3. SYMPHONIES OF THE WAR YEARS
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3 SYMPHONIES OF THE WAR YEARS It is important to keep in mind a few details of the war years, since they formed a background of critical importance to the creative activities of American composers, regardless of whether the composers acknowledged their influence. The United States plunged into war when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. In early 1942, Japanese armed forces advanced southward on the Asian continent, in the Philippines , and on island after island in the seas off Southeast Asia. Slowly the Japanese armed forces advanced toward Australia. The struggle to stop them grew ferocious. During the entire year and into the next, the United States and Japan engaged in a series of sea battles for control of the Pacific from which the United States eventually emerged victorious. By February 1943, after fierce fighting, the Japanese advance toward Australia had been halted. Some composers, such as Walter Piston, became creatively paralyzed as they witnessed the mayhem, and ceased writing for a while. Others, including George Antheil, Samuel Barber, and Marc Blitzstein, wrote with 83 84 · The Great American Symphony the wartime struggle in mind. David Diamond and Leonard Bernstein would show their concern indirectly in their symphonies. In 1942 and 1943, as these men composed, the Axis armies were trying to hammer the Soviet Union into submission. Crucial battles took place at Leningrad and Stalingrad. Leningrad remained under siege until early 1944. The Axis advance into western Russia met with defeat in Stalingrad in January 1943. After the Battle of Kursk, in the summer of 1943, the Axis would no longer be able to take offensive action on the Eastern Front. These artists read about American troops landing in North Africa in June 1942 in order to assist the British against the German and Italian forces there. After contention over control of the wide expanse of desert land, the Allies gained the upper hand and forced the Axis armies to surrender in May 1943. Two months later, an invasion fleet left Africa for Sicily. In September, the Allies landed in southern Italy and the recovery of the continent began. Meanwhile, through 1942 and 1943, the butchery of Jews and other people the Nazis deemed undesirable escalated, and a murderous rule of the European continent was implemented. Alive to this tragic swirl of history, some composers joined the American armed forces or worked in other ways to help the war effort. They thought it imperative to continue composing. Colleagues who remained at home saw it as an obligation to continue writing. These composers thought it was their responsibility to affirm mankind’s capacity for civilized behavior despite the brutalizing activities of wartime. Adding leaven to the American musical scene were the many outstanding European composers who had come to live in the United States, whether permanently or temporarily—among them, Bloch, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Bartók, Hindemith, Britten, Milhaud, Wolpe, and Weill. Some had come before the war had started, driven out of central Europe by Nazi oppression. Others came later, to escape homelands now turned into battlegrounds or suffering oppression as occupied territories. Most of these artists set themselves up as teachers in composition. At the same time, they continued their creative writing. Few had a real stake in sustaining the American attempt of the thirties and forties to realize a musical identity. They would influence the postwar generation of American composers significantly, through their teaching, their opinions, and the works that they wrote. Symphonies of the War Years · 85 WARTIME ATTITUDES The European composers who arrived in America found a people who, though welcoming, were subject to divisions based on education and money. A large number of white Americans were biased racially and ethnically . Witness the dispossession and segregation of Americans of Japanese descent, the conditions that provoked black Americans into several race riots, and the more subtle discrimination against Jews. Americans tended to hold conformist beliefs and voiced hardly any political opinions . Movies, popular music, and radio programs were their chief entertainment , especially if sentimental, funny, overly dramatic, or full of action . As a group they were not particularly cultivated or cosmopolitan. On the other hand, they were not dummies. Therefore, they tried to understand the reasons for the war and to apply practical judgment to the fighting of it. They were wise enough to let the rants of those leaning to the political far right and far left go unheeded. Nor would they act to banish music composed by German and Austrian composers...