The Music of Politics

Earlier I posted a call for more fluidity in the Classical Music world, to allow for new works and responding to events of the day. I wasn't necessarily talking about responding to current events, as in news topics of the day - but that would certainly seem to apply.

In a world where news travels about the globe in the matter of minutes, people respond to situations with the same speed. So, even before the US started bombing Iraq in 2003 composers were writing music protesting with the statement "Not in my name." In 2001, when the Trade Towers fell, numerous compositions surfaced lamenting the loss of life pulling the world together, looking for answers and bonding people together across borders in search of hope amid the ashes. Music has been used for both protest and support of governments for years. Beethoven's 3rd symphony was initially suppose to be in support of the great liberator Napoleon, but when Napoleon named himself emperor, Beethoven ripped off the title page and renamed the symphony. Tchaikovsky would glorify Napoleon's defeat in Russia with his 1812 overture. In 1944, during the siege of Leningrad, Shostakovich had his 7th symphony performed with loud speakers set up in Leningrad so both the Russian and German troops could hear the symphony. It was a symphony showing support for the Russian troops and declaring a resilience to the conquering army. Russian musicians were called back from the front lines for this performance, so important was the political significance.

On August 7th Russian tanks rolled into Ossetia and the world wondered at the ramifications. Last Thursday, Valery Gergiev opted to perform the Leningrad Symphony on the steps of the bombed-out parliament building in the Georgian city of Tskhinvali. The above link questions the political statement of such a concert. Since Gergiev has close ties with Putin, is the concert attempting to glorify Russia? But the symphony is one of a people under attack and their resolve to come out on top. Gergiev is native to Ossetia, and Ossetia is perhaps the only board on which the political maneuvers of Georgia and Russia are playing out their strategies.

I would like to suggest Valery Gergiev is perhaps trying to remind both sides that a war, only 60 years ago left more than just two countries with millions dead. In the end, there are still borders, still enemies, still armies and still casualties. The concert was to honor the victims of war - that says it all.


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