At the eve of the Revolution, the first experience of collecting music and connecting Kazakh, Tatar, Bashkir and Russian musical education was undertaken with the creation of a Muslim Musical & Dramatic Society by teachers from the renowned Husayniyya Madrasa of Orenburg in 1916. This is the place where Aleksandr Zataevich (1869-1936), a future figurehead of Kazakh music, was teaching and became acquainted with vernacular, especially Kazakh musical traditions. Basing his article on documents from the State Archive of the Orenburg Region, from the Central State Archive of the Kazakh Republic, and from the Glinka State Central Museum of Musical Culture, M. Rouland provides a captivating insight into Zataevich’ carrier as a promoter of Kazakh music and folklore. By the same token, the author sheds an indirect light on continuity of the Orientalist tradition through the incorporation into European symphonic music of Eastern motifs.
In 1920, Zataevich was invited by Kazakh party officials to collect, classify, and publish traditional Kazakh folk songs and instrumental works (küi) with the help of the most influential bards (akyns) of the time, and with the support of leading Kazakh intellectuals like ‘Ali-Khan Bukay-Khan and Ahmad Bay-Tursun. The collecting process had impacts on musical practice, itself as far as Zataevich forced the Kazakh küi into a foreign system of notation and rejected melodies with difficult and variable metric designations. Moreover, the text of songs was not collected since he did not know Kazakh language. Nevertheless, his works, and especially A Thousand Songs of the Kazakh People, published in 1925 by the Society for the Study of Kazakhstan in Orenburg, remained the basis of Kazakh national music and inspired his own compositions with Eastern themes, as well as those by some of other prominent Russian composers (like Prokofiev, who reworked five pieces of Kazakh music, or Rachmaninoff with his “Symphonic Dances” of 1940). Copies of the book were sent to a number of intellectuals, composers, and scholars from Russia or Europe such as Béla Bartok or Romain Rolland, who was particularly “struck by the strength of the touching mood of the Aksak-Kulan legend and by the colourful and enthusiastic melody that adorns the steppe.”
As soon as 1919, Kazakh music has been brought to the Soviet political stage (First All-Kazakh Congress in Aktyubinsk). The inspiration to create a Kazakh national orchestra surfaced at that time even if the idea was not realised until 1934. Indeed politicisation of music has been launched, followed by other exhibitions illustrating the “progress” of non-Russian Soviet nationalities since the Russian Revolution. Despite Zataevich’ non-political orientation, his works were recognised by the public. A large debate ensued in the 1920s-30s on Kazakh music and its contribution to the Kazakh nation and state-buildings. The Soviet audience began to see it as a symbol of Kazakhstan, however not without ambiguity: Concerts and exhibitions participated in “the process of transforming native music from ethnographic subject to a nationalising force (pp. 545-6).” Here coincided Kazakh intellectual interests in preserving the “authenticity” of Kazakh culture and the Soviet efforts to conserve traditional themes and legends within a new political context that eventually change the very status and meaning of traditional pieces. Despite the terrible political and social climate caused by forced settlement, the work on music continues and ironically, the glorification of Soviet National cultural policy reaches a summit in the midst of the purges of the late 1930 with the dekada that were organised in Moscow (see the review infra).