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Thread: Composers who resisted tyrannical regimes

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    Senior Member Sid James's Avatar
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    Default Composers who resisted tyrannical regimes

    On this forum there has been much discussion of issues to do with the relationship between composers and their political views, particularly in light of Wagner but also many others.

    I thought I'd do this thread focussing on those composers who in some way resisted or opposed tyrannical regimes. This is in part because often in our discussions here we focus on the composers who served these regimes and those who resisted them are often left out of the picture. There is an assumption by some that serving such regimes, either overtly or covertly, was the only option available to people. With this thread I am giving an opportunity to put the other side of the story.

    I think there is at least sometimes a relationship between such composers' resistance in political terms and their music. In other ways they also often bear witness to the extraordinary - and at times horrific - events going on around them.

    There are instances of these things from all parts of the world (sadly), however in this opening post I will focus on the resistance during World War II.

    An example I have cited at times on this forum is Zoltan Kodaly, who was involved in the resistance during World War II. After the war he was also supportive of reestablishing Hungarian democracy during the ill-fated 1956 uprising against Soviet rule. Another one I have talked of before is K.A. Hartmann, who during the war went into a kind of internal exile. He didn't allow any of his works to be performed in Nazi Germany or the countries occupied by it. After the war Hartmann established Musica Viva, an organisation dedicated to repairing some of the damage done by the Nazis, allowing for more opportunities to perform new music.

    Kodaly was a Christian and Hartmann a Communist, and this speaks to how many people like them joined together in a common effort to defeat fascism.

    Others similar to Hartmann, on the left of the political spectrum, who where in the resistance in their countries where Luigi Nono of Italy, Louis Duray (formerly of the Les Six group) of France and Iannis Xenakis of Greece. Another one from Greece was Mikis Theodorakis, who is now in his eighties. One who was similar to Kodaly was Olivier Messiaen, he survived a period interned as a prisoner of war, and there he wrote his Quartet for the End of Time - a work drawing on his views of spirituality, nature and humanity.

    In terms of conductors, Louis Fremaux and Erich Kleiber where part of the resistance as well.

    These guys took great risks. Kodaly had to go into hiding with his family for a couple of months during the Winter of 1944. The Hungarian fascists wanted him dead. He hid in an annexe underneath Budapest's main cathedral and it was there that his Missa Brevis in Tempore Belli was given its premiere, for his ears only. Xenakis was nearly killed in the Greek civil war after the end of WWII, an explosion disfiguring his face. Theodorakis was put into a concentration camp and buried alive. Hartmann witnessed a death march during the end of the war and commemorated that in his Piano Sonata '27 April 1945.'

    Another type of resistance was like that of Paul Hindemith, who tried to separate himself from politics as much as possible during the Nazi era, but in the end he was forced to leave Germany as this was impossible. The famous story behind his work Mathis der maler (which exists as both an opera and symphony) highlights the plight of composers under the Third Reich. They simply could not be apolitical, they had to make some sort of choice to adapt themselves to the regime, and if they didn't do this they would be counted as enemies. It can basically be summed up in the line "you're either with us or against us."

    So I'm inviting a discussion of the composers and musicians who took part in resisting such despotic regimes.
    Last edited by Sid James; Sep-27-2013 at 03:03.
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    Schoenberg emigrated to the USA in 1934. No doubt, he knew what was brewing and he got out in time.

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    Richard Strauss pretty much resisted the Nazis in the sense that he ws still able to compose relatively freely and above all, be successul as a composer as far as his art was concerned.

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    Senior Member Eschbeg's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sid James View Post
    Another type of resistance was like that of Paul Hindemith, who tried to separate himself from politics as much as possible during the Nazi era, but in the end he was forced to leave Germany as this was impossible.
    Hindemith's level of resistance has been the center of a minor debate recently. Furtwängler certainly tried very hard to convince the state to accommodate Hindemith, and it would be very interesting to know how much of that was done with Hindemith's knowledge or approval. Some historians find it a little suspicious that Hindemith left Germany only after it was clear that accommodation would not be forthcoming.

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    Alexander Lokshin (1920-1987) was one of the marginalized USSR cases, being interested in Mahler and the Neue Wiener Schule from early on, and inspired by them. He was supported by Rudolf Barshai, Nikolay Myaskovsky and the pianists Maria Yudina and Maria Grinberg among others.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aleksandr_Lokshin, and http://lokshin.org/en.htm, which includes legitimate downloads http://lokshin.org/en.htm, besides you-t.

    The fine & intense 4th Symphony (1968) is characteristic of his somewhat Berg-like style http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjEnturNKEc
    Last edited by joen_cph; Sep-27-2013 at 15:12.

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    Senior Member Sid James's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eschbeg View Post
    Hindemith's level of resistance has been the center of a minor debate recently. Furtwängler certainly tried very hard to convince the state to accommodate Hindemith, and it would be very interesting to know how much of that was done with Hindemith's knowledge or approval. Some historians find it a little suspicious that Hindemith left Germany only after it was clear that accommodation would not be forthcoming.
    I find Hindemith interesting in that, as far as I know, he tried hard to stay out of politics and stay in Germany. I'd guess that after the Nazis took power, he would have sworn the loyalty oath to the Reich and the Fuhrer, which is what all public servants and university staff did. I think he wanted to avoid trouble or ruffling any feathers. Even his concept of Gebrauchsmusik (music for use - that is teaching and learning of music, pedagogy) could have maybe kind of been acceptable to the Nazis in terms of that aspect of bringing music to the people, making it accessible and so on.

    I know that Mathis der maler was controversial, not least in that the background of the opera's plot involved the peasant rebellion during the 16th century. But my suspicion is that they had it in for him regardless. Nazi cultural policy was basically applied as they wanted. In Hindemith's case, I know Hitler had little time for him because during the roaring twenties Hindemith was like the German version of Prokofiev - a lot of what he did that decade was aimed to shock, and it did. I read of one opera by Hindemith, which Hitler saw in the 1920's, in which a female sings an aria naked in the bath. Tyrannical regimes seemed to share this concern with suppressing sexuality, there is this kind of moral prudery in both Nazism and Stalinism. Another thing was Hindemith's free association with Jewish musicians, despite this being a big no-no once the Nazis came to power. So there where all these things.

    Hindemith left, first went to Turkey where he worked to establish music education, then he sat the war out in the USA. He taught at Yale and became an American citizen in 1946. This apparently didn't go down well with some Germans, who saw this as almost betrayal. Once Hindemith did return to Europe, he did conduct in Germany, but made Switzerland his home. It is apparent that he did harbour some bitterness and grudges himself for the shoddy treatment he got, both during and after the Nazi era. He kind of fell between two stools, so to speak. His bid to pursue music and stay out of the political limelight during the Nazi era failed, and I think he never got over it fully.
    Last edited by Sid James; Sep-28-2013 at 06:48.
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    Senior Member Eschbeg's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sid James View Post
    Even his concept of Gebrauchsmusik (music for use - that is teaching and learning of music, pedagogy) could have maybe kind of been acceptable to the Nazis in terms of that aspect of bringing music to the people, making it accessible and so on.
    Not only could it have been acceptable to the Nazis; it was acceptable. Gebrauchsmusik was exactly the kind of ideology Goebbels promoted. In a letter to Furtwängler in 1933, he wrote: "Art must not only be good, it must be conditioned by the needs of the people… Art in an absolute sense, as liberal Democracy knows it, has no right to exist." The kind of art that is written for its own sake, which is what Goebbels meant by "art in an absolute sense," was the kind for which he saw little use.

    Even though Hindemith was central in the Gebrauchsmusik movement, he was rejected by the Nazis because they still associated him with his expressionist works that came before Gebrauchsmusik, works like Mörder, Hoffnung der Frauen, which in its own way was a kind of foreshadowing of Schoenberg's Erwartung. And even the opera you alluded to, Neues vom Tage with the infamous "bathtub aria," should have played right into Goebbels hands since the work is partly a satire on the concept of art for art's sake. (The opera begins with the leading couple bickering in a museum, and in their anger they start throwing museum pieces at each other, making very humorously domestic use of ancient, priceless works of art.)

    So in theory Hindemith should have been quite welcomed by the Reich, but they never stopped thinking of him as a "modern" and therefore "degenerate" composer, and that seems to be the reason for his eventual emigration. That's what historians today are starting to view with a bit of suspicion: in the 1950s, when Hindemith officially renounced the concept of Gebrauchsmusik, he made it seem like he was doing so because the Nazis had appropriated it and he wanted to disassociate himself from them. But it's now starting to look like he renounced the movement partly out of resentment that he had effectively been kicked out of it. It's hard not to suspect that if Goebbels had welcomed Hindemith as a Gebrauchsmusiker, then Hindemith would have been happy to play along.
    Last edited by Eschbeg; Sep-28-2013 at 15:58.

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    Senior Member Sid James's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eschbeg View Post
    ...
    Even though Hindemith was central in the Gebrauchsmusik movement, he was rejected by the Nazis because they still associated him with his expressionist works that came before Gebrauchsmusik, ...So in theory Hindemith should have been quite welcomed by the Reich, but they never stopped thinking of him as a "modern" and therefore "degenerate" composer, and that seems to be the reason for his eventual emigration. ..
    Well I think that Mathis der Maler also was destined to not go down well with the Nazis, in terms of its focus on religion and a time of violent upheaval in German history centuries before. Also the opera's analysis of the role of the artist in all this, the painter Matthias Grunewald, and the symphony being a musical depiction of his Isenheim Altarpiece. It is obvious that Hindemith's 'bad boy' image of the 1920's, and also the things you talked about, would have added to Goebbel's scorn of him. He incorporated jazz into his music at that time, of course the Nazis saw this as degenerate music because they thought black people where like apes.

    ... It's hard not to suspect that if Goebbels had welcomed Hindemith as a Gebrauchsmusiker, then Hindemith would have been happy to play along.
    Well I am not up on the latest research on all this as you obviously are. As I said my general impression of Hindemith is that he wanted to stay and work in his own country, but the situation did not allow for this to occur. I think though that in terms of other composers and musicians who played along with the regime as you describe it, ultimately it kind of came unstuck. Its very hard to impossible to do it your way when you are dealing with a regime that is so corrupted and toxic as that was.

    I don't want to focus on the composers who played the game (and got burnt) but I do want to say that after the war there was much soul searching, even though I think few if any composers or musicians where punished by the American authorities once they took over. Even people who had been signed up members of the Nazi party where cleared during the de-Nazification process. So I think its of limited use to kind of conjecture what Hindemith would have done if the Nazis had offered him some sort of opening or deal.

    Most people during the regime, and all kinds of regimes like this, just want to survive. There are few at either end, either believing in these ideologies or having the courage to fight them. It appears to me that Hindemith wanted to kind of blend in to this kind of grey mass and be apolitical, maintain some sort of separation and independence from the powers above him. But these regimes don't work like that, particularly if you're a high profile person, or as in his case an intellectual of some repute. They like to have intellectuals on side to legitimise their control. Otherwise they look like a bunch of barbarians, which is what they where basically.
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    Senior Member Eschbeg's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sid James View Post
    I don't want to focus on the composers who played the game (and got burnt)… So I think its of limited use to kind of conjecture what Hindemith would have done if the Nazis had offered him some sort of opening or deal.
    I'm very much in agreement. I think the historical revisionism going on in Hindemith's case is less important for what it might say about Hindemith's hypothetical behavior if circumstances had been different and more important for what it teaches us about categorizing composers whose career intersected with totalitarian regimes. It used to be common (and still is, in the case of Shostakovich) to believe there are only two possible responses to such situations: 100% complicity with the regime or 100% resistance against the regime. But with a little bit of historical distance some historians are coming around to the more realistic view that it's not always so black and white. Hindemith's admirable choice to emigrate, coupled with his disappointing tendency after emigration to criticize the Third Reich because of the personal insult they dealt him rather than out of general moral outrage, puts him somewhere in between. Nothing any historian has so far uncovered suggests Hindemith was a closet Nazi, just as nothing any historian has so far uncovered suggests he was a heroic anti-Nazi crusader. So I personally don't criticize him for the former, nor do I praise him for the latter. As you suggested, he was probably just trying to survive.
    Last edited by Eschbeg; Sep-30-2013 at 15:03.

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    Senior Member Pantheon's Avatar
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    Need I mention Ligeti ?

    Only he and his mother survived the concentration camps...
    Last edited by Pantheon; Sep-30-2013 at 16:14.

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    Default Hindemith's wife

    Hindemith's wife was partially Jewish. It appears from what I have read that this one of the reasons he left.

    Alfredo Casella was a big supporter of Mussolini. Casella's wife was a French Jew. In this situation Casella's ties with the facist may have save his wife.

    Maybe some of you may have further information about this.
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    Senior Member Sid James's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eschbeg View Post
    ... It used to be common (and still is, in the case of Shostakovich) to believe there are only two possible responses to such situations: 100% complicity with the regime or 100% resistance against the regime. But with a little bit of historical distance some historians are coming around to the more realistic view that it's not always so black and white. ....
    Yes, that's what I am saying. Its not black and white, or not always. In terms of broadening this, looking at how some of the composers I mentioned in my opening post (and some others) resisted dicatorial regimes, the consequences differed:

    They want to kill you, imposition of death sentence (eg. Kodaly, so having to go into hiding, same with Xenakis who went into exile from Greece).

    Living in constant fear (eg. Shostakovich during the Stalin era).

    Losing your job, usually being dismissed from a teaching job (or pressure put on you to resign - I think Hindemith is an example, Kodaly had various experiences of this under several regimes, Ginastera got this under Juan Peron).

    Having your works banned and royalties taken away (the Second Viennese School - for Berg, this was fatal, he couldn't afford medical treatment until it was too late).

    Imprisonment (eg. Messiaen, Theodorakis).

    Blackmail (eg. Shostakovich was allowed to go outside the USSR to visit the West, but with the proviso that if he didn't return, his relatives remaining there would suffer).

    The regime meddling with your artistic freedoms (eg. the Zhdanov Decree in USSR, 1948 when composers like Shostakovich, Myaskovsky, Khachaturian, Prokofiev where accused of being "formalist," the regime's double speak code word for music they didn't like and thought was a threat to their power).

    Being made to do menial work and being written out of the history books (Russian composer who is sometimes called 'The Russian Schoenberg,' Nikolai Roslavets was made to work conducting military bands and after his death for all intents and purposes may as well not have existed as far as the Soviet musicologists where concerned until the end of Communist rule). K.A. Hartmann also had to hide his manuscripts in a secret location during the war because the Nazis wanted them destroyed, thereby writing him out of the history books while he was still alive. All of his symphonies where premiered after the war, if I remember correctly.

    I'm sure there are many other strategies like this to control composers and ruin their lives, but this I think covers a lot. Its quite depressing actually, but as I said its easy to forget how many composers actually where treated in these ways.
    Last edited by Sid James; Oct-02-2013 at 12:24.
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    Quote Originally Posted by brotagonist View Post
    Schoenberg emigrated to the USA in 1934. No doubt, he knew what was brewing and he got out in time.
    Quote Originally Posted by Pantheon View Post
    Need I mention Ligeti ?

    Only he and his mother survived the concentration camps...
    Those that where of Jewish heritage where targets of the Nazi regime by default, whether they resisted or not. I wasn't thinking of composers like that when making this thread, but of course it is relevant here in a broader sense.

    Its the same with those who where targeted under Stalinism, which included Jews to some extent (Stalin was just as much an anti-Semite as Hitler was, but liked to use Jews who he saw as being in a weak position and therefore prone to being servile in his divide and conquer games, eg. his right hand man Lavrenty Beria was Jewish), but also Christians.

    There was also a resistance in Russia during WWII which fought against the Nazi occupiers but as the war drew to a close, sought to rid Russia of Stalinism and ultimately Communism. Needless to say they where targeted and liquidated by Stalin, and the West was to some extent complicit in this, but that is too specific a part of history for me to go into any detail here. I don't know if any composers or musicians where involved in the Russian anti-Nazi resistance though.

    Quote Originally Posted by arpeggio View Post
    Hindemith's wife was partially Jewish. It appears from what I have read that this one of the reasons he left.

    Alfredo Casella was a big supporter of Mussolini. Casella's wife was a French Jew. In this situation Casella's ties with the facist may have save his wife.

    Maybe some of you may have further information about this.
    I didn't know about Casella, or recall it about Hindemith, but I know the operetta composer Franz Lehar whose Merry Widow Hitler adored, he had a Jewish wife. Lehar expanded and arranged the overture to that operetta for large orchestra and dedicated it to Hitler. I don't know if it saved his wife, but she was not taken to the camps and survived the war. I think its unlikely that Hitler would have taken away the wife of one of his favourite living composers but who knows.

    Another operetta composer, Emmerich Kalman was himself Jewish but received assurances from Hitler that he would receive special treatment, that no harm would come to him. But Kalman didn't take Hitler's word, and left for the USA. These and many other cases show how regimes like this act in highly arbitrary ways to say the least. Its this same unpredictable element that was a risk to those who sought and successfully curried favour with them. One minute you where in their good books, the next minute you could be persona non grata and blacklisted, or dead.
    Last edited by Sid James; Oct-02-2013 at 12:21.
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    Senior Member Eschbeg's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sid James View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Pantheon View Post
    Need I mention Ligeti ?

    Only he and his mother survived the concentration camps...
    Those that where of Jewish heritage where targets of the Nazi regime by default, whether they resisted or not. I wasn't thinking of composers like that when making this thread, but of course it is relevant here in a broader sense.

    Yes, arguably more relevant as an act of "resistance" was that Ligeti, so it is said, was secretly tuning in to Western radio in the privacy of his own home in the evenings to hear the kind of "modern" music that was banned in Hungary, even as he was composing the sort of socialist-realist miscellanea that was required of him during the day. When the brief and ultimately unsuccessful uprising of 1956 presented him with an opportunity to flee, he consequently had a pretty good idea of where he wanted to go: to Cologne to study electronic music at the studio Stockhausen had set up there.
    Last edited by Eschbeg; Oct-02-2013 at 16:10.

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    Senior Member Sid James's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eschbeg View Post
    Yes, arguably more relevant as an act of "resistance" was that Ligeti, so it is said, was secretly tuning in to Western radio in the privacy of his own home in the evenings to hear the kind of "modern" music that was banned in Hungary, even as he was composing the sort of socialist-realist miscellanea that was required of him during the day. When the brief and ultimately unsuccessful uprising of 1956 presented him with an opportunity to flee, he consequently had a pretty good idea of where he wanted to go: to Cologne to study electronic music at the studio Stockhausen had set up there.
    Ligeti's generation had the misfortune to experience the full force of two of these, the worst ideologies of the 20th century, fasism and Stalinism. In a way he was lucky to survive the war, most of Hungary's Jews - something like 90 per cent, that's something like 600,000 in total - perished in the death camps. The winter of 1944 was brutal, many where killed in massacres similar to Babi Yar, one big one was in one of the main squares of Budapest, people where machine gunned down. I am saying this to make people aware of the situation. When people say that nobody knew what was going on during the war, well in this case the facts simply don't bear out this culture of denial and a kind of collective amnesia about such events that took hold after the war was over.

    Kodaly had to hide during that terrible winter, as he was involved in the resistance hiding Jews in safe houses around the city. Due to heroic efforts of people like him, and also the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, a considerable number of Budapest's Jews where saved from transportation.

    Back to Ligeti, after the war there was a brief period of democracy, but that was supplanted by Stalinism which fully took hold in 1948. Then after several years of that, people had enough, and the 1956 uprising occured. Again, those who got through the war, many of them where involved or touched by that. Kodaly chaired committees set up by a mix of intellectuals and workers in Budapest to reestablish democracy. I think Ligeti's involvement, from what I know, was minimal but he left I think the following year in 1957. After the revolution was put down by the Soviets, there is evidence that they turned a blind eye to those fleeing, for a while the border with Austria was kept open. They wanted troublemakers, dissidents to leave and not potentially cause another uprising, however hundreds of people where sentenced to death and there where many reprisals as well, principally against those who actually took up arms. Kodaly was virtually untouchable, his international reputation protected him and eventually he became respected by the more moderate de-Stalinised regime that took over after 1956.

    And here's a real irony regarding all of this. Kodaly's mansion, in the heart of Budapest, is now a museum devoted to his life and work. He lived most of his life there, from his younger years to his death in the 1960's. During his life as regimes changed, the intersection upon which the building stands had many name changes. During the Nazi occupation it was called Hitler Square, during the Stalin years it was called Stalin Square, and eventually it came to be named Kodaly Square.

    I think this is a metaphor saying that Kodaly's way, the way of some sort of integrity amidst all that bloodshed, well it endured. Similar things can be said of places like Vienna, Prague and Warsaw, there are many stories like this. Although that part of history was very dark and brutal, there where glimmers of hope - like Kodaly's resistance or the mere fact of Ligeti's survival.
    Last edited by Sid James; Oct-03-2013 at 00:26.
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