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The only music that can be clearly political is music with words, music with actions (e.g. ballet or video), or music accompanied by written content.
I feel that instrumental music can clearly be political in a certain context. If the government represents a certain restriction, and the music intentionally breaks that restriction or finds a way around it, then the music is inherently political in nature.

This was shown in some 18th century comique operas where singing on stage was banned, so the opera producers decided to let the audience sing the tunes instead-a loophole and an indirect protest against the government censorship.

Another example is Haydn's famous use of musicians one by one muting their instruments in order to convey a "farewell" to the prince. This would only make sense in the context that Haydn wanted to leave.

Without context, music is simply too subjective.
 

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I feel that instrumental music can clearly be political in a certain context. If the government represents a certain restriction, and the music intentionally breaks that restriction or finds a way around it, then the music is inherently political in nature.

This was shown in some 18th century comique operas where singing on stage was banned, so the opera producers decided to let the audience sing the tunes instead-a loophole and an indirect protest against the government censorship.

Another example is Haydn's famous use of musicians one by one muting their instruments in order to convey a "farewell" to the prince. This would only make sense in the context that Haydn wanted to leave.
They didn't mute their instruments. The musicians got up one by one, snuffed out the candle at their stand, and left the stage--or whatever the performance area was--until there were only the first chair violinists left...and only they had mutes on.
 

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The only music that can be clearly political is music with words, music with actions (e.g. ballet or video), or music accompanied by written content.
Some ways that music could be political without using words or actions is through the use of nationalist tunes or patriotic songs.

Very few could hear the 1812 Overture and think it's not politically loaded, given its use of La Marseillaise combined with cannons. But as to what the work is actually saying about France is more subjective.

If I were an English composer in the early 20th century protesting the treatment of Irish people, I may sneak in a couple of Irish folk tunes into my work.

If a totalitarian regime banned religion, a composer may include snippets of hymns from their religion to protest or subvert the regime's policies.
 

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@chu42: I agree with your comments about the political nature of those actions you mention above. I guess I view them more as political actions of people (choosing to perform various works, leaving the stage bit by bit, etc.) rather than the music itself conveying specific ideas.
 

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If I were an English composer in the early 20th century protesting the treatment of Irish people, I may sneak in a couple of Irish folk tunes into my work.
Yes, the quodlibet.

Speaking of the "Eroica", one should not forget Schoenberg's Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte Op. 41, which should remind you how Schoenberg felt on Hitler. It ends in E-flat major, which is the key of the Eroica.
 

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@chu42: I agree with your comments about the political nature of those actions you mention above. I guess I view them more as political actions of people (choosing to perform various works, leaving the stage bit by bit, etc.) rather than the music itself conveying specific ideas.
You know I don't believe in any total objectivity in music, so you know that I believe that music does not convey any ideas other than the ideas that people give them. A national anthem, after all, has zero inherent meaning to someone who does not recognize it as such.
 

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Well the form of some music can carry a political message. Put it like this, if you genuinely want to express social equality in your art, you're not going to write something like a Chopin piano concerto where the solo instrument dominates the proceedings. You may write something like Art of Fugue, where each voice counts equally.

Also, don't forget that music is designed to be played, not just to be heard. How the performers interact is a microcosm of society, and the required interaction may be based on political ideas. A good case to think about is Christian Wolff's Stones

Another example, Philip Glass's pop music type two dimensionality - all instruments playing equally loud, etc. That's a capitulation to the mediocrity of commercial values, a celebration of capitalism.
 

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Discussion Starter · #49 · (Edited)
Maybe I'm confused by what you are saying, but what about any music could possibly give someone any sense of a god much less an immutable divine order? ...the pure music itself does not have any semantic content.
That's true in a very rational, literal sense, but generally speaking, I think music can make people more spiritually aware. In my thinking, "spirit" is Man's essence, which always existed, and preceded any attempt to create a religion, dogma, or semantic meaning.

I talked about this early on in my membership, in the Religious Music forum.

"Religious" Music
 

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Some ways that music could be political without using words or actions is through the use of nationalist tunes or patriotic songs.

Very few could hear the 1812 Overture and think it's not politically loaded, given its use of La Marseillaise combined with cannons. But as to what the work is actually saying about France is more subjective.

If I were an English composer in the early 20th century protesting the treatment of Irish people, I may sneak in a couple of Irish folk tunes into my work.

If a totalitarian regime banned religion, a composer may include snippets of hymns from their religion to protest or subvert the regime's policies.
None of these examples apply if the audience hearing the music is not familiar with the history/nationality/sociology of the context within which the composer is working. Russians were perfectly happy to listen to Finlandia when labeled Impromptu. The politics is entirely within the context, and not in the music. One of the most interesting borderline cases might be having a cultured Japanese audience listen to Respighi's Circenses without a written program in their laps. What would they make of it?
 

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None of these examples apply if the audience hearing the music is not familiar with the history/nationality/sociology of the context within which the composer is working. Russians were perfectly happy to listen to Finlandia when labeled Impromptu. The politics is entirely within the context, and not in the music. One of the most interesting borderline cases might be having a cultured Japanese audience listen to Respighi's Circenses without a written program in their laps. What would they make of it?
What about my example of the politics implicit in the inequality of a virtuoso concerto like the ones by Chopin? Or the opposite: the egalitarian nature of a number piece by Cage? Or a graphic score designed to get the creative involvement of people who have never had a musical education like Cardew's Treatise.

When Lachenmann wrote Guero, he was saying to the bourgeois audience of a piano concert: watch out, there's another way to see the world, the old hegemony is over!
 

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What about my example of the politics implicit in the inequality of a virtuoso concerto like the ones by Chopin? Or the opposite: the egalitarian nature of a number piece by Cage? Or a graphic score designed to get the creative involvement of people who have never had a musical education like Cardew's Treatise.

When Lachenmann wrote Guero, he was saying to the bourgeois audience of a piano concert: watch out, there's another way to see the world, the old hegemony is over!
i think you use the word politics in a new and unusual way and context. Lewis Carroll would approve:

When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean-neither more nor less." "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things." "The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master-that's all."

Orwell, maybe not so much.
 

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i think you use the word politics in a new and unusual way and context. Lewis Carroll would approve:

When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean-neither more nor less." "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things." "The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master-that's all."

Orwell, maybe not so much.
I am sure you're wrong about that. Equality and enfranchisement are fundamental political ideas, going back to Aristotle at least.
 

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Discussion Starter · #54 ·
I think you have to be careful about generally stating there are extramusical relations since we're talking only about the music. What I need to know is how a composer would communicate the notion of poor people rebelling against governments by only using music. How would anyone differentiate that music from music that tried to communicate people fleeing a fire or a race between swordfish?
I remember in cartoons when a poor person was depicted, the same mournful melody was played on a violin which conveyed this perfectly.
 

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But surely your appropriating such ideas into "explaining" music sans context (title, program, etc) is novel, quite novel.
I don't know. I'm in free wheeling creative mode at the moment. There's an idea which goes way back, the idea of embodiment. The classic example is Cage's Rionji, which was constructed from measurements of a Zen garden. It doesn't attempt to depict the garden in music like Debussy may have done. It rather embodies it in its form - as the études Australes embody the stars, or the star map at least.

What I'm suggesting is that the various forms of cooperation and attention of the performers in a piece of music can similarly embody a political concept. That's what I was proposing for the first movement of Brandenburg 5.

In the discussions on this forum we tend to focus exclusively on what the music sounds like, the experience of listening. But that's one sided because equally important is the experience of performing and indeed the experience of watching the performers create together.

Politics is about transforming the world, it's about imagining a new world and creating it, just like music is about imagining and creating . . .
 

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You know I don't believe in any total objectivity in music, so you know that I believe that music does not convey any ideas other than the ideas that people give them. A national anthem, after all, has zero inherent meaning to someone who does not recognize it as such.
Obviously it's possible that a listener has no capacity to understand the meaning conveyed. Maybe he has no common ground culturally. That doesn't mean the composer didn't intend to convey something, consciously or not.

As for national anthems, most of them are recognizable as such because they tend to share certain characteristics worldwide. They have a martial feel to them which has become universal, they are suitable to be played by military bands. At the same time they are grounded in their nation's culture. Feelings of pride in and sentiment for one's culture are detectable in most of them.

Years ago I was in a foreign country when war broke out. The radio stations played martial music 24-7 to get the populace ready for the worst. It was amazing to me how alike military marches are the world over.
 

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all art is propaganda.



besides that, art is not made to please or entertain anyone, but used as a tool to create new realities, then its masterpieces will remain forever so, to be restored to life one day as the artifacts for some other new reality building process to use.
 
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