- Music, Art and Diplomacy: East–West Cultural Interactions and the Cold War ed. by Simo Mikkonen and Pekka Suutari
This is one of several volumes arising from a conference on 'East–West Cultural Exchange and the Cold War' held in 2012. The focus of the volume is the 1940s–1960s, and all of the chapters deal in some way with the Soviet Union as agent or target of cultural diplomacy. Four of the eight case studies deal directly with music, and the focus throughout is on high as opposed to popular culture.
In her foreword, Susan E. Reid notes that the 'Iron Curtain' could separate and conceal but also 'frame, reveal and dramatise' (p. xi). Recent scholarship, she argues, has begun to consider this aspect of the Cold War period, and to approach the topic from the point of view of individuals and not just states. And, as the editors point out, the motivations of these individuals did not necessarily correspond with those of the states they were representing.
'High art' was often favoured in cultural diplomacy: it was seen to transcend the political, and the Soviet Union was keen to use its great artistic legacies to demonstrate its status. This did not always go as planned: Stéphanie Gonçalves, discussing 'Ballet as a Tool for Cultural Diplomacy in the Cold War: Soviet Ballets in Paris and London, 1954–1968', notes that Western publicity for these tours often referred to Russian rather than Soviet ballet, arguably neutralizing part of the political message. In addition, press reviews were sometimes less than complementary, judging the Soviet performances old-fashioned.
The USA was keen to challenge Soviet claims to artistic superiority, and particularly the claim that high art could not flourish under capitalism. In his chapter 'The Real Ambassadors? The Cleveland Orchestra Tours the Soviet Union', Clayton Koppes notes that the vast majority of US State-Department funding for tours went to classical ensembles. There was a political subtext here since, in contrast to many European countries, classical music in the USA thrived largely thanks to private money from financial elites; demonstrating the excellence of US ensembles was, therefore, to advertise American-style capitalism. The 1965 Cleveland tour, which was widely reported in the Western press, included both major centres (Moscow, Leningrad) and provincial cities; the orchestra often played to overfilled halls and rapturous applause. Like many of the authors in this [End Page 315] volume, Koppes combines archival research with personal testimony; there are moving stories of musicians briefly reunited with family members behind the Iron Curtain, and important insights into face-to-face interactions. For example, according to Cleveland musicians, the people they met on the tour often asked why there were so many homosexuals in the USA, apparently unaware that two of the composers featured on the programme, as well as star soloist John Browning, were gay. As Koppes comments, however, the USA was hardly flying the rainbow flag at that point in history—on the contrary, in fact.
Cultural diplomacy was often used to project a more positive image of the state in question from that common on the other side of the Iron Curtain. The inclusion on the tour programmes of US ensembles of music by African Americans—a piece by the composer William Grant Still in the Cleveland's programme, and the American folk music' (African American spirituals) performed by the Oberlin College Choir—may have countered the Soviet image of the USA as a profoundly racist society, but came as American people of colour were fighting for the most basic human rights. The Oberlin choir tour is discussed by Tim Scholl in 'Student Interactions, Race and the Media: The Oberlin College Choir 1964 Tour of the USSR and Romania'. He notes that, while student exchange was portrayed as being central for the tour, press reports did not accurately reflect what was actually discussed during these exchanges (the recent assassination of John F. Kennedy, for example...