Vsevolod  Zaderatsky

by M. Brokanova,

edited by M. Sparks

“The Composer Who Never Was” -this evocative phrase was coined as the title of the feature on Vsevolod Zaderatsky in the 2007 publication of the book, Repressed Music. Among those whose names were deliberately stricken out of the cultural context of Soviet music, and even among those who endured heavy persecution and repression, the little-known fate of Vsevolod Zaderatsky stands out for its tragic hopelessness. Just a cursory glimpse into his biography makes one shudder. His entire life is stricken with endless trials and tribulations, and, at the same time, one cannot help but admire the man’s uncrushable will and insatiable desire to create.

Vsevolod Zaderatsky’s young years resemble the lifetime of the protagonist from Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago. Zaderatsky completed successful studies in composition at the Moscow Conservatory under the tutelage of Sergei Taneyev and Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov, while concurrently studying law at the Moscow University. Between the years 1916 and 1918, World War I forced him to retrain as a military engineer. However, his biography had another page–music classes with Nicholas II’s son Alexei, the Tsesarevich and apparent heir to the throne. This fact was arguably a reason for Zaderatsky’s permanent persecution throughout the Soviet years.

In addition to his scholastic pursuits, Zaderatsky completed a time of service in General Anton Denikin’s volunteer army and was taken captive in 1920. While a prisoner of war, Zaderatsky was miraculously and suddenly saved from his impending death by the Soviet statesman, Felix Dzerzhinsky who had been impressed with Zaderatsky’s piano performance, consequently giving him a writ of protection.

Now without work, Zaderatsky was forced to settle in Ryazan, but while residing there, one arrest followed another. All of his work from before 1926 was destroyed during one of his many encounters with the law. Following a short period of residence in Moscow, membership in the Association of Contemporary Music, and involvement in very creative and diverse genres Zaderatsky was subjected to yet another expulsion due to heavy political censorship. Afterwards, Zaderatsky relocated to Yaroslavl where he taught at the music college and initiated a symphony orchestra. He was arrested again in 1937 “for propaganda of fascist music.” This accusation originated from the fact that Zaderatsky’s orchestra gave performances of works by Wagner and Richard Strauss.

Later, between the years 1937 and 1939, in Kolyma (GULAG), under conditions that were nearly unbearable, with only scraps of paper available to him, including telegraph forms, Vsevolod Zaderatsky accomplished his boldest musical idea–24 Preludes and Fugues for piano, thus reviving Bach’s tradition long before Shostakovich and Hindemith, the leading polyphonists of the time.

As luck would have it, Zaderatsky was among the wave of releases in 1939 and made it back to Yaroslavl. After the long years of ordeals, he finally found shelter in Lviv, a city known for its cultural traditions. He was invited to teach at the conservatory there, and hope of performing new works seemed to return.

However, the “struggle against formalism” proclaimed by the state dismissed all thoughts of this contemporary music revitalization. Realizing that he had nothing else to lose, Zaderatsky wrote an uncommonly bold open letter to the editor-in-chief of the Soviet Music magazine, a magazine that functioned as an odious fighter of the ideological front The letter read thus: “…As a composer, I died a long time ago –they don’t play me and don’t publish me, and catching a dead one by the throat to kill him is absurd.” Zaderatsky died without seeing recognition. The first publications of Zaderatsky’s works followed a quarter of a century after his passing.