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Tikhon Khrennikov, 94; composer favored in Soviet era

August 16, 2007|From the Associated Press

MOSCOW -- Tikhon Khrennikov, who headed the Soviet Union of Composers for four decades and denounced Dmitri Shostakovich and Sergei Prokofiev as decadent, has died. He was 94.

Khrennikov died Tuesday in his home in Moscow.

A favorite of several Soviet regimes, Khrennikov earned top Communist Party awards for his compositions, many of which glorified the Soviet Union. He wrote three symphonies and eight operas as well as concertos for piano, violin and cello.

In 1948, Soviet dictator Josef Stalin appointed him to head the Union of Composers -- a position he held until the Soviet collapse in 1991. At the first congress of composers after his appointment, Khrennikov denounced fellow composers Shostakovich and Prokofiev for "Western decadence" and deviating from principles of "socialist realism."

"In the music of Comrade Shostakovich we find all sorts of things alien to realistic Soviet art, such as tenseness, neuroticism, escapism and repulsive pathology," Khrennikov said. "In the work of Comrade Prokofiev, natural emotion and melody has been replaced by grunting and scraping."

The two composers were among leading Soviet artists forced into public recitation of their anti-Soviet errors.

Years later, Khrennikov said he was forced to utter the words denouncing the two composers and would have been shot had he refused to do so.

He also said that he protected them and several more Soviet composers seen as dissidents from arrest and prosecution. And he was believed to have helped Prokofiev financially after the 1948 speech.

In the 1970s, Khrennikov denounced seven Russian composers for allowing their work to be performed outside the Soviet Union. He also declared an official ban on their work.

Khrennikov was born in the Russian town of Yelets on June 10, 1913. He studied piano as a boy and was composing by age 13. He studied at the Moscow Conservatory and completed his first symphony in 1935.

But according to a New York Times story some years ago, "history is unlikely to disregard his politics in favor of his music."

"As a composer, he was a nonentity," Richard Taruskin, chairman of the music department at UC Berkeley told The Times. "There is no debate about that."

Despite his political connections, Khrennikov was unable to save his two brothers who were arrested in 1937 at the peak of Stalin's political purges and died in custody.

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