Music Divided: Bartók's Legacy in Cold War Culture

Music Divided: Bartók's Legacy in Cold War Culture

Music Divided: Bartók's Legacy in Cold War Culture

Music Divided: Bartók's Legacy in Cold War Culture

Synopsis

Music Divided explores how political pressures affected musical life on both sides of the iron curtain during the early years of the cold war. In this groundbreaking study, Danielle Fosler-Lussier illuminates the pervasive political anxieties of the day through particular attention to artistic, music-theoretical, and propagandistic responses to the music of Hungary's most renowned twentieth-century composer, Béla Bartók. She shows how a tense period of political transition plagued Bartók's music and imperiled those who took a stand on its aesthetic value in the emerging socialist state. Her fascinating investigation of Bartók's reception outside of Hungary demonstrates that Western composers, too, formulated their ideas about musical style under the influence of ever-escalating cold war tensions.

Music Divided surveys Bartók's role in provoking negative reactions to "accessible" music from Pierre Boulez, Hermann Scherchen, and Theodor Adorno. It considers Bartók's influence on the youthful compositions and thinking of Bruno Maderna and Karlheinz Stockhausen, and it outlines Bartók's legacy in the music of the Hungarian composers András Mihály, Ferenc Szabó, and Endre Szervánszky. These details reveal the impact of local and international politics on the selection of music for concert and radio programs, on composers' choices about musical style, on government radio propaganda about music, on the development of socialist realism, and on the use of modernism as an instrument of political action.

Excerpt

“If I play you notes, just notes on the piano like that, those notes don’t tell you any ideas. Those notes aren’t about burning your finger, or Sputniks, or lampshades, or rockets, or anything.” Leonard Bernstein offered this explanation to an audience of parents and children at a Young People’s Concert of the New York Philharmonic in 1958. “Music is never about anything,” he proclaimed,“music just is.” Yet the list of things he claimed music is not about reveals a particular kind of anxiety that was characteristic of the cold war era. Bernstein’s statement does more than simply demonstrate that Sputnik and rockets were on his mind. the very fact that the conductor found it necessary to disentangle music from these possible referents before a crowd of schoolchildren implies that musical ideas and the icons of cold war culture were already intertwined.

Despite Bernstein’s vehement denials, music did convey meaning, in the 1950s as today, and many of its meanings were inescapably political. the postwar division of Europe, imagined as the Iron Curtain, had a profound effect on all spheres of culture, and the emergence of the United States and the Soviet Union as rival superpowers spurred efforts to distinguish them musically, as in every other way. On both sides governments channeled financial support to institutions that fostered musical traditions that suited their political purposes and neglected or tried to eliminate organizations whose aesthetic aims too closely resembled those of their foes. European and American musicians were called upon to act as advocates for one of the two competing visions of modernity: aestheticist modernism in the West and socialist realism in the East. Each of these traditions encompassed ideas about how composers should relate to the rest of society, how their music should sound, and what the music should mean to its audiences. Under these circumstances, to compose a musical work in a particular style meant to take . . .

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