Abstract

Despite official hostility to religion and ambivalence towards Western bourgeois culture, the Soviet Union's major orchestras and choirs retained a high number of Western sacred works in their concert repertoire. In this article, I examine the apparent incongruity of this aspect of Soviet concert practice, with specific focus on the two most important Soviet choirs in Moscow and Leningrad: the Leningrad Capella, and the Moscow-based Russian Choir of the USSR. I argue that the process of cultural appropriation in the Soviet Union embraced a sufficiently broad conception of Western musical culture for this repertoire to be considered not only safe, but of central canonic importance. With an appropriate ideological varnish, and even textual alteration, a careful selection of Western sacred music could be rendered “Soviet” enough to remain core repertoire, albeit subject to fast-changing currents in cultural politics throughout the period 1917–53.

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