Music and the Elusive Revolution: Cultural Politics and Political Culture in France, 1968-1981

Music and the Elusive Revolution: Cultural Politics and Political Culture in France, 1968-1981

Music and the Elusive Revolution: Cultural Politics and Political Culture in France, 1968-1981

Music and the Elusive Revolution: Cultural Politics and Political Culture in France, 1968-1981

Synopsis

In May 1968, France teetered on the brink of revolution as a series of student protests spiraled into the largest general strike the country has ever known. In the forty years since, May ’68 has come to occupy a singular place in the modern political imagination, not just in France but across the world. Eric Drott examines the social, political, and cultural effects of May ’68 on a wide variety of music in France, from the initial shock of 1968 through the “long” 1970s and the election of Mitterrand and the socialists in 1981. Drott’s detailed account of how diverse music communities developed in response to 1968 and his pathbreaking reflections on the nature and significance of musical genre come together to provide insights into the relationships that link music, identity, and politics.

Excerpt

On 13 May 1968 nearly one million people marched through the streets of Paris to protest the brutal police response to recent student unrest. the same day, Pierre Boulez gave a lecture on the state of contemporary music in the city of Saint-Etienne. the talk was the high point of the Semaine de la musique contemporaine, a one-week new music festival organized by critic Maurice Fleuret. Fleuret conceived the festival as a way of bringing recent developments in avant-garde music to a community cut off from the major centers of artistic creation, explaining that “there was no reason why the populace of a large city does not have the right … to live in unison with its time.” Boulez’s talk summarized what had been accomplished in the world of contemporary classical music during the past twenty years and outlined what remained to be done. This last question was critical. To ensure the continuing viability of new music, Boulez asserted, it was necessary to develop a general solution to the contemporary crisis of musical language. Rehearsing an argument he had made many times before, he assured his audience that only a comprehensive approach, one that overhauled instruments and institutions as well as compositional techniques, would shore up the uncertain position of new music. He set this totalizing vision against that of other, unnamed figures in the musical field, whom he characterized as pursuing limited, partial solutions to the problems confronting contemporary music. Such musicians were “scattered, isolated searchers,” trapped in “small ghettos.” To underline the . . .

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