“The Bolt”. Ballet
Leningrad. Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet (Kirov Theatre); Aleksandr Gauk (conductor).
Moscow, DSCH, 1996 (piano score); New Collected Works, vol. 62a, b, c. Moscow, DSCH, 2013 (full score)
RSALA, rec. gr. 2048, inv. 2, f. 40; inv. 3, f. 29-31
"Here is a summary of the libretto for the ballet 'The Bolt':
Scene 1: Workers arrive at the factory. They are doing their morning exercises. Among them is a drunk, Lyonka Gulba, hung-over from the evening before.
Scene 2: Amateur art show to celebrate opening a new shop in the factory. Lyonka Gulba and his chums (Ivan Shtopor and Fyodor Piva) are fooling around. They are made to leave.
Scene 3: Work on the shop-floor.
Scene 4: Day off. A village near the town. A priest dances. Young communists dance. Old women dance. A drunken Lyonka Gulba enjoys himself with the girls. He wants to go on enjoying himself tomorrow, so he eggs on an irresponsible lad to stick a bolt into a machine. Then the factory would grind to a halt and they would be able to go on enjoying themselves. Young Gusev from the Komsomol overheard them and was keen to expose the conspiracy. Lyonka kills Gusev.
Scene 5: The young lad sticks the bolt into the machine. Gusev, however, (now back to life) exposes the lad and Lyonka Gulba. They are arrested. General rejoicing. Dances. Apotheosis.
This ballet was staged at the Mariinsky Theatre on May 8, 1931. It was a total failure and was taken out of the repertoire. I am happy to tell
you all about this, but not for publication".
The premiere of the ballet The Bolt took place on the stage of the Leningrad State Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet (now the Mariinsky Theatre) on 8 April 1931. The choreographer was Fyodor Lopukhov, already famous for his choreographic innovations, and the roles were performed by dancers such as Olga Mungalova (Olga), Leonid Leontyev (Lyonka Tippler), Boris Shavrov (Boris), and Konstantin Sergeyev (the Uzbek). The conductor was Alexander Gauk.
This proved to be the only performance. Immediately after the premiere, the ballet was struck off the repertoire and was never again staged here or at any other theatre.
The piano score was published for the first time in 1996 by DSCH Publishers, while the orchestral score was never published.
The ballet did not return to the stage until 30 years after the composer’s death—the premiere choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky was performed on the New Stage of the Bolshoi Theatre on 25 February 2005.
A suite from the ballet that appeared after the Leningrad premiere titled Suite from the Ballet The Bolt, Op. 27a, had a happier fate: it was performed many times in the 1930s on the concert stage, but was not published until 1987.
The ballet The Golden Age, composed earlier, was performed during the entire 1930-1931 theatrical season. In the 1980s, it was again performed at the Bolshoi (with a different scenario, considerable rearrangement of the musical pieces and the inclusion of fragments from other works by the composer); it was also performed in various other countries during the Bolshoi’s foreign tours. The score, as well as the instrumental parts for the Suite from The Golden Age were printed by Muzgiz (State Music Publishing House) in 1935-1936.
The ballet The Limpid Stream was performed with great success during the 1935/36 season in both
Leningrad and Moscow, and then acquired additional fame, only now negative, following the appearance of the article “Ballet Lies” in Pravda.
The Bolt never acquired even such scandalous fame. Nevertheless, this ballet occupies an important place in Shostakovich’s oeuvre: it was written during a complex and emotionally dramatic period in the composer’s life in the late 1920s-early 1930s.
For the twenty-five-year-old composer, the ups and downs involved in the composition of the ballet, and its failure on stage were a painful experience. A ballet-satire, a ballet-parody, a ballet-placard, deprived of even a hint of psychology, a ballet with a primitive plot and incompetent scenario—all this became the focal point of an acute psychological drama in his personal creative work, the “last drop” which tipped the scales in his doubts and hesitations. The crisis came to a head when he broke off the restrictive agreements with state theatres and cinema studios, which obliged him to work on themes that evoked no inner creative interest. Having broken off his contracts to compose the music for the operetta The Black Man, and the music for the film The Concrete Hardens, Shostakovich finally did what he had been unable to do with the ballet about sabotage.
The journalistic expression of this crisis and the solution he found to it was the “Declaration on the Duties of a Composer”, published at the end of 1931, in which Shostakovich spoke with youthful ardour about “the total, one-hundred per cent impotence of our musical theatres” in the sphere of the new arts, in the creation of Soviet opera and ballet. This “Declaration”, full of harsh accusations and cutting comments, provoked a storm. Shostakovich was accused of ideological wavering and of shifting to “bourgeois formalism and decadent westernism”, of joining the camp of those composers who were “alien to Soviet music”.
The “Declaration” was proclaimed to be evidence of “the aggravation of the class struggle on the musical front”. Shostakovich did not reply to his opponents. He was already working on the music for Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District.
The score of the ballet The Bolt is being published for the first time.
- Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, Stockholm Transport Band, G. Rozhdestvensky (conductor). 1994
Chandos CHAN 9343-4, 1995.