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Canadian Review of American Studies/ Revue canadtermed'etudes amerzcames Volume 28, Number 3, 1998, pp. 69-85 "Squandered on Communism": Shostakovich During the Cold War Peter J.Rabinowitz Introduction: Sixteen-Inch Guns and Just Plain Music 69 Covering the Twentieth Congress of the Soviet Communist Party in 1956, Neivsweek smugly remarked that "political party conventions elsewhere do not, as a rule, concern themselves with culture. The Soviet Communist Party has a long record of jumping in-and on-culture with both feet" ("Thaw Exposed" 1956, 88). Especially with forty years of hindsight, it is a striking comment; and given the ways in which political conservatives, who so persistently denounced Soviet political intervention in the aesthetic, have today made culture a central focus of their own political program, it would be easy to take pleasure in revealing the inconsistency in their position. Easy, but intellectually suspect. That is partly because the connections between the Cold Warriors of the 1950s and the right wing of today's Republican Party are tenuous and complex: certainly, it is hard to hold Newt Gingrich and Lynne Cheney responsible for an observation by an anonymous Newsweek essayist forty years ago. More important, though, I would like to argue that the inconsistency is not as great as it first appears, that there are 70 Canadian Review of American Studies Revue canadienne d'etudes americaines in fact some hidden, but meaningful, lines of continuity between the aesthetic assumptions grounding Newsweek's comment and the present cultural situation in the United States. I will be tracing out one of them in this essay, taking as my field of inquiry a small area-popular (as opposed to academic) U.S. reception of the music of Soviet composer Dmitri Shostakovich. Shostakovich makes a good case study for anyone interested in the swings of Cold War aesthetics, since his music, immensely popular during the United States' brief alliance with the Soviets during the war, became the subject of increasing critical attack during the 1950s-and because that shift was clearly tied to the changes in political climate. And although the Cold War criticism appeared to pit a composer who supported the official Soviet line, on the one hand, against noncommunist Western critics who defended what Paul Henry Lang once called "just plain music" (1947, 25), on the other, my claim here is that close reading reveals powerful cross-currents in the Western calls for artistic freedom. Specifically, the self-righteous attacks on the Communist Party's culture wars were fuelled by aesthetic assumptions not so different from those of the Soviet bureaucrats, and not so inconsistent with those of the Republican Party's artistic ideologues in the 1990s. Let me take as my point of departure a description of the Ninth Symphony in Time. Covering the American premiere in 1946, the anonymous critic was disappointed: Instead of the shimmering wit of a Mozart or Haydn, [the five movements] had familiar noisy devices from Shostakovich's tumultuous hour-long Seventh and Eighth symphonies. In the frail little Ninth, the whooping brasses and bassoon cadenzas were like 16-in. guns mounted on a PT boat. ("Shostakovich in the Berkshires" 1946, 52) This is a noteworthy review for at least two reasons. First, it helps to mark a major swerve in the reception of Shostakovich in the United States, one tied intimately to Cold War politics; second, it seems to have almost nothing to do with the cheery work in question. And I will be arguing here that understanding the connection between the two may help us understand some of the aesthetic assumptions in operation at the time. In so doing, I hope to uncover some contradictions in the positions of both the composer and his Peter]. RabinotLJitzI 71 Western critics-contradictions that can reveal a great deal about the enduring legacy of Cold War aesthetics. First, though, some backgroundhistorical background about Shostakovich's reputation, and theoretical background about the act of listening. It is Almost Unpatriotic As has often been noted, between the 1930s and the 1960s, Shostakovich's place in the U.S. concert-goers' imagination fluctuated radically. Of course, nearly all composers' reputations are subject to swings. When Raymond Burrows and Bessie...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 69-85
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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