Cold War Music

Peter Schmelz

in Music

ISBN: 9780199757824
Published online April 2013 | | DOI:
Cold War Music

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  • Applied Music
  • Ethnomusicology
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Contemporary music undeniably received attention during the Cold War—roughly the period between 1945 and 1991, from the end of World War II to the fall of the Soviet Union. Yet it was not until the Cold War’s end that musicologists and historians began investigating in earnest the impact of the worldwide conflict on musical composition, performance, and reception. Their research addresses a diversity of topics. The Cold War acts as more than a temporal demarcation: it helps frame specific relationships, interactions, and modes of thinking fostered directly and indirectly by the sharing (and opposing) of information around the globe. The most fruitful studies engage with these transnational aspects of the conflict, the pushing and pulling of ideas by both state and nonstate actors. Scholars thus have focused a great deal of attention on music that was explicitly politicized by either the sender or the receiver. But this process was far from one-sided, and far from clear. Armed with new theoretical perspectives and archival findings, and not beholden to the rigid binary oppositions of the Cold War, scholars have begun developing more sophisticated accounts of how musical actors (intentionally or not) conveyed, implied, received, and inferred political meanings on many levels, ranging from the very public to the more intimate. Music scholars and historians in particular have been interested in the ways in which governments employed (or attempted to employ) composers and performers to fit their own ideological and political agendas. Archival research relating to US cultural exchange programs featuring both jazz, art music, and ballet/modern dance have proven especially profitable. Musicologists have also dealt with other ideological aspects of musical production, usually by region, focusing particularly on the United States, western Europe, eastern Europe, and the Soviet Union. Among these regional studies, a number of scholars have drawn attention to the musical responses to the McCarthy campaign against Communist sympathizers in the United States. In this context and others, the uses of “abstract” music, namely twelve-tone and serial techniques, in addition to other avant-garde developments, as a shield against Communist co-optation have also been explored. What remains is to study these issues beyond the traditional US/Soviet framework and to look at what historian Odd Arne Westad calls the “Global Cold War.”

Article.  8045 words. 

Subjects: Music ; Applied Music ; Ethnomusicology ; Music Theory and Analysis ; Musicology and Music History ; Music Education and Pedagogy

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