The National Anthem of the Soviet Union replaced The Internationale as the national anthem on March 15, 1944. The lyrics were written by Sergey Mikhalkov in collaboration with G. El-Registan and the music was composed by Alexander Alexandrov.
It was believed that Soviet soldiers would respond more to an anthem that was dedicated only to the Soviet Union rather than to a worldwide movement.
It was adopted as national anthem after a competition in 1943. But what puzzles me is why this was chosen, when in that same 1943 competition, there was an offering from Dmitri Shostakovich, which finally aired some seventeen years later with hardly an alteration, as Novorossiysk Chimes.
Novorossiysk Chimes was finally presented in 1960, for the war memorial in the city of Novorossiysk. It has been playing nonstop at Heroes Square (pictured) in Novorossiysk since its opening on September 27, 1960.
Novorossiysk is a city in southern Russia, the main Russian port and highly important oil terminus on the Black Sea, in Krasnodar Krai. It is one of the few cities honoured with the Soviet title of the Hero City.
In 1942, the town was occupied by the Wehrmacht, but a small unit of Soviet sailors defended one part of the town, known as Malaya Zemlya, for 225 days, until it was liberated by the Red Army on September 16, 1943.
The heroic defense of the port by the Soviet sailors allowed to retain possession of the city's bay, which prevented the Nazis from using the port for supply shipments.
Novorossiysk was awarded the title Hero City in 1973.
Now, to my rhetorical question: Clearly, Shostakovich was in and out of trouble with the authorities. He received denunciations in 1936 and again in 1948. Commissions dried up, his income plummetted and the political climate, courtesy of Pravda, made performance impossible. Yet – and I am no historian nor musicologist – how would anyone with any political savvy, who was judging that competition, not recognise the perfect simultaneous combination of loyalty, solemnity for the dead, but also praise towards an indefatigabe human spirit ? Surely, with suitable lyrics, it could serve as a tour-de-force hymn to, well, pretty much anything ? How could it fail to be popular and win battles in hearts and minds ?
Forget for a moment any feelings you may or may not have about Shostakovich’s disputed personal motives and allegiances, or towards the Soviet era, or even Joseph Stalin. Just imagine for three and a half minutes it’s the anthem of your people, whatever that means to you. Because, on one level it is rooted in the grim, infinitely regrettable geopolitics of its time. But on another, at least for me, it speaks of a universal, undefeatable and intrinsically good, human spirit. It raises emotions I can still barely put into words after first hearing it fifteen years ago. My observation is that: no matter who it was written by, nor for what reason, a piece of music this good can say as simply and eloquently as any speech:
“You are human. Stand up and be counted.”