- Noah im kalten Krieg: Igor Strawinsky’s Musical Play “The Flood.” by Hannah Dübgen
Noah im kalten Krieg presents a variety of interpretations and insights regarding a single work: Igor Stravinsky’s The Flood, composed for a CBS television broadcast in 1962. Each of Hannah Dübgen’s eight chapters approaches the piece from a different angle, marshaling evidence from source material, music analysis, secondary sources, and published statements by Stravinsky (with Robert Craft), to sketch a series of narratives about how the work might be understood. The introduction poses the question, “Why did Stravinsky compose a work of music theater on the subject of the story of Noah’s Ark at the beginning of the 1960’s in America?” (p. 13). Dübgen’s title gives a clue to her answer: the Cold War is the overarching interpretive reference point, specifically referring to the connection between the biblical cataclysm presented in The Flood and the fear of the atomic bomb (as she quotes Stravinsky, “The Flood is also The Bomb” [p. 12]). Dübgen argues that the story ought to best be considered allegorically, and that the allegory in question is no mere moral abstraction, but is really a kind of contemporary analogy. The best moments of the book are those that tie back to this allegory by integrating a discussion of modern musical techniques with questions of theology and dramatic tradition.
It is intriguing that, given the political charge of her interpretive framework, the Bärenreiter series in which this monograph appears is focused on “music sociology,” and Dübgen quotes as her epigraph Charles M. Joseph’s epilogue to Stravinsky Inside Out, which calls attention to “a more expansive, more humanistic context” (Joseph, Stravinsky Inside Out [New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001], 269). While Joseph’s own chapter on The Flood is filled with interesting contextual details, personal reflections, and insights from correspondence, readers seeking a similar focus in Dübgen’s book—e.g., thick history, cultural reception, a study of the influence of larger social and artistic systems on the work—will find such topics confined to the last twelve pages of the volume. This is perhaps disappointing, as the bomb allegory she favors is so particular in its political and cultural resonances, which could have been more comprehensively explored. It was interesting, however, to read her analysis of the fraught and even ironic dynamic between television (as mass media) and the marketing of The Flood as a major cultural event involving persons of aesthetic importance (pp. 103–6).
After a synopsis of The Flood and a summary of basic information, Dübgen sketches out several different possible paths, many of which have the potential to lead to other fruitful work on the piece. Integrating music analysis into hermeneutics is a challenging task, and Dübgen executes it with confidence and flair. Dübgen’s discussion of the piece’s opening passages demonstrates her analytical method, which connects musical features (in this case, the structure of the opening “chaos” chord) to the “semantics” or significance created by those musical features (pp. 35–42). One particularly concentrated chapter, with [End Page 429] similarly astute attention to both musical content and dramatic significance, discusses the “antipodes” of God and Lucifer both musically and theologically, connecting their exaggerated characterizations to the difficulty of “sacralizing” a modern drama that has secular, contemporary resonances (pp. 64–70). Also illuminating is her discussion of the music of The Flood in light of other Stravinsky works that are “ritualized” (Les noces) or that have elements of “religious narrative” (The Rake’s Progress), which raises interesting problems about the connection between profane dramatic genres and religious content (pp. 71–83). The second half of the same chapter, however, is a flyover discussion of so many other works (the Mass, the Canticum Sacrum, the Symphony of Psalms, the Requiem Canticles, and Threni) that it becomes difficult to perceive as an integrated argument.