Academic journal article Notes

Sounds of War: Music in the United States during World War II

Academic journal article Notes

Sounds of War: Music in the United States during World War II

Article excerpt

Sounds of War: Music in the United States during World War II. By Annegret Fauser. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013. [xv, 366 p. ISBN 9780199948031 (hardcover), $39.95; (e-book), various.] Music examples, illustrations, endnotes, bibliography, index.

The Musical Legacy of Wartime France. By Leslie A. Sprout. (California Studies in 20th-Century Music, 16.) Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013. [xxiii, 280 p. ISBN 9780520275300 (hardcover); ISBN 9780520955271 (e-book), $65.] Music examples, illustrations, endnotes, bibliography, index.

While the Second World War once loomed as a hard caesura in twentieth-century musical life, two recent books reveal the wartime years as anything but silent. Annegret Fauser's Sounds of War: Music in the United States during World War II and Leslie Sprout's The Musical legacy of Wartime France expose the often-surprising continuities between musical life before, during, and after one of the most disruptive periods in human history. Despite significant disparity between the wartime experience in the United States and France, much can be gained by reading Fauser's and Sprout's books with an eye toward overlapping concerns and productive tensions.

In treating an era recent enough that numerous survivors remain to enrich the historical record with their testimony, both books necessarily contend with the issue of selective memory. For Fauser, the iconic sounds of the American experience during the Second World War mainly derive from popular sources: Dinah Shore, Duke Ellington, and the Andrews Sisters. Yet classical music also played a significant role in the war effort, and the context of the war defined the sounds of classical music in crucial ways that we have forgotten (sometimes intentionally). Fauser advocates "defamiliarizing the soundscape of this period" (p. 9) to get past sonic representations in popular culture that distort the historical record. Sprout, too, excavates what are often intentionally suppressed memories about the soundscape of the war. She focuses on the fraught and at times perilous wartime experiences of France's most prestigious composers, including several whose wartime music became iconic in the postwar era. In Sprout's account, aesthetic choices, historical narratives, and critical debates typically understood as exclusive to the postwar period are recontextualized as echoes of musical politics during the war.

Taken together, the work of Fauser and Sprout corresponds to the second phase of a postwar critical trajectory theorized by Maja Zehfuss (Wounds of Memory: The Politics of War in Germany [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011]). In the first phase, society memorializes the recent past in order to move on from (or "remember") the finer details of pain and suffering experienced during the war. Constructing war monuments and consecrating battlefields, throwing ticker tape parades, and publicizing award ceremonies--these all involve what Zehfuss suggests is more about forgetting than remembering (p. 63). Eventually, however, the opposite is necessary: scholars like Fauser and Sprout find themselves in a position of haring to "forget" or challenge layers of unreliable memory in order to "remember" the finer historical details of the war--including uncomfortable truths that contradict received narratives. For Fauser and Sprout, such truths include the politicized framework in which music was produced and consumed; the propaganda value that classical music held for the governments of the United States and France, just as it did in Nazi Germany; and the continuing influence of Depression-era institutions and policies on music making during the war.

Fauser opens Sounds of War not in 1939 but in 2009, with the performances of Aaron Copland's wartime music that took place in Washington, D.C. around President Obama's first inauguration. The continued relevance of that music to listeners in 2009 (in the middle of another war) and its use as "a political gesture rallying Americans . …

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