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Tikhon Nikolayevich Khrennikov (Russian: Тихон Николаевич Хренников) (June 10 [O.S. May 28] 1913 – 14 August, 2007) was a Russian and Soviet composer, pianist, leader of the Union of Soviet Composers, and film actor, who was also known for his political activities. He wrote three symphonies, four piano concertos, two violin concertos, two cello concertos, operas, operettas, ballets, chamber music, incidental music and film music.[1]



Tikhon Khrennikov was the youngest of ten children, born into a family of horse traders, in the town of Yelets, Lipetsk Oblast in central Russia.

He learned guitar and mandolin from his family members, and sang with a local choir in Yelets. There he also played with a local orchestra and studied piano. As a teen he moved to Moscow. From 1929 to 1932, he studied composition at the Gnessin Music College under Mikhail Gnessin and Yefraim Gelman. From 1932 to 1936, he attended Moscow Conservatory. There he took composition under Vissarion Shebalin, and studied piano under Heinrich Neuhaus. As a student, he wrote and played his Piano Concerto No. 1, and his graduation piece was the Symphony No. 1. His first symphony was conducted by the British conductor Leopold Stokowski.[2] He became popular with his series of songs and serenades which he composed for the 1936 production of "Much Ado About Nothing" and the Moscow Vakhtangov Theatre.[2]

Already in 1930es Khrennikov was treated as a leading official Soviet composer. Typical was his speech during discussion concenring „Pravda“-articles «Chaos instead of music» and «Ballet falseness»), which took place in February 1936:

«The resolution on 23rd April 1932 appealed consciousness of the Soviet artist. The Soviet artists have not sustained this examination. After 23rd April the youth was aspired to study. The problem was, we had to master skill and technique of composition. It came to enthusiams for western modern composers. The names of Hindemith and Krenek came to be symbols of advanced modern artists. […] After enthusiasm for western tendencies came an attraction for simplicity under the influence of composing for theatre, where simple, expressive music was required. We grew, our consciousness also grew as well as the aspiration to be genuine Soviet composers, representatives of our epoch. Compositions by Hindemith satisfied us no more. Soon after that Prokofiev arrived declaring the Soviet music to be provincial and naming Shostakovich as advanced composer. Young composers were confused: on the one hand, they were personally aspired to the genuine music, i.e.: the music which had to be easier and more undestandable for people; on the other hand, they were confronted with statements of such musical authorities as Prokofiev. Critics wrote laudatory odes to Shostakovich. […] How young composers reacted to Lady Macbeth? This opera contains several large melodical fragments which opened some creative perspectives to us. On the contrary, the entre‘actes and many other things were found extremely disgusting».[3]

Together with other official representatives of the Soviet culture, N.Chelyapov, N. Myaskovsky, N. Chemberdzhi, S. Vasilenko, V. Bely, A. Veprik, A. Khachaturian, B. Shekhter, M.Starodokamsky, G. Khubov, V. Muradeli, V. Yurovsky, L. Kulakovsky, Khrennikov signed the statement welcoming «a sentence of the Supreme Court of the Soviet Union, taken out to traitors of the motherland, fascist hirelings, such as Tukhachevsky, Yakir and others».[4]

Having "adopted the optimistic, dramatic and unabashedly lyrical style favoured by Soviet leaders",[5] Khrennikov shot to fame in 1941, with his Song of Moscow from his music score for the popular Soviet film They Met in Moscow (Свинарка и пастух) (also known in English as "Swineherd and Shepherd")[6], for which he was awarded the Stalin Prize. In 1941, Khrennikov was appointed Music Director of the Central Theatre of the Red Army, a position he would keep for 25 years.

In February 1945 Khrennikov was officially delegated by the Political Authority (Politupravlenie) of the Red Army from Sverdlovsk, where he and his family had been evacuated, to the First Belorussian Front (and the Army commanded by Marshal Chuikov).[7]

In 1947 he joined the Communist party.[8]

In 1948, Andrei Zhdanov appointed Khrennikov Secretary of the Union of Soviet Composers, a job he would keep until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and for which he is most remembered.

Long time the legend was spread that owing to Khrennikov nobody of Soviet composers were prosecuted, arrested, etc.[9].

In an interview with the pianist Jasha Nemtsov, which took place on 8 November 2004 in Moscow, Khrennikov asserted that a "detanted" composer Mieczysław Weinberg had been discharged immediately because of Khrennikov's protection; according to Khrennikov the same had occurred to Alexander Veprik. Actually, Veprik spent four years in Gulag, and Mieczysław Weinberg, who came free in June 1953, had rescued from further prosecutions and, probably, execution, only because of Stalin's death.[10]. In last years, informations about musicians repressed after 1948 began to be published, and documents and facts which got already to be known confirm mass character of prosecutions.

In 1949 Khrennikov attacked officially the young composer Alexander Lokshin, using formulations of one of most notorious Stalin’s ideologists, Paul Apostolov; in his speech Khrennikov opposed Lokshin‘s "modernist" creativity to such ideal sample of true national art as cantata «Stepan Razin's Dream» by Galina Ustvolskaya.[11]

Khrennikov's speech caused the deepest indignation of Mikhail Gnesin who accused Khrennikov in duplicity: not daring to criticise Lokshin in professional environment, he attacked him ideologically as one of the leadiang Soviet officials.[12] After this ideological campaign Lokshin, a musical genius, was expelled from the academic culture.

Khrennikov did not prevented, that Prokofiev’s first wife, Lina Ivanovna, charge as a „spy“, was arrested on 20 February 1948. As the Composers‘ Union‘s chief, Khrennikov did neither anything for cancellation of the sentence against Lina Prokofieva nor at least for simplification of her fate in Gulag. The Composers‘ Union did not help Prokofiev's sons who were compulsorily evicted from their apartment. After Lina Ivanovna Prokofieva had returned from Gulag, the Composers‘ Union did nothing in order to improve extremely bad living conditions of her family; it were the prominent singers Irina Arkhipova and Zurab Sotkilava, who protected Prokofiev’s first family. Afterwards, Prokofiev's first family was exposed to regular official humiliations. So, according to Svyatoslav Prokofiev, Lina Ivanovna Prokofieva was officially refused by the Composers' Union to go to Paris, after she had been personally invited by the French culture minister to the opening of Prokofiev‘s memorial board. Instead, Khrennikov with his whole family took part at that ceremony. Lina Ivanovna Prokofieva was also refused by the Composers' Union to go to the opening of opera theatre in Sydney. At the same time, Svyatoslav Prokofiev marked the typical logic of the Soviet functionary: sometimes Khrennikov could help if it was not dangerous for his own position and career.[13]

Ideological campaigns of 1948-49 against "formalists" in music were directly connected with struggle against so-called "rootless cosmopolitans», a part of the state anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union blossomed after the Second World War in most different forms: from the well-known ideological resolutions, declarations of official writers and critics to disgusting caricatures and the vulgar Antisemitic abuse in the notorious magazine "Krokodil" ("Crocodile"). Historians of the state anti-Semitism in the USSR name Khrennikov among the most active fighters for "purity of Russian culture». It should be mentioned, that in the Soviet official policy before and after Stalin's death the clear boundary between «good Soviet Jews» and "nazis-Zionists" was constantly spent.[14] True to this "party line», the leadership of the Soviet Composers‘ Union composers branded «Zionist aggressors», «agents of world imperialism» and accused "ideologically vicious", "hostile" phenomena in the Soviet musical culture. The Concept "zionists" was often utilized as ideological weapon against dissidents representing different nationalities, confessions and ideas (see: Nikolai Roslavets). «Struggle against formalists» was spent also in other countries: according to György Ligeti, after Khrennikov’s official visit to Budapest in 1948 The Miraculous Mandarin by Béla Bartók was removed from repertoire; paintings by French impressionists, etc. disappeared at once from museum exposition. In 1952 Ligeti was almost forbidden to teach after he had demonstrated the score of forbidden «Symphony of Psalms» by Igor Stravinsky to his students; the composer was saved only because of personal protection of Zoltán Kodály.[15]

Khrennikov and other functionaries of the Composers‘ Union constantly attacked the heritage of Russian avant-guarde as well as its researchers.[16] So, the German musicologist Detlef Gojowy (1934-2008) was hunted because of his propaganda of «new Soviet music of 20th» in the West: Gojowy was proclaimed to be an „anti-Soviet writer“; till 1989 it was forbidden for him to come to the Soviet Union; some of Gojowy's publications sent by him to his Soviet colleagues, were arrested by the Soviet customs. Simultaneously, the Soviet musicologists who were engaged in a heritage of Russian avant-guarde got official prohibition to go abroad(see: Nikolai Roslavets).[17]

In his last years, Khrennikov made extremely negative statements to the Perestroika and its leaders, to fall of the Soviet Union and liquidation of corresponding structures:

«It was a treachery of our leaders. I consider Gorbachev and his henchmen who deliberately arranged persecution of the Soviet art, to be the traitor of the party and the people […]“.[18]

In another interview given to the same chauvinist newspaper "Zavtra" ("Tomorrow") he described Joseph Stalin as a "genius", an «absolutely normal person», tolerant to criticism:

«Stalin, in my opinion, knew music better, than someone of us. […] Like in the classical Ancient Greece, in the Soviet Union music meant the greatest state affair. Spiritual influence of the largest composers and artists forming clever and strong-willed people, first of all through radio, was huge».[19]

Khrennikov was an active concert performer through his entire life, playing his piano concertos as well as his songs and other compositions. He collaborated with the violinist Leonid Kogan and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich, and they gave premieres of his cello concerto and two violin concertos. Among his popular film scores were Six O'Clock in the Evening After the War (В шесть часов вечера после войны) (1944), True Friends (1954) (Верные друзья), and Hussar Ballad (1962) by director Eldar Ryazanov. He also wrote critically acclaimed music for the ballet "Napoleon Bonaparte" (Наполеон Бонапарт). In the 1980s Khrennikov resumed composition with renewed vigor. In his Symphony No. 3 Khrennikov used elements of serialism, which he had denounced in earlier years.

His music career was complemented by his stellar political career as a Member of Central Committee of the Communist Party of the USSR since the 1950s. From 1962, Khrennikov was a representative in the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. During his career, Khrennikov had personal meetings with Joseph Stalin, Nikita Khrushchev, Leonid Brezhnev, and Mikhail Gorbachev, among other political figures of the former Soviet Union.

Khrennikov's memoirs were published in 1994 after the fall of the Soviet Union. He died in Moscow aged 94 and will be laid to rest near his parents' tomb in his native town of Yelets.


Some of Khrennikov's statements mentioned above are included in the documentary Notes interdites : scènes de la vie musicale en Russie Soviétique (Bruno Monsaingeon, 2004, 55m 44s, English title: "The Red Baton"), as well as extensive footage of conductor Gennadi Rozhdestvensky, one of Khrennikov's most acerbic critics.[20]



Khrennikov had to take part in repressions against Shostakovich during the enforcement of the "Party line" in music, but unlike the leadership of the Soviet Writers Union, he was never involved in political reporting on his colleagues.[21]
Khrennikov not only survived Stalin's repressive reign but lived in comfort under the succession of Soviet rulers and post-Soviet presidents that followed: Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Andropov, Chernenko, Gorbachev, Yeltsin and Putin. He remains an influential musical figure: he is a professor at the Moscow Conservatory and has been chairman of the Tchaikovsky Competition for the last 25 years. In his native city of Yelets, his home has been turned into a museum and an arts school, and a statue has been erected in his honor. His socialist realist works are regularly performed and his songs remain as popular as ever. Khrennikov's long and improbable career began in 1948, when Stalin personally picked him to lead the Union of Soviet Composers. His first accomplishment on the job was an attack on abstract, "formalist" music in a speech at the First Congress of Composers in 1948, two months after the infamous Resolution of the Central Committee that condemned the "formalism" of Shostakovich, Prokofiev and others. "Enough of these symphonic diaries - these pseudo-philosophic symphonies hiding behind their allegedly profound thoughts and tedious self-analysis," he proclaimed. "Armed with clear party directives, we will stop all manifestations of formalism and popular decadence.[22]

See also


  1. ^ Tikhon Khrennikov at the Internet Movie Database
  2. ^ a b The Economist obituary September 1, 2007 p. 73
  3. ^ Rech‘ tov. Khrennikova [Comrade Khrennikov’s speech]. – In: Protiv formalizma i fal’shi. Tvorcheskaya diskussiya v Moskovskom soyuze sovetskikh kompozitorov [Against formalism and falseness. Creative discussion in the Moscow union of the Soviet composers]. Sovetskaya muzika, 1936, №3, p. 45.
  4. ^ Sovetskaya muzika, 1937, № 6, p. 5.
  5. ^ Quoted from: "Tikhon Khrennikov, Prolific Soviet Composer, Dies at 94" (Fee required). The New York Times. 2007-08-15. Retrieved 2007-08-16.  
  6. ^ Film They Met in Moscow (aka. Svinarka i pastukh) at the IMDb: [1].
  7. ^ Tak eto bilo. Tikhon Khrennikov o vremeni i o sebe [So it was. Tikhon Khrennikov about his time and himself], ed. by Valentina Rubtsova. Moscow, 1994, p. 84-85.
  8. ^ Barnett, Rob. (Ed.) "Khrennikov: The Symphonies". MusicWeb International. 6 April 2006. Retrieved 26 Feb. 2009
  9. ^ see: Solomon Volkov: Die Memoiren des Dmitri Schostakowitsch. Berlin/München 2000, S. 205)
  10. ^ Jascha Nemtsov. „Ich bin schon längst tot“ - Komponisten im Gulag: Vsevolod Zaderackij und Alexander Veprik. – Osteuropa 6/2007; S. 315-340
  11. ^ Tikhon Khrennikov: „Za noviy pod’em sovetskoy muziki“ [„For new raising of the Soviet music“]. In: "Sovetskaya muzika", 1949, № 12, p. 51; see also: A. A. Lokshin: „Geniy zla“ [«The genius of harm»]. 3rd, revised and expanded ed. Moscow, 2003, p. 93-94
  12. ^ Marina Lobanova: "Ästhet, Protestler, Regimeopfer: Das Schicksal Alexander Lokschins im politisch-kulturellen Kontext der Sowjetzeit". In: M. Lobanova, E. Kuhn (Hg.). Ein unbekanntes Genie: Der Symphoniker Alexander Lokschin. Monographien - Zeugnisse - Dokumente – Würdigungen. Berlin 2002, S. 32
  13. ^ Valentina Chemberdzhi. Dvadtsaty vek Lini Prokof’evoy [Lina Prokofieva‘s XXth century]. Мoscow, 2008, p. 250, 259-260, 263-264
  14. ^ Benjamin Pinkus: The Soviet Government and the Jews. A documental study. Cambridge, etc., 1984, p. 101, 112-113, 158-159, 491, 510
  15. ^ "Ich sehe keinen Widerspruch zwischen Tradition und Modernität!". György Ligeti im Gespräch mit Marina Lobanova. In: "Das Orchester" 12/1996, S. 10-11
  16. ^ M. Lobanova. "Er wurde von der Zeit erwählt": Das Phänomen Tichon Chrennikow. In: Schostakowitsch in Deutschland (= Schostakowitsch - Studien, Bd. 1). Hrsg. von H. Schmalenberg ("Studia slavica musicologica", Bd. 13). Berlin 1998, S. 117-139.
  17. ^ Detlef Gojowy Musikstunden. Beobachtungen, Verfolgungen und Chroniken neuer Tonkunst. Köln 2008
  18. ^ Tikhon Khrennikov: „Ya chist pered muzikoy i narodom…“ [«I am innocent towards music and the people...». "Zavtra", № 41 (254), 13th October 1998.
  19. ^ Tikhon Khrennikov: «Stalin znal muziku luchshe nas…“ [„Stalin knew music better than we...». "Zavtra", № 39 (671), 27th September 2006.
  20. ^
  21. ^ Zalessky: Stalin's Empire. (Залесский К.А. Империя Сталина. Биографический энциклопедический словарь. Москва, Вече, 2000)
  22. ^ Vadim Prokhorov: Andante - June 24, 2003

External links

Simple English

Tikhon Khrennikov (born Yelets, Soviet Union, 10 June 1913; died Moscow, 14 August 2007) was a Russian musician. He was a composer and pianist He got involved in the musical politics of his country, which was then the Soviet Union. A lot of people hated him, especially in western countries. He is particularly remembered for what he did at the unpleasant conference in 1948, when some of the most famous Soviet composers, including Shostakovich and Prokofiev, were made to say they were sorry for the music they had written and that they would compose better music in future.

In the days of the Soviet Union, and especially under Stalin, musicians had to be very careful about what they did and how they composed. Music, like all arts, was supposed to make people feel that they were lucky to be living in a great country like the Soviet Union. If composers wrote music that the politicians did not like or understand, life became very difficult for them: they would not be allowed to compose, and their music could not be performed. They might even be sent to prison. Tikhon Khrennikov became Secretary to the Union of Soviet Composers in 1948, at the time when Stalin was dictator. He continued in this job until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. He made sure that all musicians obeyed their political leaders.

It is difficult for us today to judge the actions of Khrennikov fairly. He survived because he did what he was told by Soviet dictators. After the collapse of the Soviet Union he tried to say he was sorry for what he did. It is difficult to judge whether he really meant this.

Life and career

Tikhon Khrennikov was the youngest of ten children, born into a family of horse traders, in the town of Yelets in the Russian province of Lipetsk in central Russia. His family started to teach him the guitar and mandolin. When he was nine he started learning the piano, and when he was 13 he started composing. Three years later he was sent to the Gnesin Academy of Music, studying with the composer Mikhail Gnesin. In 1932 he went on to the Moscow Conservatoire. He studied composition with Vissarion Shebalin and piano with the famous teacher Heinrich Neuhauss who was later the teacher of Emil Gilels and Sviatoslav Richter.

His early works include a symphony, a piano concerto, and an opera based on the book Into the Storm which was based on a novel Loneliness, a favourite book of Stalin. His music was always happy and energetic. He wrote music for 22 films and many patriotic songs. He did everything he could to please Stalin, and soon he became Secretary of the Union of Soviet Composers.

In 1948 he headed a conference at which Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Myaskovsky and Shebalin (who had been his teacher), were told that they were bad “formalists”. The word “formalist” has no meaning in music, but it was used by the politicians to describe anyone who was not obeying the politicians’ guidelines. Khrennikov said at the conference that “we will stop all manifestations of formalism and popular decadence" [1].

Shostakovich had given Khrennikov some friendly advice about his opera Into the Storm, but Khrennikov had been angry about being criticized and now he could get his own back. Shostakovich made satirical remarks about Khrennikov in an opera Rayok which he never showed to anyone and was found amongst his papers after his death in 1975.

After the fall of the Soviet Union Khrennikov published a book That’s the Way It Was. In this book he says that everybody had to obey political rules and he was only doing what everyone else did. However, he then wrote some bad things about Shostakovich. Khrennikov had also been an enemy of the composer Alfred Schnittke. He banned his music from being played, and was furious when it was performed in other countries. He also banned music by other composers who have now become famous such as Sofia Gubaidulina and Viktor Suslin.

Khrennikov was, however, not all bad. He supported Shostakovich and Prokofiev for getting the Stalin Prizes in the 1950s. He also invited Stravinsky, who had been exiled to the United States, to revisit the Soviet Union in 1962.

When he was in his eighties, Khrennikov continued to compose many comic operas, operettas and ballets. They always had tunes that were easy for people to enjoy.

The Soviet state gave him many prizes for the work he did: three Stalin Prizes, a State Prize of the USSR and a Lenin Prize. Before his death he was even given an award by Vladimir Putin, which makes it seem as if Russia might be returning to its past values.

He died in Moscow aged 94.


  1. Tikhon Khrennikov: Obituary, The Independent 16 August 2007

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