged with the Lokshins. In those years Siberia was packed with political exiles, with many representatives of the intelligentsia among them, including musicians (especially of the Jewish and German descent). These circumstances also contributed to the fact that Alexander's talent (he played the piano from the age of 6) did not remain unnoticed. Young Lokshin's achievements were so remarkable, that immediately after he had left school as an external student, the Novosibirsk Public Education Department sent him to Moscow to take entrance examinations at the Conservatoire.
    At the Conservatoire Lokshin entered Nikolai Myaskovsky's composition class. After the death of Skryabin, the emigration of Rakhmaninov, Metner and Glazunov, Myaskovsky was the only remaining Russian composer of the older generation. He was indeed a man of quite a different age - aristocratic both by birth and in manners. His music, outdate in style, in the taste of late romanticists, did not have any influence whatsoever on the development of Lokshin's musical style; yet owing to his high personal qualities he won the respect even of his youngest colleagues, and became their living "musical consciousness". However, composers who had come in the centre of the public attention were altogether different: Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Shostakovich.
    In 1941, when he still was a student, Lokshin was admitted to the Composers Union. Not many of his works of that period have survived, but there is no doubt about one thing though: Lokshin had sufficient musical achievements to be admitted to the Union at such a young age. There is a substantial evidence of the fact that in his younger years he also was a brilliant pianist, although he never performed in that capacity in public - partly because of his innate shyness, and partly because he did not want to steal time from the occupation he considered his main vocation – composing music. Lokshin, however, was negligent of the piano as the composer as well: he wrote only two pieces for this instrument.
    At that time the musical life in the Soviet Union was not subjected to total censorship yet. There was still some room for creative experiments. The Union of Composers, unlike that of Writers, undoubtedly had more independence. However, the relationships with official critics sometimes were quite tense: memories of the scandal caused by the opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk were still alive. In Lokshin's life complications occurred immediately, as because of the nature of his music (which was seen as not Russian enough), as because of the texts used in his compositions. The texts were one of the major aggravations, since in Alexander Lokshin's work purely instrumental pages were rather an exception. The striking originality of artistic choice, and the uncompromising stand he defended it with, from the very outset brought the composer onto the path of confrontation with the authorities, governing the ways of culture at that time. It was the primary reason of the misfortunes that haunted him.
    The first episode occurred when Lokshin was still studying at the Conservatoire, and the graduation works were to be submitted. His carrier of a composer was born under a truly bad sign. At the final examination he presented three symphonic pieces for soprano and orchestra based on the verses of Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal. Baudelaire, "a decadent and disgusting poetaster", was put by the official censorship on the black list of banned authors. The imprudent choice made by a young composer provoked unexpected repercussions (of course, negative) even in the national press. After that, in spite of the composition being successfully performed at rehearsals, and regardless of all the efforts of Myskovsky and other teachers, Lokshin was expelled from the Conservatoire and denied the diploma.
    Of course, it wasn't only Lokshin who was affected by the campaign against spirit of freethinking in the Conservatoire. The clouds gathered in the air betokening a new ideological thunderstorm. But it was not to break out, as it was superseded by more menacing a disaster: the war…
   In the end of 1941 Lokshin returned to Novosibirsk, to his parents' house. Everything seemed to be coming to an end, but it was in Novosibirsk that his fame unexpectedly found him. In February 1943, his symphonic poem Wait for Me based on the poem by Konstantin Simonov was performed at the city's best concert hall. For the first time his music was presented to a wide audience. It is worthy of note, that in spite of the fact that it took place afar from the main musical centres, it was of great moment. In the wartime the country's all resources, both industrial and spiritual, were removed from its central regions and Novosibirsk turned into a kind of substitute for the capital. The poem was performed by the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra under Evgeny Mravinsky himself (the orchestra was evacuated from the northern capital, which was subjected to a blockade), that is by the very same musicians, who had performed much of Shostakovich's music for the first time.
    On that occasion Lokshin met yet another legendary figure in the musical life of that period - a Leningrad musical critic Ivan Sollertinsky. A man of great erudition he had a great influence on Shostakovich, whom, as later he did with Lokshin, Sollertinsky enticed with interest in the great men of German musical culture of the late XIX century - Brukner, Brahms, and especially Mahler. As we know, in the work of Shostakovich Mahler's influence showed out in such compositions as the Forth Symphony. Shostakovich never concealed the fact of being greatly indebted by Sollertinsky: he dedicated to the memory of his friend (who died in 1944) the Trio in E Minor (opus 67), one of his most important chamber compositions. For Lokshin the discovery of Mahler provided the basis for achievement of creative and personal maturity. His previous work he later dismissed as belated echo of Skryabin and French impressionists. Mahler, as well as subsequently Berg, redirected his creative work towards reaching its utmost expressive intensity.
    The concert performance of the Lokshin's symphonic poem in Novosibirsk opened with Sollertinsky's speech, presenting the young composer's work to the audience. In his speech Sollertinsky highly praised Lokshin's music. But, predictably, the official press had a negative reaction to the success of Wait for Me - one of the newspapers published a slashing review under an eloquent headline: Don't wait for Me! However, in the musical circles the respect for Lokshin was growing, hence in 1944 he was able to return to Moscow and finally received the diploma. Shortly afterwards he returned to the Conservatoire as well, this time as a teacher of three subjects at once: musical literature, orchestration and score reading.
    The year 1948 happened to be tragically memorable for the Soviet art. Published after the Communist party Central Committee Resolutions, A. Zhdanov's manifesto (On Literature, Philosophy and Music) gave a definition of the aesthetics of socialist realism, and above all that of music: unfortunately, Zhdanov himself played the piano.
    The Central Committee of the Communist Party also directly preoccupied itself with the musical life and musicians (e.g. adopting the notorious resolution of February 10, 1948). The reasons that led the Soviet authorities into belief that modern art was intolerable, were, in fact, quite simple: firstly, the modernist art as a whole, in its very nature is more inclined to express protest, rather then compliance, while the Soviet Union expected art to be filled with enthusiasm and optimism. Secondly, since art was meant to be a means of propaganda and indoctrination the language it employed should be comprehensible even to workers and peasants. In the sphere of music this approach resulted in the rejection of atonal music, dissonance, dodecaphony, which were dismissed in the aforementioned resolution as "antisocial and formalistic tricks". The accusations of formalism, vague in themselves, are found everywhere in such documents. Contrary to formalism, folklore and popular art should become the only true source of themes and inspiration for a Soviet composer.
    In most cases these guidelines were not observed, which could not cause but serious discontent of the top-echelon party officials with the situation in the musical world. Attacks were launched even upon critics, musicologists and teachers who "failed to put it in the right way". As regards the composers the Central Committee resolution first of all cited the names of Shostakovich, Prokofiyev, Khachaturyan, Myaskovsky, Shebalin, Muradeli, and Popov. Immediately measures were taken toward the leading cadres - a complete change of the guard at the top of musical establishments, namely: the position of the Director of Moscow Conservatoire passed from Shebalin to Sveshnikov, in the Composers' Union Khrennikov replaced Khachaturian. Myaskovsky, already an old and seriously ill man, was among the few who had the courage to protest against the state of affairs. Shostakovich, criticized by Zhdanov for his 9th Symphony he wrote in 1945, was ousted from the chair of composition at the Moscow Conservatoire.
    One of the consequences of the 1948 decree was the dismissal of Lokshin from the Conservatoire. It happened after he was informed against by people who had overheard him playing music of Mahler and Stravinsky. When we are told this today, we can hardly believe it could ever really happen! Apart from his acquaintance with foreign composers, there were other reasons: first of all, his music was overtly western-like. From the official point of view Lokshin departed too far from the classical model of orchestration, i.e. Tchaikovsky's model. Indeed, his scores do not retain the functional opposition of the leads and the rest of orchestra (solo - tutti), i.e. that of melody and accompaniment - to the contrary, every instrument "speaks" in its own voice. He was blamed for being not enough Russian a composer, and the accusations were justified, as Lokshin was more of a German, rather than Russian musician. To be more precise, he considered himself a direct successor to the ideal "Viennese line", which links Schubert to Brahms to Mahler to Berg. According to I. Karpinsky's remark, the style of his later work, can be defined as post-expressionism, with a little elaboration: there is a lot more of tonal music in Lokshin's work. Of course, he was never interested in folklore, and he was in all respects averse to the poetics of socialist realism. If we add to this, that Lokshin was absolutely hopeless in the art of diplomacy, that he openly mocked at the work of many of his successful colleagues, and was unable to compromise on the matters of his creative work, it will be clear, what were his chances to succeed in Russia of his day.
    After being banished from the Conservatoire, Lokshin lived through some hard times. He earned a little money by writing music for the cinema, but unlike many other composers he refused to consider it a serious sort of music. Apart from that, his work had no other way to be brought out to the world, it was practically impossible to get any of his compositions performed. The music was heard only at private gatherings, and it was always welcomed by those who listened to it; but the possibility of offering the music to anyone for public performance was out of the question. Friends and colleagues always advised him the same: to put everything in the drawer, to wait. Although he never received official recognition, nobody ever contested his musical talent. Lokshin was considered a complete master of orchestration, and he was also known as an authority on Mahler's work. And this was in spite of the fact that at that time Lokshin had never heard the music of the composer he revered: he only knew it from scores, and arrangements for two pianos. The first records that came to his hands in 1956 were almost illegally brought from abroad. Those were historic recordings of music conducted by Walter and Klemperer: the shock and excitement caused by the music heard for the first time was beyond description. Subsequently, when they started at last to perform Mahler's music in the Soviet Union, Lokshin became an expert whose advice was very much valued by many conductors.
    In those years Lokshin attached particular importance to his relationships with Shostakovich, whom, after the death of Myaskovsky, Lokshin regarded as his highest authority and protector. The musical styles of the two composers were too different to speak of any influence, but there was genuine mutual respect, based not solely on the merits of their music. They used to meet, although not very often, at home, without intermediaries or bystanders. When Lokshin completed a new important work, he would ask Shostakovich to meet him, and the latter would then invite Lokshin to his place and set him at the piano. Shostakovich used to be his first, and often the only audience. However, their relations were hardly ever made known to anyone, that's why Shostakovich's admiration remained in the domain of confidential information, which only could be whispered about.
    By the end of 1950's it seemed, that the worst times for the composer remained behind. However, troubles in Lokshin's life were destined to perpetuate. Although his style was no longer subjected to censure, the texts his works were based on often presented an impassible obstacle. Lokshin was very exacting about the texts, and he didn't care at all whether the party high-rankers would like them or not. On the contrary, he seemed challenge them, so persistent he was in choosing "banned" literature. Even when he used the texts of acclaimed authors, such as Blok (in the 6th Symphony), Pushkin (The Songs of the Western Slavs in the 8th Symphony), or Mayakovsky (in the symphonic poem At the Top of One's Voice), he managed either to pick up the most gloomy lines, or to interpret the texts in a way very different from what was generally accepted.
    Such confidence and independence in selecting texts for symphonies can only be explained, I suppose, by a thorough investigation of the very nature of the unique process of poetic interpretation of a text, which Lokshin's symphonism is based upon. In his work music does not merely provide an accompaniment to the word, the musical version of a poetic text often differs from its conventional interpretations. Moreover, Lokshin's music throws fresh light on the poetry itself, it not only allows to get a deep-felt understanding of it, but it also creates tragic variances, "poliphony of meanings" of a kind, of which there are but few examples in the musical literature. I find interesting Veniamin Kaverin's opinion of the 10th Symphony: "Music cannot do without literature either. Thus, for instance, recently I spent a whole evening listening to the music of a composer I hadn't known before - Alexander Lokshin. He wrote a symphony on the verses by Zabolotsky. I listened to it with delight, as the spirit of Zabolotsky was in fact captured in it. And besides, there one finds a completely new, very heartfelt, very good idea, disposing towards a spiritual delight, - a musical idea, which finally finds expression life in the melody."
    Starting from the 3rd Symphony, written in 1966, Lokshin used to write one syphony a year, along with smaller works. He worked without sparing himself - often being aware of the fact that he would never hear his work performed. The creative impulse, suppressed by the feeling of emptiness, began to die down only in the closing stages of his life. Owing to the support of Shostakovich nearly half of Lokshin's works was published, and some of them even performed in public. Some symphonies were performed in his lifetime in Western Europe and the USA.
    In his own country Lokshin's music was performed mainly by two conductors: Arvid Jansons and Rudolf Barshai. Friendship with these excellent musicians allowed Alexander Lokshin to present a number of his works to the Russian public in the 1960's and 1970's. Jansons, after the first performance of the 1st Symphony, conducted the 2nd Symphony based on the verses by ancient Greek poets, performed in Moscow and Leningrad. But it was Rudolf Barshai, founder of the famous Moscow Chamber Orchestra, whose permanent professional collaboration with Lokshin grew into a genuine creative friendship. Barshai's conducted the first performances of the 4th, 5th, 7th, 9th, and 10th Symphonies, as well as Margarita's Songs and Three Scenes from Goethe's Faust. Fortunately, his exemplary interpretations of these compositions are preserved on records (by the way, it is high time for them to be released again). Lokshin's works have their place in the repertoire of Barshai, and after he moved abroad he continued to perform them in many cities of Europe.
    In the end of Lokshin's life, his innate passion for poetry was supplemented by his preoccupation with history, study of religion, Gothic and Renaissance art. His ideas were articulated in more and more precise terms. For Lokshin art represented the truth, the entire life, he was convinced, that his work first of all reflected the reality of his day. It was not a mere contemporaneity: in my view, in his music sufferings of an individual are always redeemed by a sense of piece and harmony in the universe. It is no coincidence, that in the music of the past he valued chiefly its moral significance. His small study in near the Moscow University the portraits of Bach, Beethoven, Mahler and Berg were very much in place. Naturally, his hankering after novelty, willingness to learn led him further: he appreciated the music of Britten, (Military Requiem, Marine Interludes) Schonberg was loved only for the music of The Survived in Warsaw. There were not that many Russian composers he was keen on: Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich, but he didn't at all like Prokofyev, whom he considered to be insufficiently original.
    In his last years Lokshin led very lonely life: after the death of Shostakovich (in 1975) and the emigration of Barshai (in 1977) he felt there was no one to keep him company. Isolation and indifference depressed him, and though he never thought of leaving Russia, it is very likely, that he was an inner emigrant after all.
    "One life is not enough to see our music claim its due", Lokshin used to say. Indeed, his lifetime was not enough: by the time he passed away in 1987, his name had been already forgotten in Russia, and still unknown in the West. Some of his own work, including three symphonies, he never had a chance to hear. By the irony of fate, Lokshin's music won a new recognition after his death, when his music was performed on many venues in Western Europe. At present the music of Lokshin is mostly performed outside Russia - a paradoxical fact, if we take into account, that it's his native country where it has the most dedicated researchers and admirers, as well as the audience that would understand it best of all.