Friday, December 25, 2015

Tales from the Great Terror: the story of Vsevolod Zaderatsky told by his son

Vsevolod Zaderatsky. The X Mariinsky International Piano Festival.
From the X Mariinsky International Piano Festival programme booklet, 2015.

VSEVOLOD ZADERATSKY - by Vsevolod Zaderatsky, Jr.

The name of Vsevolod Zaderatsky cannot be found in any reference books, encyclopaedias or study guides about art history of the 20th century. Nevertheless, it is frequently to be found in prison archives from Ryazan to Magadan.

Zaderatsky was born in 1891 and died in 1953. The mature period of his life absolutely coincided with the military-revolutionary fracture and the age of Stalinism. He was a brilliantly educated man, having graduated from the Law Faculty of the Moscow University and the Moscow Conservatory e as a pianist, composer, and conductor.

At the conservatory he studied under Taneyev and Ippolitov-Ivanov. From 1915-1916 he was one of the music teachers of the heir to the throne Tsesarevich Alexei, from 1916-1918 he was an officer in the imperial Army and participated in military manoeuvres during World War I and from 1918-1920 he was an officer with the White Voluntary Army of General Denikin.

Zaderatsky was captured in 1920, but Dzerzhinsky personally intervened to spare his life and, as they said back then, "tell him where to live".

That meant the loss of the right to vote, the right to live in a city, the right to publish works, the right to perform them, the right to a playbill and generally the right to be involved in any public activity whatsoever. 

Zaderatsky's life in the 1920s-1930s was a mixture of free life (albeit without a passport) and imprisonment. In Ryazan he was arrested in 1922, 1922, and 1926. His last arrest resulted in the destruction of everything he had written, and today we have the composer's manuscripts beginning from 1928. Yaroslavl, Krasnodar, Zhitomir - these are the places in which his life unfolded, ending in Lvov.

By the time of the onset of the Great Terror, Zaderatsky had composed six piano sonatas (which have survived and been published in Ukraine), a cycle of twenty-four preludes (1934), three programme piano cycles, two operas, and symphony and ensemble scores. His arrest in 1937 in Yaroslavl was the last in a series of experiences the composer had in prison.

It is historically accurate that he was known as a "story-teller" in the camps. The story of the Russian Empire, the ancient world, the Arabian caliphate, the discovery of America, and of course, matters of jurisprudence and the comparison of various legal codes (in which he was a true specialist) - these are the themes from which he drew succour for two years.

It is also known that his listeners included not just fellow prisoners but jailers as well. Thanks to his skill, Zaderatsky managed to receive some patronage, and he had, it would appear, some time to create. He was allowed not to go to work with everyone else, he was given "alibis" of illnessess and other reasons.

Having convinced the jailers that he would write only sheet music and no words, Zaderatsky gained access to paper and pencils. The paper he used was a pile of telegraph forms.

Zaderatsky composed his Twenty-Four Preludes and Fugues for Piano in a prison camp between 1937 and 1939. This was the first successful attempt at reviving the Baroque genre in 20th century music practice in Europe. Hindemith would only complete his Ludus tonalis as late as 1942, and Shostakovich's famour Opus 87 was written only in 1953.

In impossibly difficult circumstances Vsevolod Zaderatsky managed to create a work rich in lofty artistic qualities.



ICSM Online Journal. Articles
Vsevolod Petrovich Zaderatsky (1891–1953) – A Lost Soviet Composer

by Vsevolod Zaderatsky Jr
(translated by Anthony Phillips)
posted 23 May 2006

The name of Vsevolod Petrovich Zaderatsky – my father – belongs among those outstanding artistic personalities whose true standing has yet to be recognised. There is a sense in which, even in the particular musical history of Soviet and post-Soviet times, the belated resuscitation of his musical legacy represents a phenomenon when compared with the many other names that were meant to be consigned to oblivion.

It was only by a miracle that Zaderatsky escaped death during the historic upheavals of the first half of the twentieth century. But from the outset of Communist rule he was subjected to ‘historical ostracism’, deliberately written out of history, never once during his lifetime being afforded any opportunity to promote his music. Although a member of ACM (Association of Contemporary Music) and subsequently, from the date of its inauguration until the day of his death, a member of the Union of Composers, he was never once provided with a platform to present his work to the public, or as an equal among peers to disseminate his name among fellow-musicians. Not a note of his music was published; no criticism or even mention of his art ever appeared in print; his name is found in no reference work. After 1934 and until the end of his life he was denied permission to reside in Moscow , or Leningrad , or Kiev . This silent, secret persecution was never dignified by any explanation, and the reasons for it were probably equally obscure to those whose duty it was to ensure that the immutably ordained decisions were implemented.

The difference between Zaderatsky’s fate and that of other ‘deliberately forgotten’ contemporaries such as Roslavets, Lourié and Mosolov, lies in the fact that Zaderatsky never had even the briefest period of activity as a composer in the public eye. Others enjoyed at least a passing gleam of public work and recognition. In the majority of cases the reasons a composer might be condemned to deletion from the historical record lay precisely in the nature of his work. Subsequent resuscitation could therefore in time take place quite naturally, arising out of a stock of extant memories. Zaderatsky’s case is quite different: the world at large had no awareness of him at all as a composer, still less as an important one. It was as if he did not exist, even in the composing fraternity. In society generally he was a pariah, deprived of his voting rights, arrested and sentenced to periods of imprisonment and exile, entitled only to a passport that clearly indicated his second class (or lower) status, forbidden to reside in major cities, subject to a draconian injunction on the publication of any of his works. Strangely, he was never expelled from the Union of Composers: it is almost as though the Union had been chosen as the instrument through which the secret instructions about Zaderatsky’s fate were to be implemented.

Family Background, Childhood and Student Years

The causes of these fatefully predestined singularities lie in certain specific events and connections. Zaderatsky was born on Rovno on 21 December 1891 . His father, Pyotr Andreyevich Zaderatsky, a leading expert in railway-construction and -management systems, came from a bourgeois family in Zvenigorodok in Kiev (today Cherkassk) Province. From humble beginnings as a clerk in a telegraph office he had risen to become director of the South West rail-network, even for a brief period a trusted colleague of the Imperial Minister of Communications. In the final decades of his life he served as chairman of the Transport Department of the Kiev Polytechnic Institute. Zaderatsky’s mother Maria Pavlovna, née Meleshkevich-Bzhozovskaya, stemmed from an impoverished branch of an aristocratic Polish family, and it was through her that Zaderatsky derived his earliest musical experiences and ultimately his choice of career.

The composer spent his early childhood in the village of Zdolbunovo (he was christened in the local church of St Michael ) and then in Rovno where three years later his sister Vera was born. It seems that the first five years of his life were spent here, after which the family moved briefly to Vilnius in connection with his father’s work. But the main portion of his childhood and youth was spent in Kursk , the operational headquarters of the South Western rail-system. Zaderatsky lived here for many years, graduating from the Kursk gymnasium and leaving only to go to Moscow to study at the University and the Conservatoire.

His biography for the period from 1916 to 1923 is difficult to reconstruct today. All that is known is that in 1916 he received his diploma from the jurisprudence faculty of Moscow University , and the same year was called up into the army as the First World War was still in progress at the time. As a university graduate he was sent to the School of Military Engineering , passing out at the beginning of 1917 with the rank of Second Lieutenant. The examiner at his final examination was none other than Engineer-General César Cui.

In parallel with his university studies Zaderatsky had completed the full course of training at the Moscow Conservatoire in piano, composition and operatic and orchestral conducting. Sergey Taneyev, who often selected his students from the new arrivals, spotted him immediately. Initially Zaderatsky studied piano and free composition with Genrikh Pakhulsky, later working with Karl Kipp for piano, Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov for composition, Sergey Vasilenko for orchestration and Alexander Orlov for conducting. He states in his unpublished autobiography that: ‘Along with piano I studied composition first with Pakhulsky, then with Taneyev, then with Ippolitov-Ivanov, and with them completed the full composition course’. There is one specific chronological clue: Zaderatsky writes of being present at an encounter between Taneyev and Scriabin on the latter’s return from a long tour of Europe and America . This took place in 1910, when Scriabin was visiting Taneyev at home, and coincided with Taneyev’s teaching of Zaderatsky. The year 1910 can thus be established as a time in which he was studying at the Moscow Conservatoire, a fact which may be verified from the Conservatoire’s own archives. As the autobiography states: ‘In 1910 I entered Moscow University and the Moscow Conservatoire’.

It is remarkable that he should have been able to enter the Conservatoire straight from Kursk without passing through the junior classes. In Kursk his first teacher was, naturally, his mother, Maria Pavlovna. Documentation in the Moscow Conservatoire archives bears witness to the fact that he studied music in Kursk with the teacher A. M. Abazi (and is confirmed by Abazi’s own attestation). It is clear in any case that Zaderatsky had already received a solid grounding in music or he would not have been accepted by such eminent teachers as Pakhulsky and Taneyev. Studies with Pakhulsky apparently continued for two years, following which he moved to the piano class of Professor K. A. Kipp.

In Moscow Zaderatsky lived in a large house belonging to the Platovs, descendants of the celebrated Cossack ataman Count Platov. Fyodor Platov, an outstandingly gifted painter, was Zaderatsky’s closest friend. His younger brother Boris Platov was a pianist and fellow-student of the young Zaderatsky. Boris’s memoirs supply many details missing from the composer’s biography.

Zaderatsky graduated from Moscow University ’s Faculty of Law in 1916, but although he had likewise completed the full course of study at the Moscow Conservatoire was not able, for purely practical reasons, simultaneously to take his final exams there. Only in 1923 was he able to take his final examination as a pianist. It has also been established that during his time at the Conservatoire – that is, some time before 1916 – Zaderatsky went on tour to Sweden , the only time he ever travelled abroad. To this time also belongs his close acquaintance with the renowned bass Grigory Pirogov. It can be assumed that their joint concert-tours took place in the 1920s, at which time Zaderatsky was living and working in Ryazan .

In 1914, at the age of 23, Zaderatsky married. His first wife, Natalya Pasechnik, was a fellow-student of piano at the Conservatoire. The following year, at the height of the war, their son Rostislav, was born. Early in 1916 Zaderatsky was called up into the army, and the following year the October Revolution erupted. This was to have fateful consequences for his first family, because it led him to take the decision that his wife and son should emigrate. In 1918 they left Novorossiisk first for Yugoslavia and then France . He never saw them again. (In 1952, shortly before his death and placing once again at risk the freedom of which he had several times been deprived, he made enquiries through the Swiss Red Cross in an effort to trace his son and former wife. Letters received from Paris informed him that his first wife had married again, while his son Rostislav had joined the French Resistance during the Second World War, had been captured by the Germans and succeeded in escaping after eight attempts, had participated in successful military actions. Before the War he had attended Conius’ Russian Musical Conservatoire, having inherited his father’s musical genes. But he was not able to pursue a career in music: his hands were damaged in captivity and the attempts he had made to escape); he graduated in the faculties of engineering and chemistry

Dangerous Liaisons

Zaderatsky seldom referred to his life before or during the Revolution – it was evidently a strictly taboo subject. I never heard a word from my father’s lips about this period of his life – or, indeed, other periods. Neither to his second wife, my mother Valentina Vladimirovna, née Perlova, did he vouchsafe any clear details, although he did sketch out for her a few of the misadventures that had befallen him during this terrible epoch. But not even to her, whom he trusted absolutely, and whose efforts and selfless courage rescued him in 1937, did he reveal the deepest of his secrets, which came to light only in 1997, nearly half-a-century after his death. The genesis of the revelation was the publication of a full-page article by Yekaterina Kretova in the popular Moscow newspaper MK (‘Moscow Komsomolets’) entitled ‘A Living Corpse – the Composer Zaderatsky’. It prompted a telephone call to my apartment from the 92-year-old younger of the Platov brothers, Boris Fyodorovich, who asked if I could come to see him. When I did so, he produced a statement addressed by Fyodor Platov to Boris attesting to the fact that Zaderatsky’s persecution by the Bolsheviks was due not to his having been an officer in Denikin’s army, a circumstance that had been erased from the record, but that he had taught music to the Tsarevich Alexi, the son of Nicholas II and heir to the throne of all the Russians. Almost every week throughout 1915 and part of 1916 he had made the journey from Moscow to St Petersburg for one day. Since Fyodor was a friend and Zaderatsky was living in his house, Fyodor was of course aware of the reason for these trips, but he also kept silent about them until his very last days. In the aftermath of the Revolution such a connection was, needless to say, regarded as the most heinous of crimes, and one can only wonder how Zaderatsky contrived to escape with his life. No doubt it was the war that saved him, as he did not come back until the Revolution had taken place, and this may have sufficiently mitigated the sin of closeness to the Royal Family to spare his life. But herein undoubtedly lies the cause of the secret and relentless persecution inflicted on my father.

It is not clear who was responsible for his introduction to the Imperial Family and the Tsarevich, who evidently took to his teacher at once. It may have been Senator Baron Karl von Stackelberg, the husband of Zaderatsky’s maternal aunt Alexandra Pavlovna, who in turn adored her younger sister and no doubt her first-born son as well. Another possible high-born link would have been Senator Bzhozovsky, but that is less likely since he had no interest in music, whereas Stackelberg was Director of the Court Orchestra and had founded a museum of musical instruments in St Petersburg . Additionally, Stackelberg, as a native German, would have been more likely to be close to the Empress.

It is 1917 that sees the beginning of the composer’s peripatetic life during the First World War. He saw action first on the western and then on the southern fronts. On one occasion he escaped death on the shore of the Black Sea by a miracle, when a German battle-cruiser that had stolen through the fortifications unleashed several salvoes from its heaviest guns. Zaderatsky was sitting on the shore noting down an eastern melody he had heard. A shell landed right by his side but, fortunately, failed to explode – although the shockwaves were so severe that he was badly shell-shocked and in consequence became prematurely bald.

Had he succeeded in completing his novel A Man in his Time, the narrative of which he did not manage to bring up even to the start of the First World War, more would be known about the adventures of his unusual and turbulent life during the many years of war and civil war. But it was not to be. In the autobiographical sketch he presented to the personnel department of the Lvov Conservatoire in 1949, he states merely that: ‘In 1919 and 1920 I served in Denikin’s army’. Later he hints that Alexei Tolstoy derived many of the details in the story of Vadim Roshchin in his novel TheRoad to Calvary from hearing Zaderatsky’s account of his experiences. But whether these were in fact his own adventures or stories drawn from other real historical personages is not clear. He did tell his wife that he had shot dead one of his fellow Denikin officers who was systematically killing prisoners in the courtyard of the divisional headquarters, but the consequences of this extraordinary action remain unclear.

An Unlikely Alliance

According to Professor M. Yu. Kryukh of the Lvov Conservatoire, Zaderatsky kept a small bust of Dzerzhinsky at his home. The explanation was that Dzerzhinsky had saved his life in 1920, when scores of captured Denikin officers were being held prisoner in the drawing-room of a large house. When night fell, nobody could sleep, anticipating the fate that was all too soon to befall them. But there was a piano in the drawing room, at which Zaderatsky sat and played without ceasing all night.

It so happened that Dzerzhinsky himself was also in the house, listening as he worked the through the night to these unexpected sounds, so inappropriate to the dreadful context of his nocturnal labours. In the morning he made enquiries as to the identity of the person who had been playing, and on being informed ordered that the pianist should be released and provided with the necessary safe-conduct documents. All the other prisoners were shot. This information has come down from the chance revelations of other people, for Zaderatsky himself was all too aware how dangerous his own biography was for people with whom he came in contact. This is the reason that he – temperamentally such an open person, a born communicator, emotionally transparent and expansive in his creativity – should have hidden so much within himself and not revealed it even to those closest to him, for fear of the danger to which it might expose them. This was the dark night of Stalinism, and he refrained from communicating even with his sisters, living then in Moscow , in order not to contaminate them with the curse of his own blighted existence.

Dzerzhinsky’s protection extended no further than preserving his life. But what exactly that life consisted of depended on the realities of existence at the time. To start with, Zaderatsky was forbidden to live in Moscow and was sent to Ryazan , where from 1920 he worked as a senior instructor in the piano class at the State Music School and later at the People’s Education Institute, where he led a course in the history of music. In 1922 and 1923 he conducted the symphony orchestra attached to the Ryazan Soviet Theatre. From 1925 he worked at the Ryazan Music Technical College as a teacher of piano, history and theory of music, and under his tutelage here at this time emerged such distinguished musicians as the choral conductor Claude Ptitsa and the musicologist Vera Vasina-Grossman.

The earliest surviving compositions of Zaderatsky are dated 1928, by which time he was 37 years old. But he had been composing since childhood: if nothing else, one would expect his studies with the prominent musicians who were his teachers to have left their mark in a range of compositions in various genres.

Arrest, Imprisonment – and Continuing Creativity

We come now to the most dramatic part of Zaderatsky’s biography: his imprisonment. His autobiography makes no secret of the fact that he served two years in Denikin’s army. One would think that in the era of Stalin this would constitute a fatal admission, yet he is apparently unafraid to give chapter and verse. Evidently he sensed (or knew?) that the main source of his persecution lay elsewhere. Why was it that he never gave precise details of his years in prisons and labour camps? Because on each occasion he was formally rehabilitated, to be left only with the regime of unacknowledged persecution manifested in the restrictions under which he existed, among them being, for example, deprivation of voting rights. He understood that one of the main privileges afforded to him and others by official rehabilitation was the right not to refer to the lost years of wandering in captivity. Such was the normal politics of the time. All that he was left with was the opportunity to continue working.

Possibly the most tragic episode of his life was his first arrest in 1926 Everything he had written, all his compositions and, one may assume, his literary productions, were consigned to oblivion. This was the first, most fundamental and most successful, attempt to erase altogether all traces of this personality. Only on the eve of his own death did he confess to his wife that there, in prison, he had attempted suicide. He struck up a friendship with the camp pharmacist, a prisoner like himself, conversing with him in Latin and secretly hoarding the sleeping pills he begged from him. Unfortunately, however, his friends observed what he was doing, and when he tried to swallow a large quantity of them, at once raised the alarm and succeeded in making him vomit them up. But the suicide attempt itself became the subject of a further investigation, resulting in a committee of enquiry that released him from a virtually hopeless situation. Probably he was incarcerated for less than two years, because the first two piano sonatas – the earliest of his compositions to survive – are dated July and August 1928. They were composed in Stary Karantin, near Kerch , and are written not on manuscript paper but in pencil on an assortment of pages taken from ordinary notepads. They seem initially to have been composed without access to an instrument, but one must have been found later because there are corrections: interpolations, changes, cuts. From this moment on, his creative activity did not cease until his death, continuing even during his second period of imprisonment.

To all appearances, these events were followed by a period of relative relaxation of the restrictions imposed on his life. As before he was still deprived of voting privileges (this was considered the most significant mark of civic unworthiness) but he was allowed to move to Moscow . This he did at the end of 1929, and from 1930 found work as a staff composer with the All-Union Radio. In Moscow he composed several cycles of piano pieces: ChinaCups, Micro-Lyrics, A Notebook of Miniatures, the Lyrical Sinfonietta for Strings and a series of songs. He wrote two operas for radio broadcast. There can be no doubt that in these years at the radio station he was surrounded by people who understood the scale of the musician they were dealing with, and wanted to do whatever was in their power to help him gain the recognition he deserved. He had a circle of loyal and true friends, among whom were, to take one example, the celebrated film actress Lyubov Orlova. His closest friend during this period was the pianist Lev Mironov of the Stanislavsky Trio, who commissioned from Zaderatsky a number of works for the genre, all of which have vanished without trace. But here, too, luck was against him: none of the highly regarded operas was ever produced, none of the innumerable chamber, piano, vocal and choral works was heard over the airwaves or on the larger concert platforms. The only performances were of incidental music for theatre productions, or other odd jobs for which a bit of music might be required, and hack work of this nature. He continued ‘not to exist’.

During the five years he spent in Moscow Zaderatsky joined the ACM. (Association for Contemporary Music). His affiliation to this organisation did not go unnoticed by the rival group, the RAPM (Russian Association of Proletarian Musicians). The activists of the RAPM nourished a sincere hatred of Zaderatsky, who with his customary directness was accustomed to calling them to their faces ‘demagogues of music’ and ‘musical charlatans’, and referring to the organisation itself as ‘a joke of international proportions’.

But the RAPM was at this time the real musical power in the land, and even the establishment of the Union of Composers failed to contain the consolidated power of the RAPMen, whose control by this time was virtually universal. Now, with the evident consent of the ‘organs’, they began to harry Zaderatsky. By the middle years of the 1930s the atmosphere began to darken as the Terror escalated and the screw began to tighten. Towards the end of 1933 Zaderatsky felt the distinct chill of approaching danger, and attempted to take steps to protect himself. He provided himself with testimonials from three leading musicians for presentation to some authority or other, precisely which is not known, doubtless those same ‘organs’, or a Cultural Committee of some sort, or perhaps some government department linked by osmosis to the ‘organs’. Here are the testimonials he hoped would protect him from the looming threat.

Honoured Artistic Practitioner Professor Nikolay Golovanov (conductor), 9 November 1933 , Moscow :

Vsevolod Petrovich Zaderatsky is a composer with excellent technical capability, great experience and instrumental mastery. In particular, I have come to know his opera Blood and Coal (from the score), his Foundation Symphony and his symphonic suite entitled Avtodor. All these three works on Soviet themes are realised with great mastery and wonderfully orchestrated. In my opinion, provided the circumstances of Comrade Zaderatsky’s life allow him to live and work normally, he will rightfully occupy a distinguished place among young Soviet composers.

People’s Artist of the Republic Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov, 22 October 1933 , Moscow :

Since his graduation from the Moscow Conservatoire, Vsevolod Petrovich Zaderatsky has been known to me as a talented composer gifted with a sense of melodic and harmonic beauty. His works likewise display his mastery of contemporary compositional techniques which, when further developed, will allow him to assume a prominent position among the composers of today.

Professor Alexander Orlov (conductor), 23 October, Moscow :

I know Comrade Zaderatsky very well as an excellent musician and a very talented composer with an exceptional gift for orchestration. His opera Blood and Coal and a whole series of symphonic works bear the stamp of a great master.

But these recommendations were ineffectual: the reasons for which Zaderatsky was being hounded by the authorities lay in a completely different sphere. In 1934 he was compelled to leave Moscow and sent to Yaroslavl , where he found living accommodation with a family called Perlov, scions of a merchant family well-known before the Revolution for its tea-business in China . There he made the acquaintance of Valentina Vladimirovna Perlova, a children’s psychologist, who became his wife. I, their only child, was born in 1935.

In the same year Zaderatsky enrolled in the stage-direction faculty of the Institute of Theatrical Arts (known as GITIS: Gosudarstvennyi Institut Teatral’nykh ISskustv). A certificate dated 28 September 1936 has been preserved stating that: ‘Comrade Zaderatsky V. P. is in the second year of his studies in the Stage Direction Faculty of the Correspondence Section of the Lunacharsky State Institute of Theatrical Arts. Validity of this certification is until 1 January 1937 ’. Evidently this was a three-year postal course, and he successfully graduated from GITIS. He later recalled with amusement his meetings with Stanislavsky and the experience of mounting stage-productions under his direction, laughing both at himself and at the subject matter of these experiences. Only once, in Zhitomir where he produced two children’s operas, did he have an opportunity of putting into practice his directorial skills, the acquisition of which had been prompted by hopes of assisting in the production of his own operas – hopes which were forever to remain unfulfilled.

In February 1934 Zaderatsky began work at the Sobinov Music Academy in Yaroslavl . Here his talents were immediately fully appreciated and he was offered the position of head of studies with responsibility for a wide range of subjects. Since he spent the larger part of his life working in musical academe, it seems appropriate to enumerate the subjects he taught. In Yaroslavl he gave classes in: 1) conducting; 2) opera; 3) history of music; 4) harmony; 5) form; 6) orchestration; 7) piano as a special subject; 8) conducting the Academy’s symphony orchestra; 9) qualification-enhancement courses for piano teachers; 10) piano chamber music. In other institutions he additionally taught piano-teaching methodology, pedagogic practice, piano-accompaniment practice. One can only wonder at his finding any time at all to do any creative work, yet he continued to compose unceasingly. Suffice it to mention that in this same year of 1934 he produced an outstanding cycle of 24 Preludes for piano, five movements of the uncompleted oratorio October, and many other works. In Yaroslav he had one outstanding student: Venyamin Basner, who began his training as a composer under Zaderatsky. Later, Basner would become one of the most distinguished representatives of the Leningrad group of composers: his response to the first of his teachers found enthusiastic expression in his published memoirs, and he later orchestrated several of the songs in Zaderatsky’s cycle devoted to poems by Tvardovsky.

In the first years of his Yaroslavl sojourn, aside from the composition his dedication to which never wavered, Zaderatsky’s principal concern was the orchestra. He appreciated that he had come by chance to one of Northern Russia ’s most ancient cities, the city of Fyodor Volkov , founder of the national theatre tradition. This circumstance led him to the notion that an opera company and musical theatre should be established in the town, so he persuaded the Academy’s administration to establish an opera class directed by himself. At the same time he recognised that the bedrock of the project must be the orchestra and founded an ensemble that was destined eventually to become the Yaroslavl Symphony Orchestra.

From Prominence to Purgatory

Involuntarily, Zaderatsky was becoming more active and better-known in the cultural life of the city than was fitting for someone of his lowly political status. It is true that in 1936 this status had appeared to be considerably strengthened: an excerpt has been preserved from the minutes (No. 50/36 dated 1 August 1936) of a meeting of the Presidium of the All-Russia Central Executive Committee of Soviets: ‘Application by Citizen Vsevolod Petrovich Zaderatsky for restoration of voting privileges. Application approved’. This was an important step: it meant that full citizenship was restored and the disenfranchisement lifted. But 1937 was approaching, and Zaderatsky, feeling the ever-present danger to be even more acute, told his wife Valentina Vladimirovna to hide all his papers in a safe place, specifically all music and literary manuscripts that did not conform strictly to approved subjects. All that remained were the handful of compositions that had already been heard publicly.

In March 1937 Zaderatsky was arrested in Yaroslavl and thrown into the local jail. When his house was searched, the only compromising material that was found were some posters announcing orchestral concerts that included a programme of German music with works by Wagner and Richard Strauss. His wife was later informed that her husband had been arrested for disseminating Fascist music, and that he had been sent to a corrective labour camp in the north – precisely where was not divulged, since part of the sentence of the ‘tribunal’ that fulfilled the functions of a court was that he should be imprisoned without rights of correspondence.

His wife did not at this stage appreciate that the formula ‘ten years without correspondence rights’ amounted de facto to a death sentence. But she felt with every fibre of her being the injustice of what had taken place, and she resolved to fight for her husband’s release. She went to Moscow and joined the apparently endless queue to lodge an appeal with the ‘Father of the Union’ Mikhail Kalinin – such a long queue of appellants, in fact, that it took eighteen months before, in the autumn of 1938, she was finally admitted to the outer office of the Father of the Union and allowed to submit her documents. These days it is difficult to establish with any certainty what consequences her actions brought about, but the fact is that in July 1939 he was released. It was at this time that the trio of Party hangmen that had sent thousands of Yaroslavl citizens to their deaths were themselves arrested and condemned, which may have had something to do with Zaderatsky’s fate.

What mattered was that the second generation of Stalin’s oprichniki had decided as an example to grant freedom to around half a million of its convicts, among whom was Zaderatsky. A certificate has been preserved bearing the following inscription: ‘Issued to Citizen Zaderatsky Vsevolod Petrovich attesting to the fact that from 17 July until 21 July 1939 he was confined to penal camp and released from SEVVOSTLAG NKVD by reason of his case being settled. Permitted to return to Yaroslavl ’.

SEVVOSTLAG (acronym for ‘North East Camps’) was the name given to a group of camps situated in the valley of the Kolyma River , one of the most savage in the history of the Gulag. It had been the height of cynicism to restore to him his citizen’s status (with the right to vote in elections) a mere half-year before arresting and condemning him to a long term of imprisonment that was clearly expected to result in his death. For this reason he ever afterwards refused to exercise his right to vote.

There is more information about his period in the camps and in Magadan, where he spent some time immediately after being released, than about his wartime service. This is because, since Valentina Zaderatskaya had been a witness to his arrest and an active participant in his release, he felt able to share with her some details of his life there.

Composing in the GuLag

Of all Zaderatsky’s achievements the most astonishing, unprecedented in the history of human endeavour, must be the composition of the cycle of 24 Preludes and Fugues for piano during the years 1937 to 1938. The claim of this phenomenal feat to be so regarded arises from a combination of more than one factor. In the first place, it was the first attempt in the twentieth century to recreate the famous baroque genre in European culture. Hindemith would compose his Ludus Tonalis cycle embracing all twelve tonalities in the following year, 1939. Shostakovich’s celebrated 24 Preludes and Fugues date from 1953. Later still, the genre would begin to attract wide attention and would become emblematic for twentieth-century music. Of course, Zaderatsky’s pioneering creation cannot claim itself to have influenced the course of artistic development; it can be no more than a historical precedent.

But what a precedent! Not only was it an inspired vision (in the sense that he could see what still lay hidden to others); above all one must pay heed to the time, the place and the incredible circumstances amidst which this most structurally complex of cycles had its origin. All the world knows the music composed in German prison camps, the most famous being Olivier Messiaen’s Quatour pour la fin du temps, composed in a German prisoner-of-war camp – but not one, after all, implicitly devoted to the mass destruction of its inmates. Also well-known are the works by composers of Jewish origin produced in Terezín, a model show-camp serving as a propaganda display (subsequently the composers were mercilessly annihilated, but in another camp). But in these places there were at least some of the preconditions for creative work, such as manuscript paper and ink. In their essence and manner of operation the Kolyma camps rigorously expunged any vestiges of humanity: they were punishment labour camps in the strictest and most repellent sense of the term. It was rare in any of them for a prisoner to survive more than four years. For the 24 Preludes and Fugues to have been created in such conditions defies comprehension.

As Valentina Zaderatskaya later related, Zaderatsky told her that in the camps he gained a reputation as a story-teller. What this meant was that after work, especially in winter when the polar night covered the vast northern landscape, and when the convicts would gather round the fire to listen to him, his time would come. Mostly he would tell of ancient Greece and Rome , the conquest of America , revolutions in Europe and, of course, the history of the Russian Empire. His audience was naturally particularly interested in the law and the implications of the respective legal codes, subjects in which he was a real specialist. According to Zaderatsky, he was by no means the only story-teller; there were several highly educated people among the ‘politicals’. But his phenomenal command of words and his power of his imagination propelled him to the forefront, and this proved to be important when he came to be released. When the gates opened before him (the certificate states that this was on 22 July 1939 ), he was free, but free to go where? In reality there was nowhere to go. The region needed colonists, and the authorities’ underlying calculation was a simple one: the freed convict had in the first instance little option but to live out his life in these illimitable wastes. In order to break out and reach again the wider world beyond, one first had to get oneself to Magadan, where it might just be possible to get on a ship (either as a deckhand or a rigger) and by that means get to Vladivostok . And at Vladivostok there was a railway.... Zaderatsky related how when he was released, one of his listeners – a hardened criminal – took a gold ring out of his cheek, where he had been secreting it for several months, and thrust it into his hand saying: ‘This will help you get there’.

One can assume that among his listeners would have been not only his fellow-prisoners but also guards. At all events he mentioned that he would sometimes be allowed not to go out to work with the others (who would have to do his quota for him), and sometimes he could take refuge in sickness, usually feigned. In other words there was an extent to which he was protected and could benefit, albeit sporadically, from some extra free time. He also had kind words for the polar nights and the heavy work of timber-felling and logging, the main activity in which the convicts were engaged. But the main thing was that by dint of convincing the brutal overseers that the only marks he would make on the paper would be musical notation, never words, he contrived to get hold of paper and pencil. Reminiscing, he would lament the lack of India-rubber, which meant that everything always had to be written correctly the first time, with no opportunity to make corrections. Then, needless to say, there was no musical instrument within a radius of a hundred kilometres, while the only paper he could come by was a stack of telegraph forms, a small notepad 9.5 by 19.5 centimetres and some sheets of squared paper from a notepad 14 by 2.5 centimetres. From these he fashioned himself music manuscript paper. He must have had more than one pencil, since he succeeded in writing a work that plays for about two hours.

Naturally, the degree of polish of the various pieces is variable. Later, Zaderatsky decided to convert the pencilled traces of his struggles to compose in the camps to conventional ink notation on manuscript paper; of the five Preludes and Fugues he succeeded in transcribing afresh, only two were copied note for note, the other three being subjected to a range of editorial clarifications and interpolations. It is a matter for regret that he never found time to revise and strengthen the remaining nineteen. At the same time, they do preserve the freshness of the original impulse, and they stand as an authentic document of the musical thought borne of such appalling surroundings. The composition of the 24 Preludes and Fugues in the Kolyma camps must take its rightful place in the annals of extraordinary triumphs of the human spirit over adversity and suffering.

It took several months for Zaderatsky to make his way home. While still in Magadan he wrote a piano sonata in E flat minor, dated 1939. He returned to Yaroslavl at the beginning of 1940 and immediately resumed his creative activities, completing the opera The Widow of Valencia, the bulk of which he had composed in 1934, and wrote a series of piano sonatas, songs, a chamber symphony for piano and wind. The declaration of war in 1940 forced another evacuation, this time to the town of Marke in Kazakhstan , from which in January 1944 he moved on with his family to Krasnodar , which had recently been liberated from the Germans.

In Krasnodar Zaderatsky not only taught the full spectrum of subjects in the Music Academy but immediately took up the post of director of the regional Philharmonia. The Philharmonia was at this time actively engaged on the front line of the war, and as a result Zaderatsky was continually away in the Novorossiisk region and on the coast, where hostilities were still raging. In Krasnodar he composed his cycle for piano The Front, and his only ballad-cycle The Breath of War. The songs were sung on the Kuban , but needless to say even they were never published, and so never received wide distribution. ‘The law is the law’: the restrictive supervision under which he lived and worked all his life was never relaxed. Krasnodar also saw the composition of probably his best lyrical song-cycle De Profundis, dedicated to Valentina Perlova-Zaderatskaya.

In the summer of 1945 Zaderatsky decided to move to Zhitomir . The roots of this move may have lain in a conscious desire to return to the Ukraine , where he had been born, but there was also a feeling that it would be good to move as close as possible to the capital. Since he was not permitted to live in Kiev , Zhitomir seemed an ideal compromise, and in September 1945 he began work at the Zhitomir Academy of Music.

The town was in a dreadful state of dilapidation, and there was nowhere to live, so the family camped in the Academy itself. In spite of the few demands for creature comforts Zaderatsky was accustomed to making and the fact that he was immediately allocated a decent piano to work on (he never owned one personally), life in Zhitomir was made intolerable by the incessant noise coming from neighbouring rooms until late in the evening. This was an impossible situation for a composer, and it is extraordinary that in such conditions he was able to write a large-scale piano cycle, The Motherland , and a whole series of vocal works, including a choral poem dedicated to the memory of his friend, the composer Victor Stepanovich Kosenko (1896–1938). As if this were not enough to put up with, out in the courtyard of the Academy an extensive single-story building was being built, destined ultimately to provide accommodation for the teachers in the Academy.

Zaderatsky decided to return once again to Yaroslavl , at least on a temporary basis, and in September 1946 took up his former work at the Yaroslavl Music Academy , where he remained for two years. Among the most important works of this period should be noted the large ten-part vocal cycle on poems from Tvardovsky’s Vasily Terkin.

Persistent Persecution

By virtue of being the only member of the Union of Composers resident in Yaroslavl , Zaderatsky was invited to participate in the first (and most significant) Congress of Soviet Composers in February 1948. He was thus a witness, as he was later himself a victim, of the infamous pogrom of Soviet music whose reverberations went round the world, an unprecedented administration-led critical suppression of stylistic experiment and variety and a systematic undermining by the Party of the best and most celebrated names, representatives of the country’s true national culture. Zaderatsky’s name was not mentioned during the Congress (what, after all, would be the point of attacking a dead man?), nevertheless the decree found its way to Yaroslavl and Zaderatsky was subjected to yet more persecution.

The Music Academy held a special meeting for the purpose of censuring his music of recent years, especially music for children, since that was what he was best known for. Salvation appeared in the form of a letter from his friend Y. Dresler, director of the Zhitomir Academy of Music; without waiting for the end of the academic year Zaderatsky moved back to Zhitomir and took up work again at the Academy of Music . Here also he was the only member of the Union of Composers and as such was attached to the organisation in Kiev , which gave him inexpressible pleasure. He made the acquaintance of Boris Lyatoshinsky, whom he regarded him as a musician of international significance and openly condemned the barbaric criticism to which Lyatoshinsky had been subjected.

In the summer of 1949 Zaderatsky moved with his family to Lvov and began work in the Lvov Conservatoire. Here taught piano as a special subject, chamber music, and the history of pianism. His work in the Conservatoire afforded him enormous satisfaction: he now at last found himself in a milieu of which he had dreamed all his life. The Lvov Conservatoire was at this time a unique educational establishment in that it was the only institution of its type equipped to bring together different artistic traditions, from Western Ukraine , Poland and Russia . Zaderatsky himself represented the Moscow branch of the Russian tradition.

Following the infamous 1948 Party decree, Zaderatsky also modified his ‘stylistic orientation’. He once remarked that this was merely following the herd instinct, for pragmatically speaking there was no reason for him to alter his style. In 1948 and 1949, in Zhitomir, he composed two piano concertos for children, subscribing fully to the concepts of simplicity, accessibility, folk-music sources, fidelity to classical traditions, striving for ‘realism’ and similar qualities demanded by the formulators of the notorious decree. The second concerto is entirely built on quotations from Ukrainian, Russian and Byelorussian themes, and it was this work that he chose to present to the regional assembly of the Ukrainian Union of Composers held in Lvov early in 1950. On this occasion the concerto was highly commended, and proposed for performance at the plenary session in Kiev .

But a month or two later a delegation of Moscow musicologists arrived in Lvov as ‘guest directors’, clearly acting on orders from the USSR Composers’ Union to ‘eliminate’ Formalists and all those ‘not wholly aligned’ (in accordance with the practice of the times it was absolutely mandatory to discover an ‘enemy’ or a ‘semi-enemy’ of the people, or at the very least an individual ‘exhibiting hostile tendencies’.) The naïve little children’s concerto received the full barrage of fulminating criticism, and was literally destroyed. Zaderatsky was the perfect (indeed the only) target for criticism, without which the guests from Moscow could simply not dare to depart from Lvov . It is not known whether they arrived with a specific assignment to attack Zaderatsky, or whether he was simply a lucky choice for them. But ‘eliminated’ he was, and he alone.

For Zaderatsky this was the final straw that broke the camel’s back of his patient endurance. He realised that Moscow once again was on his tail, this time even on account of the simplest, most naïve of all his compositions. He had long ago come to terms with his invisibility, his complete lack of status, but this abusive public humiliation was more than he could bear. A huge scandal erupted, which in time led to his death.

Fully aware of what lay in store, he withdrew his concerto from performance at the Composers’ Union Plenum, even though this would have been the first occasion on which any of his music would have been presented in the context of an important survey of new music, a distinction he would never achieve throughout the whole of his life. This step was followed by a long letter to Tikhon Khrennikov, Secretary of the Union of Composers. It would be hard to say which element predominates in the letter: high seriousness of tone or open sarcasm. Both are so intertwined that they become inseparable one from another. He then wrote an extremely insulting letter to M. Koval, the editor-in-chief of the journal Soviet Music, who had printed in the pages of his magazine an ‘editorial colleague’s’ unequivocally hostile review of Zaderatsky’s children’s concerto. Considering that the ‘editorial colleague’ displayed no knowledge or understanding whatsoever of the work in question, Zaderatsky openly went on the attack and took the writer roundly to task.

In Moscow such letters could be expected to arouse a frenzy of rage and the immediate desire to deal with the trouble-maker. Directives were issued to the Lvov branch of the Composers’ Union to censure Zaderatsky’s conduct, accompanied by the sternest of reprimands and a threat to exclude him from the Union in the event of any further such ‘correspondence’.

It is clear that the safety-mechanism – which for decades had held Zaderatsky’s emotions in check and prevented him from bursting out into a world of such open hostility – had broken. All of a sudden he declared war on himself. To those in his immediate circle it was incomprehensible and the height of naivety to expend such energy going to war over a work of such modest artistic pretensions as this simple, truly childish concerto. Nobody could understand what had come over him to act in such a way. Yet simple and inoffensive as were the intonations of the concerto, its attackers nevertheless skillfully contrived to accuse it of formalism. Emotionally, his response is quite understandable. Here he was at the western-most frontiers of the Soviet empire, in a place that he intuitively felt to be his native soil, sensing his life to be in harmony with the milieu in which he found himself and which he felt worthy of his gifts; for a brief moment he felt free of the yoke the centre imposed on every aspect of his life.... Now the actions of the Moscow apparatchiks had shattered this long-desired illusion, leaving him gripped by a cold fury. In this campaign the children’s concerto was, of course, no more than a trigger.

He was not ejected from the Union of Composers – were he to be, who would there be to keep an eye on him? More than that, the Musical Fund provided him with a good grand piano, on which after the composer’s death his son was to work throughout his own five years’ Conservatoire training. The Conservatoire provided for the composer and his family two rooms in a communal apartment – the most commodious accommodation of his life. All this testifies to his colleagues realising how deep were his problems, and their obvious sympathy at the severity of the official censure. The scandal gradually died down and the frenzied but fruitless energy with which he had fought his barren intellectual battles was replaced by a surge of creativity. Along with it subsided the desire to undertake more aggressive forays against the powers that be among the Moscow composers, and the planned further philippics remained unwritten. Only one fateful consequence of the eruption remained: progressive coronary disease.

The remaining years of life left to him were spent in Lvov, warmed by the work in the Conservatoire he had so long desired and that lay so close to his heart. His students loved him, and in his friendship with them lay the hidden source of his rejuvenation, the fuel that nourished him and enabled him to combat the implacable development of his illness. He no longer wrote for the piano (except transcriptions) but instead turned his attention to a symphony and a violin concerto. At last he was in a city with a symphony orchestra! But alas, the only the time the orchestra was heard to honour him and his works was at his funeral.

All his energies in his last years were devoted to symphonic scores: a violin concerto and a large-scale three-movement symphony completed in 1952 to which he gave the title No. 1. But this was in fact his second symphony for full orchestra: the first was written in 1933 under the programmatic title The Foundation. Of this work only the slow movement has survived, entitled In Memory of the Fallen.

Symphony No. 1 proved to be Zaderatsky’s last completed composition. He did not succeed in orchestrating the violin concerto, composed simultaneously with the symphony. On the night of 31 January/1 February Zaderatsky was sitting at his desk working on the score of the Violin Concerto. The preceding day had been the birthday of his wife Valentina Vladimirovna; they had had tea with cake and spoken of their special happiness at being together, after which as usual he returned to work. He was a man in a hurry: for a year now not a day had gone by without his sensing the steady escalation of his illness. The pain in his heart would be so intense that often on the street he would be forced to stop and pretend to be contemplating some architectural feature or other. Tonight, too, he was in a hurry to finish his uncompleted work. About half past twelve he became very unwell and began to fade quickly: by one o’clock it was all over. When emergency medical help arrived, all that remained was to certify death from a massive heart attack.

Vsevolod Zaderatsky’s funeral took place on 3 February 1953 . A public requiem mass was held in the Great Hall of the Lvov Conservatoire. The Symphony Orchestra of the Lvov Philharmonia performed, and as the cortège made its way right through the city it was attended, despite the freezing weather, by a huge crowd. Vsevolod Petrovich Zaderatsky’s final resting place is in the Lychakov Cemetery in Lvov .

Anton Ivanovich Denikin (1872–1947) rose from poverty – he was the son of a serf – to enjoy success as a military commander in the Russian army in the First World War: in August 1917 he was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the army in the south-west. But having sided with the revolt of General Lavr Kornilov against Kerensky’s interim government in September of that year, he was imprisoned by the Bolsheviks, escaping in October and joining Kornilov’s Volunteer Army in the south-east; when Kornilov died in April 1918, Denikin became head of the anti-Bolshevik White Army. After initial successes, Denikin attempt to take control of Moscow in June 1919 overstretched his resources and he began to lose ground against the Bolsheviks, retreating first to the Crimea and then to Novorossiysk on the Black Sea , whence he left Russia for good in April 1920. He spent the rest of his life in exile in Paris . – ed.

In fact, although Zaderatsky’s cycle is the first earliest twentieth-century polyphonic cycle to survive, it was not the first to be composed. That distinction belongs to Arkady Filippenko’s cycle of 24 preludes and fugues, composed earlier in the 1930s; the music was lost during the Second World War (information from Tatiana Ursova). – ed.

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Images: Vsevolod Petrovich Zaderatsky. An extract from Zaderatsky’s cycle of 24 preludes and fugues, written in the GuLag on blank telegram forms.

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