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  • Music Divided: Bartók's Legacy in Cold War Culture
  • Jennifer DeLapp-Birkett
Danielle Fosler-Lussier . Music Divided: Bartók's Legacy in Cold War Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007. ISBN: 978-0520249653. Cloth. $36.95

As the subtitle of Danielle Fosler-Lussier's new book indicates, Bartók's posthumous reputation is the unifying element in her chapters, some of which present the fruits of substantial archival work in Hungary. Yet scholars of American music, particularly those studying the creation and reception of modernist music after World War II, will find this an enlightening and thought-provoking study. Indeed, the book begins and ends in the United States, opening with a colorful quotation from Leonard Bernstein, and ending with an epilogue that describes how George Rochberg's pastiche compositions challenged what he viewed as Cold War taboos. The author makes clear the broad relevance of her work, implicitly inviting scholars of mid-century American concert life to consider their own subjects within the international ideological framework she outlines.

Beyond its value as a prototype for Cold War–era reception studies, Music Divided directly treats musical life in the United States in two important ways. First, the author describes how the cultural rivalry across the Iron Curtain played out among composers and critics of modernist music in Western Europe and the United States, especially in their evaluations of Bartók's works. ("Nylon curtain," she says, better conveys the dynamic of competition and exchange.) Second, she connects Cold War ideology with American attitudes toward modern music and its audiences. For their relevance to American concert music, three of the book's eight chapters are especially worthy of close reading: chapter 2, "A Compromised Composer: Bartók's Music and Western Europe's Fresh Start"; chapter 4, "Bartók and His Publics: Defining the Modern Classic"; and the "Epilogue West: Bartók's Legacy and George Rochberg's Postmodernity."

One strength of the book is that the author acknowledges the care with which music and politics must be linked. She writes that in one sense all composing and listening was political in the Cold War years: [End Page 254]

European and American musicians were called upon to act as advocates for one of the two competing visions of modernity: aestheticist modernism in the West and socialist realism in the East. Each of these traditions encompasses ideas about how composers should relate to the rest of society, how their music should sound, and what the music should mean to its audiences. Under these circumstances, to compose a musical work in a particular style meant to take a position in the political and aesthetic debates of the day. To listen meant to evaluate not only the work, but also the composer [for his position in the same debates]


This East-West ideological divide informed the values held by individual composers and writers about music, and by various groups of artists and arts organizations. Yet the links between these values and their expression in particular compositions, writings, or policies were dependent not only upon circumstances of time and place, but also the personal histories and values of each individual composer, writer, or policymaker. Even within one city or organization, the expression of political and musical values could shift quickly, her examples show.

In chapter 2, "A Compromised Composer," she uses Bartók's example to explain how the terms of "the divide" developed in Europe after World War II. Drawing on the postwar rhetoric of "political compromise" and the need to "catch up," certain influential cultural leaders believed modernist styles were more ethical than populist styles: first, because of the widespread perception that Nazis had suppressed them (she acknowledges that this view was not entirely accurate), then, in addition, because Soviets denounced it in the infamous 1948 resolution. Theodor Adorno, Rene Leibowitz, and Hermann Scherchen were among those who spread the idea of modernism as an ethical imperative (48). She writes, "Adorno . . . suggested in 1949 that since the Nazi campaign against modern music had taken hold even among those who pretended to be liberal in other areas, a person's taste in music could be used as a...


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