Sunday, July 09, 2006

Politics and music

At first glance it might seem that politics and music are as similar as chalk and cheese. To think that, of course, you'd have to never have heard 'Hail to the Chief' or one of Elgars Pomp and Circumstance Marches.

Even to an Aussie, hearing 'Hail to the Chief' leads, if in the appropriate setting, to a glance around to see if perhaps Bush the Younger is in the offing. It's always a relief when it proves to be a false alarm! My wife wasn't so fortunate one evening at a concert in Los Angeles when Nixon walked in!

I know you have almost as good a recollection of what I write as I do so you'll remember that I've already written once about Dmitri Shostakovich[^] who is, for me, the ultimate example of a composer of talent skewered on politics.

Much, much more than flashes of genius but an uneven output marred by the exigiencies of surviving Stalinsm. Dunno about you but what from what I've read about life in the Soviet Union in the late 1930's I think I'd have tread a careful line too! Indeed, I think the only thing that saved Shostakovich from the Gulag was his fame in the west. He certainly seems, from the evidence, to have pissed Josef Vissarionivich Dzughazhvili off more than once!

But what can one make of the Twelfth Symphony? Way back in 1971 this was one of my favourites. Written in 1960 it is subtitled 'Of the year 1917' and purports to illustrate The Revolution.

The first movement is titled 'Revolutionary Petrograd' - one can easily imagine this music accompanying any newsreel footage showing Lenin haranguing the workers, fist in the air. Not a lot different, having been there, to the way fans at a Pink Floyd concert shake their fists in the air when the band plays 'We don't need no educashon!'.

The second movement, 'Razliv', is nondescript. Lenin spent time at Razliv during the middle of 1917 following the establishment of the provisional government and before the Bolsheviks did the second revolution. Given that the Kerensky[^] administration had already deposed Tsarism in February of 1917 and much of the impetus for revolution had cooled I can see why the music is nondescript. Lenin really had to work hard to discredit the first revolution and turn it into a communist revolution. Even as late as 1960 I take this as evidence that the regime had not managed to rise to Orwellian heights of history falsification.

The third and fourth movments are merged. The third is subtitled 'Aurora' which is the name of a battleship which purported to bombard the Winter Palace in St Petersburg (later known as Leningrad). Appropriately bombastic music; much percussion including some devastating Tam Tam slams!

Now I can go with this; up to and including the third movement. Music can't really show history unless the listener supplies some images from his own head and those images, whilst necessarily unique to the individual will tend to be 'guided' by everything one has seen before. Thus, when I hear the music I can see scenes of Lenin, bald head and beard unmistakeable, shaking his fist as he denounces whatever evil it is for his today. I can see the maggots infesting the meat on The Battleship Potemkin[^]. Not the truth and perhaps not even a part of the truth but those are the images that I associate with the Soviet Union.

But the fourth movement is where it all falls apart for this child of the western world. For this movement is subtitled 'The Dawn of Humanity'. Rousing music to be sure but if one knows anything of the history of the time and the place a blatant lie.

As an organic whole the symphony fails but it has its good moments.

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