Kabalevsky: The Comedians

To put it mildly, composing in the Soviet Union during the Stalin years was a problematic profession. Rachmaninoff gave up the idea completely and lived in Switzerland before finally settling in Southern California. Shostakovich found the going extremely rough and for a number of years feared for his own and his family's safety. Today, more progressive musical expressions are tolerated, and the once repressive atmosphere has lightened consid­erably.

One of the most miraculous things about the career of Dmitri Kabalevsky is that he was one of the few leading composers who was not censured by the Central Committee in its notorious public resolution of February 1948. In it, such composers as Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Khachaturian, and Miaskovsky were denounced as writing music that displayed "decadent formal­ism." Although within ten years, the Committee recanted that it had been unjust in its accusations, the initial act was intimidating enough that Shostakovich made a public confes­sion of his guilt and proceeded to make adjustments in his style.

Obviously, Kabalevsky was quite highly regarded by the Soviet gov­ernment. He won the Stalin Prize three times, and during the Second World War, he composed a number of pieces which were strong social statements that seemed designed to boost the morale of the Russian people. Beyond these extramusical factors, Kabalevsky's success most assuredly stems from the fact that his music is eminently listenable and that he continually encouraged Soviet youth to develop an interest in the art of music.

Aside from the little overture to his opera Colas Breugnon, his most popular concert work is a suite taken from the incidental music he created in 1938 for a children's play produced in Moscow, The Inventor and the Comedians. The suite, more commonly known as The Comedians consists of ten movements that were designed to depict the life of a company of traveling buffoons.

The "Prologue" opens the suite with bright fanfare motives and a prominent use of the xylophone. The bright and whimsical "Galop" is undoubtedly the most familiar part of the work, especially since it was used for many years as the theme music for the popular game show "What's My Line?" The "March" that follows is fairly reserved and seems to show an indebtedness to another popular children's work, Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf. The "Waltz" is consid­erably more introspective than one might expect of such a piece, and it is followed by a "Pantomime" which lumbers along primarily in the low strings. The next three movements, "Intermezzo," "Little Lyrical Scene," and "Gavotte" display humor of a subtle variety and withhold any overt gaiety until the "Scherzo" and "Epilogue" return the music to a rough-and­-tumble mood for the finale.

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