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Thread: Music and Communism

  1. #1
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    Music and Communism

    I will apologize in advance if this topic is not appropriate for this forum, but I am very interested in the way music, through history, has influenced society in sociopolitical terms. In my university classes, I often draw comparisons between the evolution of music and societal change.

    This week, I received a most interesting email from one of my first year students who is studying English here in China. Before I answer him, I am wondering if any of the forum members would be interested in offering their comments on the Bach analogy he refers to. (I have not used his name as I have not asked his permission and Communism is a delicate subject in this country at all times) Here is the quote:

    "I've been thinking about the question you asked whether education is about changing or preserving society for a while.To be honest, I still can't give a complete and logical answer. Once I read a novel by Milan Kundera,he used an analogy to describe Communism. He said that the people are to the communist government like notes are to J.S.Bach's great fugues. In the fugue, every note is arranged in a certain way and all fugues have a similar format. So unlike many other music styles, the fugue does not allow much change, everything must operate exactly in the composer's order.But as a result of the composer's absolute controlling, the fugue turned out to be one of Bach's greatest works; it creates great music. Milan Kundera implied that Communism is a kind of Idealism, only by every citizen's "proper" acts and everyone just obeying, then Communism becomes true.

    I am not saying communism is useless; in fact I think Communism can bring us the greatness. Only problem is, it needs us to share the same views and collective interests,so all of us are suposed to think in the same way, work in the same way to acomplish the same dream. A thought out of the expectation would not be welcome. I guess that's why the whole Chinese education system seems to try to limit people in the box.When you think outside the box,you become no longer fit to be in the collective.
    Thinking outside the box is good for us, but could being in the box to think also become an effcient way for people and the society to improve? Go back to our education; most students today have already become so "comfortable" in the traditional way of learning and they listen, no question, no challenge, no argument. This Phenomenon is more or less due to the society or the leading concept's requirement of total obedience. Could it be a possiblity that not to think out of the box becomes a better way to teach students for their future?"

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    unlike many other music styles, the fugue does not allow much change
    Some musicologists say a fugue is not even a style, but should be classified as a texture.


    Thinking outside the box is good for us, but could being in the box to think also become an effcient way for people and the society to improve? Go back to our education; most students today have already become so "comfortable" in the traditional way of learning and they listen, no question, no challenge, no argument. This Phenomenon is more or less due to the society or the leading concept's requirement of total obedience. Could it be a possiblity that not to think out of the box becomes a better way to teach students for their future?"
    My answer may seem lame and unconsistent, but I think you should first define what your box's limits are. Even the most radical actions and thoughts are revolutionary to something, and therefore, occur within this limits you slightly mention.

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    The first thing that came to my mind when I read this thread's title was

    SHOSTAKOVICH'S 7TH AND THE PEOPLE OF LENINGRAD

    lol.

    And the tune un the image I attach sounded in my head.
    Last edited by Manuel; Mar-23-2007 at 04:32.

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    I do sincerely hope that, as an English instructor, you will not mind a little bit of creative writing in what follows. The Bach analogy could prove a fruitful avenue to other commentators but I will choose a different perspective. It is a great mystery to me how cultural/societal repression affects creativity. Take for instance the early years of the Cold War when the CIA actually subsidized less than popular artistic expression in the USA, such as abstract expressionism, merely to assert the point of freedom of artistic expression to a Zhadnov cultural regime in the USSR. Of course, it was all politically motivated because, simultaneously, the House Committee on Un-American Activities was carefully monitoring Hollywood and would eventually drag Paul Robeson into the mud for his political discourse, in Paris, against the USA's racist practices. Poor Robeson not only lost his passport but the support of African-American community leaders such as Jackie Robinson! Meanwhile, Dmitri Shostakovich was patiently waiting for Stalin's death to disseminate his fourth symphony (which he had composed more than a decade earlier). While Robeson was treated as a "free man" in the Soviet Union (for political reasons), Shostakovich lived with the fear that his loved ones might be "removed" or "terminated" because of his music! Still, Shostakovich gambled. His ninth symphony was supposed to be a celebration of comrade Stalin's great achievements for the working class. He fooled them all! The symphony is neither critical or celebratory, and it's much shorter than what was expected. As far as I am concerned, when this symphony is grasped in its particular politico-cultural context, it's like a fart in Stalin's face.

    Your question is very philosophical and my reply is very practical. It is not unlike when US soldiers, treated as heroes to sell more war bonds, replied that they weren't heroes; they merely were protecting their buddies! We tend to attribute great ideological meaning to survival strategies. What's amazing, though, is the extent of Soviet musical creativity in the face of a deadly police state. From Shostakovich to Nosyrev, who was taken to the gulag for an arbitrary reading of his teenage diary, I remain thoroughly impressed by the extraordinary resourcefulness of composers living in life-threatening environments.

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    Administrator Frederik Magle's Avatar
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    Welcome to Magle International Music Forums, Kaixin!

    I hope you will become an active member. Regarding Milan Kundera's analogy of the Bach Fugue, I can just imagine trying to perform a Bach Fugue where every single note lives an individual live and have a mind of its own... very.... "avantgarde"

    Btw, I have moved this thread to the General Music Debate forum, since it's not an "introduction" to you personally per se.

    Kind regards,
    Frederik

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    I am wondering,without USSR's cultural/societal repression,whether Shostakovich would still create a master piece like Symphony No.7 "Leningrad"? It seems a little ironical that sometimes repression inspires creativity.

    As to the "box",please allow me to have a guess.I think it could be the publicity,or even,people,around you,their conception,their view of value that limit.No one could be stand alone,even in Bach's works,no matter the Fugue or the Goldberg Variation,notes have to follow one another.

    But after all,maybe one day,a genius comes to break Bach's fugue's exture and rearranges it,then there comes the new era of music.That's what we call creativity,and that's how things evolve.

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