Sergei Slonimsky - Interview

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On January 14, 2010 the Rossyskaya Gazeta published an interview of Maria Bortnovskaya with composer Sergei Slonimsky. One of the topics covered was the opera The Master and Margarita, which Slonimsky  composed in 1972 under the Brezhnev regime, and which was banned.

RG: Your works often had a great response and got a remarkable attention from the public. Some were even banned...

Slonimsky: My first symphony was, even before it had been performed for the first time, banned for five years by the Secretariat of the Union of Composers. I had written it in 1958 and it was only first performed at the end of 1962. And just because it had a sad end. I do not want to boast, but I was one of the first known Soviet composers who fearlessly began to write sad ends. Such works were banned.

RG: The banning of your work must certainly have been unpleasant?

Slonimsky: My most unpleasant experience I had was with the opera The Master and Margarita. I had written it in 1970-1971, shortly after Bulgakov's novel was published in a magazine. The first part of the opera was performed in the House of Composers. In the hall were four laureates of the Lenin Prize here - Mravinsky, Tovstonogov, David Oystrakh, and even Rozh-destvensky, under whose supervision the opera was performed. They were happy with the music. But in the hall were also four members of the Regional Committee. They found it not a good idea that all authorities in the opera committed violence against the people. They regarded it as an attack against the Soviet regime and decided to ban the opera. Some noble colleagues and senior fellow comrades stood up for me in that time: Pro-fessor Arapov, the folklorist Kotikova, the composers Pustylnik, Prigogine, Finkelstein. They all suffered from it. They tried to send them to retire pre-maturely.

RG: I can imagine what public outrage this situation must have caused!

Slonimsky: I walked around the city and heard: «This is the composer who was sent away from the conservatory because he wrote the opera The Master and Margarita.» Literally the same day I met Joseph Brodsky, who called me and said: «I'm leaving today. Let's go together.» But I refused: I can’t live outside Russia.

RG: The Master and Margarita could not be performed abroad?

Slonimsky: The Hamburg Theatre had asked me to send my notes from the opera. But if I did, I would be put out of the Union of Composers. So they ordered some German composers to write an opera. My work was performed only 30 years after the writing - in the year 2000. But it was not only the first staging of the opera The Master and Margarita, as it could have been, but also the last. That was a shame, because music is educative.

Note - The last words of Slonimsky do not coincide with other information we have. The opera was performed again in 1989 at the Forum Theater in Moscow. It was directed by Mikhail Jurowski, with the soprano Tatiana Monogarova in the role of Margarita as her international debut. Then followed a tour of this production in Germany.

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