AMS 2016 CWMSG Session

AMS 2016 (Vancouver): Lost Repertories of the Cold War Era

  • Alison Furlong (Ohio State University), Chair
  • Hyun Kyong Hannah Chang (Ewha Womans University)
  • Brian Locke (Western Illinois University)
  • Lisa Cooper Vest (University of Southern California)
  • Joy H. Calico (Vanderbilt University)
  • Danielle Fosler-Lussier (Ohio State University)

Sometimes we mistake the music we teach, or the narrative we tell about music’s development, for the music that really existed. In this alternative-format session we will become acquainted with twentieth-century music that falls well outside today’s performance, listening, and teaching canons. As we learn about this music, we will consider whether this music might allow us to rethink our canons and the stories we tell about twentieth-century music. During the first two hours of the session, each of our four presenters will briefly introduce a repertory of “lost music” from the Cold War era (10 min.) and play selections from that repertory (10–15 min.) There will be a brief period for questions after each presentation (5–10 min.). The emphasis will be on familiarizing us with music we have not heard before. Our presenters will introduce us to lost musics from a wide variety of Cold War contexts. Brian Locke will discuss the disappearance of Czech swing music, which was popular during the Nazi occupation. This music’s practitioners went into Western exile during the late 1940s and ’50s, their music ideologically incompatible with the Communist regime. Locke will play examples by Jirí Traxler (1912–2011) and Kamil Behounek (1916–83), two of the leading wartime songwriters of swing: both turned away from the genre when faced with postwar exile. Locke will explore the transformations of the “hot accordionist” Behounek—who led a polka band in West Germany—and the pianist Traxler, who composed as an amateur in Canada. Despite four decades of silence, tunes such as Behounek’s “My Calendar” and Traxler’s “Crazy Day” have regained a foothold in Czech popular consciousness since the fall of Communism. Lisa Cooper Vest will introduce us to Polish composers who were marginalized because, for various reasons, they found themselves working outside the esteemed and institutionally powerful Polish avant-garde. Boguslaw Schäffer, Witold Rudziński, and Zygmunt Mycielski were all influential in Polish musical life, and they all composed prolifically in the post-Stalin period, but their stylistic and aesthetic affiliations precluded their easy assimilation into the aesthetic narratives that were being constructed in the early years of Polish avant-gardism. By playing excerpts of Schäffer’s monosonata (1959) and Non-stop (1960), Rudziński’s Dismissal of the Grecian Envoys (1962), and Mycielski’s Symphony no. 2 (1960–61), Vest proposes to recoup the complicated sound-world of postwar Polish musical production. A presentation by Hyun Kyong Hannah Chang will feature a live performance and discussion of music by Sun Nam Kim (1917–86). Kim was a leading composer of Western art music in Korea in the 1940s, when the South-North border was beginning to be enforced. He was an admired figure among Seoul’s avant-garde composers, but his political and stylistic affiliations foreclosed further activities in South and North Korea. He was unwelcome in South Korea due to his communist leanings, but after his Northern exile he was rejected in North Korea as too “cosmopolitan.” The presentation will focus on two songs for tenor and piano (“Mountain Flower” and “Iron Foundry”) and excerpts of a piano concerto that survives only in an arrangement for two pianos. An examination of Sun Nam Kim’s trajectory demonstrates why musical modernism and avant-gardism have been so precarious in South Korea’s national memory in the post-Korean War period. Joy H. Calico addresses mid-century opera in the United States, where Cold War narratives have celebrated the U.S. avant-garde as a counterpoint to socialist realist tenets; this narrative, however, has resulted in the devaluation—and even total loss— of critically acclaimed, popular diatonic opera from the same period. In the 1950s such works were frequently honored with the Pulitzer Prize, a fact that undermines conventional wisdom about the Prize as the reward for Cold War American serialism. Calico will offer examples from the Pulitzer-Prize winning operas Giants in the Earth by Douglas Moore (1951) and The Saint of Bleecker Street by Carlo Menotti (1955). The third hour will be spent in a broader conversation, facilitated by discussant Danielle Fosler-Lussier, about the canon of twentieth-century music and the place of these “lost” repertories within it. What factors can we discern in the “disappearance” of this music? Is this music worth studying, performing, or otherwise reviving? How does this music change the story we tell about twentieth-century music? By hearing and discussing these forgotten repertories, we hope to stimulate a conversation that will help us write more astute, more complete histories of mid-twentieth-century music.

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