Prokofiev’s cantata Zdravitsa (1939) was appreciated by Soviet officialdom immediately upon its premiere, and its fame lasted throughout subsequent decades. In post-Stalin times, however, critics re-evaluated the cantata, arguing that Zdravitsa had not been written as pro-Stalinist propaganda. Eventually, the idea that it was not Stalin but “the people” whom Prokofiev actually glorified in this cantata became the accepted interpretation of the piece, unchallenged even today.
Based on insights drawn from the musical and literary sources of Zdravitsa, its relationship to the pseudo-folk Soviet tradition, and its critical reception, the present article proposes a revised framework for interpretation. I show that Prokofiev’s cantata fully corresponds to the Stalinist cultural Myth of the Father of Nations, as represented in Soviet arts and media. Examining archival sources and scholarly literature, I describe the official demands on the cantata. In the second part of the essay I undertake a thorough exploration of the music, identifying its adherence to Socialist Realist aesthetics in Stalin’s times.
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