Music Historiography in Cold War Contexts
Saturday, 14 November, 9:00am–noon
[[ Click on the presenter's name to view each abstract, or download the abstracts here. ]]
Laura Silverberg, A-R Editions, Organizer and Respondent
Lee Bidgood, University of Virginia
Elaine Kelly, Edinburgh University
Heather Wiebe, University of Virginia
Hon-Lun Yang, Hong Kong Baptist University
Marcus Zagorski, University College, Cork
Nearly two decades have passed since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the demise of communism in Eastern Europe, and the disintegration of the Soviet Union. The passing of time has enabled musicologists to approach the Cold War with increasing critical distance, and recent publications and conference presentations offer more nuanced perspectives on the relationship between musical, social, and political developments after the Second World War. Yet Cold War prejudices still risk coloring scholarly investigations into the music of this era.
The assembled panelists will discuss a web of themes relating to music historiography and the Cold War. In particular, this session will consider constructions of the past that emerged after 1945, present-day musicological narratives of the Cold War, and competing conceptions of the musical canon. Panelists will draw from their own research to address the following questions: How did composers and musicians conceive of their musical past, and how did they position their own activities within these carefully constructed historical trajectories? How have authoritarian regimes defined and appropriated the musical heritage? What processes enabled certain musical works to be accepted as part of a musical canon during the Cold War? Finally, what are effective strategies for studying the music of authoritarian regimes, where access to information is carefully controlled?
The research of the assembled panelists reflects diverse geographic regions, methodologies (from archival research to participant observation), and musical genres. Marcus Zagorski ("Historical Narrative and Aesthetic Judgment: Serial and Post-serial Music in West Germany") will examine how composers active in West Germany during the 1950s and 1960s believed that the techniques with which they worked were prescribed by history rather than subjectively chosen. His paper cites examples of this conception of history and outlines its effects upon aesthetic judgments in the period. Elaine Kelly ("Conceptions of Canons in a Post-Cold War Climate: Interpreting Narratives of the Past in the GDR") will explore the limitations of assessing East German music according to aesthetic criteria shaped by the hegemonic "western" canon. In the process, she will suggest alternative means of interpreting narratives o the past in Cold War and post-Cold War contexts. Heather Wiebe ("Britain's Cold War") will examine how some of the Cold War's most pressing issues were addressed in a specifically British context. Focusing on Britten's treatment of themes of communication and freedom, as posed against the forces of both capitalism and totalitarianism, she suggests that the particularity of British cultural responses to postwar modernity complicates familiar dichotomies of populist and avant-garde, East and West. Lee Bidgood ("Czech Bluegrass Music, Ethnography, and the Liminal Presence of the Past") will examine how three generations of Czech bluegrass musicians active both during and after the Cold War conceived of their music in terms of an imagined "American" past. Drawing from her research experience in the People's Republic of China, Hon-Lung Yang ("Researching Music in the People's Republic of China") will reflect on the contemporary challenges of studying music of an authoritarian regime, dealing with government censorship, and confronting the socialist worldview ingrained in Chinese historiography.