Dangerous Melodies: Classical Music in America from the Great War through the Cold War

Dangerous Melodies: Classical Music in America from the Great War through the Cold War

by Jonathan Rosenberg


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A Juilliard-trained musician and professor of history explores the fascinating entanglement of classical music with American foreign relations.

Dangerous Melodies vividly evokes a time when classical music stood at the center of twentieth-century American life, occupying a prominent place in the nation’s culture and politics. The work of renowned conductors, instrumentalists, and singers—and the activities of orchestras and opera companies—were intertwined with momentous international events, especially the two world wars and the long Cold War.

Jonathan Rosenberg exposes the politics behind classical music, showing how German musicians were dismissed or imprisoned during World War I, while numerous German compositions were swept from American auditoriums. He writes of the accompanying impassioned protests, some of which verged on riots, by soldiers and ordinary citizens. Yet, during World War II, those same compositions were no longer part of the political discussion, while Russian music, especially Shostakovich’s, was used as a tool to strengthen the US-Soviet alliance. During the Cold War, accusations of communism were leveled against members of the American music community, while the State Department sent symphony orchestras to play around the world, even performing behind the Iron Curtain.

Rich with a stunning array of composers and musicians, including Karl Muck, Arturo Toscanini, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Kirsten Flagstad, Aaron Copland, Van Cliburn, and Leonard Bernstein, Dangerous Melodies delves into the volatile intersection of classical music and world politics to reveal a tumultuous history of twentieth-century America.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780393608427
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 12/10/2019
Pages: 512
Sales rank: 412,028
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.80(d)

About the Author

Jonathan Rosenberg, professor of twentieth-century US history at Hunter College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, is author of Dangerous Melodies: Classical Music in America from the Great War through the Cold War; How Far the Promised Land?: World Affairs and the American Civil Rights Movement from the First World War to Vietnam; and co-author of Kennedy, Johnson, and the Quest for Justice: The Civil Rights Tapes. He lives in Croton-on-Hudson, New York.

Table of Contents

Introduction xi

Part I Terrorized by the Kaiser

Chapter 1 "We Must Hate the Germans": Tormented by Wagner and Strauss 3

Chapter 2 "It Would Be a Gross Mistake to Play Patriotic Airs": Locking Up the Maestros 44

Chapter 3 "There Is No Visible Relationship between a Wagner Opera and a Submarine": from Manhattan Riots to Wagner's Piano 86

Part II Hitler's Specter

Chapter 4 "I Want to Teach a Lesson to Those Ill-Bred Nazis": Toscanini, Furtwängler, and Hitler 127

Chapter 5 "Let Us Conquer Darkness with the Burning Light of Art": Shostakovich and Toscanini Confront the Dictators 170

Chapter 6 "I Come Here as a Musician": Furtwängler, Gieseking, Flagstad, Karajan-and Hitler's Ghost 210

Part III Confronting Communism

Chapter 7 "The Obedient Instrument of the State": Shostakovich and Copland in the Age of McCarthy 277

Chapter 8 "Khrushchev Wouldn't Know a B-flat if He Heard One": Symphony Orchestras Fight the Cold War 320

Coda: "The Baton Is Mightier than the Sword": Berliners, Ohioans, and Chinese Communists 359

Acknowledgments 381

Notes 387

Credits 463

Index 465

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