Resist in music, or music in resistance

Addressing resistance in music first requires distinguishing between the different possible forms of resistance. Certainly an act of resistance can be expressed through music, but the composition of a musical action can in itself embody an act of resistance. Some works are based on the intention of the author or performer, but others are based on the interpretation of the work and the symbolic meaning associated with it. You can resist by the absence of the music, or by incorporating subversive elements into your music in a more subtle and subtle way.

Thus musical resistance exists in many diverse forms, resonating throughout the history of music.

musical resistance

The symphonic poem by the Finnish composer Jan Sibelius, Finland reference. 26 (Originally titled Finland Awakening) in 1899, at the dawn of Russification in Finland. Unofficial anthem for Finland’s independence against Russia, Finland It becomes a symbol of the identity of a country in the resistance. Depicted as a secret protest against the censorship of the Russian Empire, Finland It is interpreted under various headings during its performance, including The famous knightAnd the happy feelings And the Finnish Spring Awakening.

In England, composer Ethel Smith is leading another equally important battle: for women’s rights. She composed it in 1910 women’s march, a true hymn to claiming women’s suffrage, but also a call to struggle. She was held for three weeks in 1912 at Holloway Prison in London for throwing stones at a politician’s home, and led an impromptu performance of her anthem from her cell window with a toothbrush.

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After the defeat of the French army in 1917 at the Battle of Chemin des Dames, one of the bloodiest battles on French soil, one of the most famous songs of that time was born: crohn’s song. Rather than resisting the enemy in music, Chanson de Craonne is a pacifist anti-war song, the fruit not only of the French defeat but also of the numerous rebellions and their suppression in the French army. He was immediately banned for “harming the honor of the army and fighters”, and would remain so until 1974.

symbolic resistance

However, there are other forms of musical resistance, less obvious at first glance but no less important than its symbolic power. Many composers compose works and songs that openly condemn the cruelty, injustice and absurdity of the world around them. But how do we do when power regards one as the author of the state, carefully examined by a magnifying glass?

When he performed his first symphony in 1926, Dmitriy Shostakovich was hailed as a hero of Russian music and above all as an invaluable instrument of Soviet propaganda. But while his new opera, Lady MacbethDescribed (probably by Stalin himself) as “confused, inaccessible and at odds with the values ​​of socialist realism”, the composer was ostracized from the music scene and dubbed “the enemy of the people”.

Received after threatening a Stalinist purge, Shostakovich composes in the greatest horror, ready at any moment for arrest or even execution. Unable to resist in public, then resists the composer through his music. In 1989, we discovered a satirical anthem Betty Paradis anti-formality , which he composed in complete secrecy. nickname RyukThe cantata is full of satirical quotes, targeting in particular Andrei Zhdanov, a close associate of Stalin and supervisor of realist socialist cultural policy, and especially Stalin.

Shostakovich will also determine, at the end of World War II, that his own Symphony No. 7 represent the struggle againstTerror, slavery and persecution of the soul”, without specifying the source of this terror. If Nazism was the obvious subject, it is possible that Stalin’s repressions inspired this work. Ambiguity reigns as to the author’s exact intentions, but there is no doubt that the composer is suffering under the power of the Soviet dictator.

Silently resist

In 1930, Toscanini became the first non-German captain invited to conduct at Bayreuth, a feat he repeated the following year. But the arrival of Adolf Hitler forced him to take a stand on the rise of fascism. Toscanini sends a telegram to the new German chancellor to challenge the boycott of Jewish musicians (the telegram will be on the cover of the New York Times). Hitler responded two days later by inviting Toscanini to Bayreuth adding that he would be happy to welcome the leader personally. The President declines the invitation and announces to the Wagner family that he will not return to Bayreuth again. Ironically, the enraged leader nicknamed “the dictator” thus decided to resist Hitler’s regime through silence by withdrawing from the German scene, thus depriving the country of its talents. He later admitted that this was one of the most difficult decisions of his life.

Resist with “soft power”

In 1958, in the midst of the Cold War, 50 pianists from all over the world were invited to go to Moscow to participate in the new International Tchaikovsky Competition. A major cultural event, the competition in particular is a platform that the Soviet Union hopes to underscore its cultural might, having demonstrated its scientific power by deploying its first satellite, Sputnik 1, a year ago.

Without relying on the stubborn Harvey “Van” Cleburne, he will not fail to impress the jury. Doubt arose at the time of the award ceremony: is it really possible to award the first prize of a new Russian competition to an American, a citizen of the archenemy of the Soviet Union? Supreme Leader Nikita Khrushchev would be more Cartesian in his response: Is it the best? So give it a price! »

By winning the International Tchaikovsky Competition, Van Cleburne becomes “Texas invaded Russia‘, symbolizing the power of classical music to transcend geopolitical boundaries and cultural and political differences to achieve success where other forms of diplomacy have failed.

Resistant to leakage

During World War II, the inaugural drawing of Symphony No. 5 By Beethoven he becomes a powerful symbol of resistance to the Allied forces. The famous rhythmic form of the opening, corresponding to the letter “V” in Morse code, is gradually associated with the idea of ​​Allied victory and resistance against the Nazi invasion.

The irony of the fact that German music is being used to support the war effort against the Germans is no small matter. During the worst times raids The German in London in the spring of 1941, writer Maurice van Mobs added lyrics to the opening of the symphony, now called “La chanson des V”. The work is broadcast on Radio-Londres and added to the brochure BBC songs Distributed by British aircraft in France to encourage the French resistance.

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Resist to stay alive

More recently, the war in Ukraine has provoked many examples of musical resistance, such as violinist Vera Litovchenko, member of the Kharkiv Orchestra, who shares daily videos of herself playing her instrument from the basement of his building, musical proof of his surviving the bombs that exploded. fell on his city.

I’m not a soldier, I’m not a politician, I can just play my own music to help. In this case, the music is a way to show that I am strong, and that I will continue to fight.. »

And what about Go thinker! By Verdi, interpreted by the musicians and singers of the Odessa opera in front of the lyric hall, under the imminent threat of Russian bombing? famous” The Hebrew Slave Choir ».

Similar to the fate of Solim
Play a harsh lament sound
Or may the Lord inspire you with harmony
Who gives us the courage to bear our pain!

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