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  • Musik in zwei Diktaturen: Verfolgung von Komponisten unter Hitler und Stalin
  • Stephen Luttmann
Musik in zwei Diktaturen: Verfolgung von Komponisten unter Hitler und Stalin. By Friedrich Geiger. New York: Bärenreiter, 2004. [274 p. ISBN 3-7618-1717-7. €34.95.] Music examples, bibliography, index.

The reason for comparing the persecution of composers in two societies would seem to be obvious: if one can demonstrate that the similarities between the societies are compelling enough to make a comparison worthwhile, then the act of comparison illuminates similarities and differences in enforcing ideology, in reacting to similar (or the same) phenomena, etc. Ideally, comparison also throws into sharp relief essential features of the societies that would be easier to overlook if the societies were studied individually. Before even demonstrating how the regimes of Hitler and Stalin are suitable for comparison, however, Geiger makes a point of beginning his work by noting that comparison of only a single, well defined aspect of the two societies is a means for German social sciences to avoid recourse to theories of totalitarianism that concern themselves with abstract [End Page 383] models and systems to the exclusion of circumstances and motivations. It also avoids the wholesale comparison of regimes, the problematic nature of which Geiger conjures up by the passing but telling mention of Ernst Nolte and the Historikerstreit—namely, the risk of being perceived as relativizing or even excusing Nazi atrocities (assuming the writer did not have the intention of doing so outright).

The implication would seem to be: If the historiography of German music is to be taken seriously outside of the field of musicology (or even, increasingly, within it), then it must interpose itself into recent trends in the discourses of the German social sciences. Whether this is in fact the motivation behind Geiger's selection of topic or method is, of course, ideally irrelevant (although one notes that the work is in fact his Habilitationsschrift for the Cultural Studies Department at the University of Hamburg), and it is to his credit that his investigation of Soviet musical phenomena is not conducted as a mere foil to that of the German ones. In fact, his strong reliance on Russian archival material—despite his modest but no doubt true observation that the evaluation of such material has hardly begun—is one of the strongest features of his work and yields some of its most significant data.

Geiger's concern for his work's being a part of contemporary social science discourse does not mean that his approach is appreciably postmodern, or beholden to any particular ideology. He does, however, proceed from models. Diachronically, he demarcates various phases in the development of musical politics in both regimes (four phases in each, as it turns out), and identifies the varying degrees of political, racial, and aesthetic factors as motivations for composer persecution in all of them. Synchronically, he identifies a social model (for which Geiger wisely chooses a term in a neutral language, but unfortunately hits upon communitas) in both regimes, held up as ideal and enforced with varying degrees of incentive and brutality, examining how deviations from the model were handled.

This much established, Geiger proceeds not to the subject matter at hand, but to a lengthy investigation—fully thirty percent of his text (pp. 29–89)—of parallels in the musical lives of both countries before the onset of authoritarian music politics in both countries. One immediately grants the necessity of demonstrating that Hitler and Stalin faced, to a striking degree, the same musical "enemy," namely the modernist avant-garde, but this point had already been made by the fourth page (p. 14) of his introductory chapter. One further grants that the material is some of the most fascinating reading in the entire book: Not only is the reader treated to the unavoidable comparison of Schoenberg and Roslavets, but the emblematic resonances of the brief meeting between Shostakovich and Berthold Goldschmidt in terms of compositional style and attitudes towards women and sexuality in general (Goldschmidt expressing a desire to compose an opera on Nikokai Leskov's Ledi Makbet Mtsenskogo Uezda only to find out Shostakovich had just done so) are sufficient to justify...


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