Russia's social and economic transformation at the beginning of the twentieth century was accompanied by profound cultural and artistic transformation. In particular, Russian cultural elites struggled to control and contain what they saw as threats to Russia's national culture. At the same time, however, they sought ways to bring the working classes into a closer cultural accord with educated society. Although these efforts continued a long process of intelligentsia efforts to shape Russian society by controlling the development of “the people,” industrialization and urbanization had already begun to fundamentally restructure the relationship between the educated and popular classes.
In musical life, the intelligentsia struggled with two somewhat contradictory impulses: first, to simultaneously protect musical and song traditions from the threat of contamination by new urban genres; and second, to develop “rational recreations” that would appeal to the peasantry and the urban working classes. To those ends, they created, among other activities, accessible (obshchedostupnyi) concerts, temperance choirs, and singing classes in a wide variety of locations across the Russian Empire. These musical projects were part of a much larger, somewhat utopian effort by educated society to create an ideal Russia by eliminating its supposed social, cultural, economic, and political backwardness relative to Western Europe. Nevertheless, the consequences for Russian musical life proved significant. Not only did these efforts lay the moral and intellectual foundation for Soviet-era interventionist and utopian cultural policies, but they also in the short term significantly diversified and democratized musical life in the last decades of tsarist rule.
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