V.P. Zaderatsky : The meaning of a life

Thursday 1 October 2009, by Laurent (Vnouk) // Biographical elements

Vsevolod Petrovich Zaderatsky is a composer in the world of artistic figures whose real value is just beginning to be recognised. In actual fact, he is an exception even in the soviet and post-soviet musical history. His exit from oblivion was very late, at the very beginning of the XXIth century, nearly fifty years after his death, while other "forgotten" artists were recognised well before.

Soldier in the first world war, a member of the Deninkin Volunteer Army during the civil war, thrown in jail, sent to Gulag, he survived to the dramatic events of the first half of the XXth century.

He was ostracised from the beginning of the soviet period and was never able, during his life, to get access to the public. Member of the ACM (Association for Contemporary Music), then of the Union of Composers from its inception, he was not granted the right to show his works to the public and get recognition from his fellow composers.

Not a single line of his music was published (this will have to wait 1970 in Ukraine), his name was not mentioned in musical publications, lists and indexes of soviet composers don’t know his name. Forced to leave Moscow in 1934, he was forbidden to settle in Moscow, Leningrad or Kiev until his death. During his life, he was subjected to a silent persecution without explanation, and even those in charge of the ban may not have known the exact reasons of this ban.

Zaderatsky’s fate is different from other "forgotten" composers like Roslavets, Lourié or Mosolov, in the way that he has never known, even shortly, public knowledge of his works. The other "forgotten" had enjoyed public recognation and their biography stayed in memories. More than often, the accusation and the official erasing was based on their works and public activity. In the same way, the ensuing rehabilitation could be based on the same documents. In the case of Zaderatsky, he was not perceived as a significant composer in the soviet music. In fact, it was as he didn’t exist among composer’s community, where facts and witnessing informations about him are very scarce.

He was a pariah in the soviet system : no civil rights, banishment orders, arrests and deportation, limited inland passport, interdiction to settle in large towns and to publish, etc … Nevertheless, the Union of Composers never excluded him, as if their civil servants were in charge of his control and his future.

It is in his life and in his choices that you can find the reasons of this dreadful fate. A few examples, to explain the story.

V.P. Zaderatsky 1915Born in Rovno in 1891, in a russian speaking ukrainian well off family (his father was the manager of the south-west ukrainian railways), Vsevolod Zaderatsky went to Moscow to study law and attend at the same time musical advanced courses in the Thchaikovsky Conservatory. During 1916, he gave every week, piano lessons to tsarevich Alexei.

When civil war was broke up, he joined Denikin Volunteers Army. Logical choice, considering his origins and education. Years later, he told his wife he had to leave the white army after shooting a Denikin’s officer who was killing red prisoners without judgement, one after the other.

On his desk, oddly, you could see a little bust of Felix Dzerzhinsky, Tcheka’s head. When asked, he answered that Dzerzhinsky had save his life in 1920. Taken prisoner with fellow white officers, they were staying in the living room of a large mansion used as temporary headquarters and he played piano all night long. Felix Dzerzhinsky was then staying in the building, working all night and listening to the music. In the morning he asked for the pianist to be freed and given a pass. The other officers were executed.

In 1926, he was arrested and put in jail. All his musical works and writings are destroyed. In deep despair, he tried to commit suicid in jail. Freed, he found the strenght to start composing again and wrote in 1928 two sonatas, numbered 1 and 2.

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V.P. Zaderatsky 1939
Photo d’identité de sa carte de libération du Goulag

He was arrested again in 1937, accused of promoting facist musicians (Beethoven, Wagner, Strauss), in fact included in his teaching in Iaroslavl music school. He was sentenced and sent to Gulag, in the Kolyma. There he managed the "tour de force" of composing a set of 24 preludes and fugues in the whole major and minor scales. He had to use every kind of paper and means, and obviously, without a piano.

The main point in Vsevolod Petrovich Zaderatsky personality and who is making him endearing is his large moral strenght and compromissions refusal. Led by what he is considering as justice, he is always led by humanist values when considering his actions. Barbary refusal, his love of music and his will to share it, his willingness to transmit and teach, his courage will allowed him to survive to the worst instants in his life and to start again. These values led to make important choices, modifying drastically his life several time.

In one of the "Stories from Kolyma" V.P. Zaderatsky 1949Varlam Chalamov describes this siberian pine subsides, goes under the snow to wake up as soon there is a camping fire setup nearby, go to sleep again when camp is left and competely wake up when spring is coming back. Zaderatsky lived such a life, often broken but always coming back, carried by the strengh of his character, his resect for others and his love for music.

The mottos he choosed to shape his life are mirroring his destiny :

Nulla dies sine linea, Per aspera ad astra
(No day whithout writing a line, Reaching the stars throught arduous paths)

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