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Thread: Propaganda music

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    Senior Member TudorMihai's Avatar
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    Default Propaganda music

    In many totalitarian states, particularly those that feature a cult of personality aimed at the leader, many composers were called upon to compose propaganda music that paid homage to the leader, mainly in order to consolidate their power.

    A good example is Prokofiev's "Zdravitsa", Op. 85, a cantata composed for Stalin's 60th birthday



    Another example is Shostakovich's "The Sun Shines over our Motherland"



    Ceausescu was the subject of many propaganda songs. Here are two examples:

    Partidul, Ceausescu, Romania ("The Party, Ceausescu, Romania")



    Lui Ceausescu, ziditor de tara ("To Ceausescu, country builder")



    Even though you cannot understand the lyrics, you can appreciate the scale.
    Last edited by TudorMihai; Sep-25-2013 at 22:47.
    "The point is not to take the world's opinion as a guiding star but to go one's way in life and working unerringly, neither depressed by failure nor seduced by applause." - Gustav Mahler

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    Franz Schmidt's cantata "German Resurrection" (Deutsche Auferstehung) is a good example. Composed to celebrate Anschluss in 1938, Hitler's invasion of Austria.

    In China under the rule of Chairman Mao, you had his wife Jiang Qing compose these operas for propaganda purposes during the cultural revolution which reached its peak in the 1960's.

    Its wierd how these types of regime said music they didn't like didn't have aesthetic value or was decadent and so on. But you look at an image I got on wikipedia of one of those Maoist operas, and I mean does this speak to good taste? Or more like cheesy soc-real agitprop? Its the same with music, these regimes commissioned vast numbers of schematic rubbish and at the same suppressed music that was of great value. Many composers, Shostakovich included, wrote their real works "for the drawer" to only be given light of day once political conditions became more favourable (eg. after Stalin carked it). But I suppose its useless to try and expect such regimes to make sense in their cultural policy when in all other areas they where the same - basically horrible.

    Last edited by Sid James; Sep-26-2013 at 03:04.

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    Senior Member Eschbeg's Avatar
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    Propaganda music is by no means unique to totalitarian states. One of the most notorious open secrets of modernism is that the Darmstadt International Summer Courses for New Music, the institution that brought us "avant-garde" composers like Boulez and Stockhausen and which is often celebrated for creating an environment in which composers can write music for its own sake rather than for the service of some political end, was partially funded by the U.S. government. The purpose of the institution was to introduce to Europeans some Western trends that were previously unavailable (and sometimes explicitly banned) in totalitarian states. Darmstadt thus served as a vehicle for promoting democratic ideals of art in contrast to the strict rules of censorship in totalitarian states. In that sense, its music was no less a tool of propaganda than the music on the other side of the Cold War divide.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Eschbeg View Post
    ...Darmstadt thus served as a vehicle for promoting democratic ideals of art in contrast to the strict rules of censorship in totalitarian states. In that sense, its music was no less a tool of propaganda than the music on the other side of the Cold War divide.
    I didn't know that about Darmstadt but it makes sense in terms of how the USA poured vast amounts of money into Western Europe, including West Germany, after the war (the Marshall Plan and such). This was no doubt part of the politics of the Cold War - they didn't want Western Europe to fall to Communism like the East did. I have read that they funded the Berlin Philharmonic Hall, for example. It makes sense, West Berlin being a symbol of free Europe, right on the doorstep (well, surrounded by) Communist East Germany. It was American money that rebuilt Vienna after the war, including cultural institutions like the Singverein and the Vienna State Opera. The Americans also funded Radio Free Europe which did broadcast pro-Western propaganda. Marshall Aid money was offered to the countries of Eastern Europe but of course their Soviet puppet government declined it.

    In terms of your last sentence, I would say there is a big difference between what the Americans did and what the Russians did in East Europe and the USSR. In Western Europe, nobody was forced to listen to the music coming out of Darmstadt for example. By contrast in Eastern Europe you had school children singing Communist propaganda songs in schools, you had them learning Russian (it was compulsory), you had composers castigated for being 'formalist' such as in the 1948 Zhdanov decree. Some intellectuals, including musicians, also ended up in the gulags.

    Similar things can be said about any totalitarian system of course, from Hitler's Germany, to Mao's China, and both took a lesson or two from the methods used by Stalin, whether they admitted it or not. You just can't imagine the amount of control and manipulation that went on under these regimes. Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago and Jung Chang's Wild Swans are two memoirs/histories that convey the damage done to ordinary people under these regimes.

    In terms of the "music for its own sake" line in your post, I wouldn't say what Boulez was doing was apolitical. I wonder if music for its own sake actually exists in its purest form, or is that yet another ideal of Modernist ideology that doesn't work in practice? All Pierre did was substitute the word mannerisms to formalist when he damned those composers who in his opinion didn't stack up to his ideological position on music. Same thing to me, just more oppression. If your work had no tone row then you didn't get Pierre's endorsement. Even Stockhausen fell out with him in the end. History repeats itself in these ways, and classical music seems prone to more of this nastiness and outright hypocrisy than other genres of music. But since music is just music, that lets the dictators of the classical music world off the hook.
    Last edited by Sid James; Sep-26-2013 at 06:38. Reason: changed and added stuff

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    Senior Member Eschbeg's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sid James View Post
    In terms of your last sentence, I would say there is a big difference between what the Americans did and what the Russians did in East Europe and the USSR. In Western Europe, nobody was forced to listen to the music coming out of Darmstadt for example. By contrast in Eastern Europe you had school children singing Communist propaganda songs in schools, you had them learning Russian (it was compulsory), you had composers castigated for being 'formalist' such as in the 1948 Zhdanov decree. Some intellectuals, including musicians, also ended up in the gulags.
    Definitely. I don't have any illusions that the experience of western composers was comparable to that of eastern composers. There are correspondences: eastern composers had Zhdanov recriminations, we had McCarthy witch hunts. But they are only correspondences, not equivalences: with Zhdanov you could lose your life, whereas with McCarthy you usually only lost your job and (in Aaron Copland's case) your passport. But it was common during the Cold War for western composers to tout western music as exemplary because it was free of the taint of politics--Ned Rorem went so far as to say "The more an artwork succeeds as politics, the less it succeeds as art"--and that simply wasn't true. The propaganda game can be played by any side, even if the stakes were higher on the eastern side.
    Last edited by Eschbeg; Sep-26-2013 at 20:30.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Eschbeg View Post
    Definitely. I don't have any illusions that the experience of western composers was comparable to that of eastern composers. There are correspondences: eastern composers had Zhdanov recriminations, we had McCarthy witch hunts. But they are only correspondences, not equivalences: with Zhdanov you could lose your life, whereas with McCarthy you usually only lost your job and (in Aaron Copland's case) your passport. But it was common during the Cold War for western composers to tout western music as exemplary because it was free of the taint of politics--Ned Rorem went so far as to say "The more an artwork succeeds as politics, the less it succeeds as art"--and that simply wasn't true. The propaganda game can be played by any side, even if the stakes were higher on the eastern side.
    I think those are points which ring true to me and I did this thread drawing parallels between the two Cold War superpowers:

    Music, the 2 big superpowers & the 20th century. . .

    Regarding the cult of personality, so adding to the main topic of this thread, I think what it boils down to is making a distorted and often heroic or idealised picture of a person (often who is dead) and using that as part of your agenda. Stalin's use of Lenin is a case in point, so too Castro's use of Che Guevara. Neither Lenin or Che where saints as some paint them to be, Lenin setting up the systems and apparatus of oppression to be fully fleshed out by Stalin and Che doing some quite nasty things during the Cuban revolution and its aftermath, including sitting on so called people's courts condemning his political opponents to death, these people often being Cuban peasants on the wrong side of the new political order.

    In effect, what we get is this sanitisation and deification of a dead person and the elevation of him as a cult figure. Its ironic that there was much tension between Lenin and Stalin, and there is evidence that Lenin actually was afraid of the damage Stalin would do once he died. As for Fidel and Che, there was another complex relationship, Che being the hard core Communist ideologue whilst Fidel didn't start out as a Communist more as a nationalist on the left. Fidel only fully converted to Communism two years after the revolution succeeded. Cults of personality obscure these types of uncomfortable realities. Like the images and music associated with them, they are like simple schematic diagrams of things much more complex and with many grey areas, few absolutes.

    Fidel with Che's picture in the background:



    Stalin with an image of the conveniently dead Lenin behind him:



    Again there are parallels with the West. Orson Welles' film Citizen Kane tells a story of the corrupting influence of power, the newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst actually prevented Welles from doing anything big budget (eg. in Hollywood) after that film. It was a clever metaphor based on events in Hearst's own rise to power, and Welles was kind of locked out of American film for his 'sins' in making that thinly disguised comparison, so most of his films after where made in Europe and the UK.

    Here's a still from the film, speaking to the cult of personality:


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    Senior Member Levanda's Avatar
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    Some my family members telling me stop listening propaganda music. Honestly I am not hate them. I grow up with them is relating to my life and my education and life experience.

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    Prior to the French Revolution, every monarchy in western Europe legitimized itself via Christianity; all the religious music from Constantine to Napoleon was propaganda for the church-state system.
    Liberty for wolves is death to the lambs.

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    Here is some of North Korea's propaganda:

    Liberty for wolves is death to the lambs.

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    excalibur.jpg

    lame lame lame lame...

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    Come on, Mr. Wrahms. I know that watching that dancing to such moving music made you long to surrender your freedom to the loving care of the Dear Leader.

    (Wow. Just typing that gives me the willies.)
    Liberty for wolves is death to the lambs.

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    ❦❦❦❦❦❦Oh the sincere nationalistic expression is what has moved my heart ♥ deeply. I bet they practiced night and day without eating or sleeping just to express their unconditional love to the Dear Leader ❤❤❤❤❤❤❤ which will never be enough as he cares for them infinitely.❦❦❦❦❦❦❧

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    Quote Originally Posted by Richannes Wrahms View Post
    ❦❦❦❦❦❦Oh the sincere nationalistic expression is what has moved my heart ♥ deeply. I bet they practiced night and day without eating or sleeping just to express their unconditional love to the Dear Leader ❤❤❤❤❤❤❤ which will never be enough as he cares for them infinitely.❦❦❦❦❦❦❧
    That's the spirit!
    Liberty for wolves is death to the lambs.

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    There is propaganda music that is propaganda music both in theory and practice, and then another type of music that is not propaganda music in theory but very much so in practice.

    I just hope that we don't stop at condemning only the first type and seeing nothing wrong with the second.

    But on the other hand, it could be argued that the only type of music that is not propaganda music is pure and absolute music written by angels disinterestedly contemplating the Creation... While music is not language as such, it has ties to a language and a context and a world-view. And when you have a world-view and you are expressing something, propaganda is not that far away.
    Wäre das Faktum wahr, – wäre der außerordentliche Fall wirklich eingetreten, daß die politische Gesetzgebung der Vernunft übertragen, der Mensch als Selbstzweck respektiert und behandelt, das Gesetz auf den Thron erhoben, und wahre Freiheit zur Grundlage des Staatsgebäudes gemacht worden, so wollte ich auf ewig von den Musen Abschied nehmen, und dem herrlichsten aller Kunstwerke, der Monarchie der Vernunft, alle meine Thätigkeit widmen.

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    Senior Member ptr's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by science View Post
    Prior to the French Revolution, every monarchy in western Europe legitimized itself via Christianity; all the religious music from Constantine to Napoleon was propaganda for the church-state system.
    Why stop at Napoleon, I would not hesitate a second to characterize all religious music as forms of propaganda! I can't really see that there are any differences in use and both in- and outward purpose of say a Bach oratorio and Shostakovich "The Sun Shine over our Motherland", the text may express different things, but it aims at seducing their respective audiences in to submission to the paradigm under which either composer worked.

    /ptr
    Last edited by ptr; Jul-31-2014 at 06:25.
    Je suis Charlie ~ I am a certified OrgaNut! (F.—I.W.)

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