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

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Dangerous Melodies vividly evokes a time when classical music stood at the center of 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: two world wars, the rise of fascism, an Dangerous Melodies vividly evokes a time when classical music stood at the center of 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: two world wars, the rise of fascism, and the Cold War. Jonathan Rosenberg recovers the politics behind classical music, showing how German musicians were dismissed or imprisoned as the country’s music was swept from American auditoriums during World War I—yet, twenty years later, those same compositions could inspire Americans in the fight against Nazism while Russian music was deployed to strengthen the U.S.-Soviet alliance. During the Cold War, Van Cliburn’s triumph in the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow became cause for America to celebrate. In Dangerous Melodies, Rosenberg delves into the singular decades-long relationship of classical music and political ideology in America.


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Dangerous Melodies vividly evokes a time when classical music stood at the center of 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: two world wars, the rise of fascism, an Dangerous Melodies vividly evokes a time when classical music stood at the center of 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: two world wars, the rise of fascism, and the Cold War. Jonathan Rosenberg recovers the politics behind classical music, showing how German musicians were dismissed or imprisoned as the country’s music was swept from American auditoriums during World War I—yet, twenty years later, those same compositions could inspire Americans in the fight against Nazism while Russian music was deployed to strengthen the U.S.-Soviet alliance. During the Cold War, Van Cliburn’s triumph in the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow became cause for America to celebrate. In Dangerous Melodies, Rosenberg delves into the singular decades-long relationship of classical music and political ideology in America.

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

  1. 4 out of 5

    Linda

    Dangerous Melodies: Classical Music in America from the Great War through the Cold War by Jonathan Rosenberg shows early examples of cancel culture with German musicians. Politics still affects art and entertainment. Unpopular affiliations and opinions also stifles academic freedom and scientific innovation. As I was reading, melodies and memories of rehearsals and concerts flooded my brain. Those who have orchestral experience will love this book. If you don't, I recommend pausing when you read Dangerous Melodies: Classical Music in America from the Great War through the Cold War by Jonathan Rosenberg shows early examples of cancel culture with German musicians. Politics still affects art and entertainment. Unpopular affiliations and opinions also stifles academic freedom and scientific innovation. As I was reading, melodies and memories of rehearsals and concerts flooded my brain. Those who have orchestral experience will love this book. If you don't, I recommend pausing when you read to listen to the melodies they're mentioning. I love classical music. Read this and take breaks to see great performances on YouTube to get the full experience. https://catoverlord.blogspot.com/2020... I'm on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/catoverlord...

  2. 4 out of 5

    Bill FromPA

    This is primarily about performers - the only composition discussed at any length is Shostakovich's Seventh. DSCH's appearance at the New York Cultural and Scientific Congress for World Peace and Aaron Copland's run-in with HUAC are the only incidents discussed involving composers. Much of the book is about banning or attempts to ban performers for various reasons: German or Austrian citizenship during WWI or perceived Nazi sympathies both before and after WWII. The final section on the cold war This is primarily about performers - the only composition discussed at any length is Shostakovich's Seventh. DSCH's appearance at the New York Cultural and Scientific Congress for World Peace and Aaron Copland's run-in with HUAC are the only incidents discussed involving composers. Much of the book is about banning or attempts to ban performers for various reasons: German or Austrian citizenship during WWI or perceived Nazi sympathies both before and after WWII. The final section on the cold war mainly deals with American orchestral tours of the Soviet Union, and Van Cliburn's winning of the 1958 Tchaikovsky competition in Moscow (none of his fellow contestants is named). Rosenberg has done a lot of research and those incidents he discusses are fully covered, though some political involvements with classical music, such as the CIA support of modernist and avant-garde performances, are not mentioned. In the end, as Rosenberg admits about the "musical diplomacy" of Bernstein, Ormandy, Szell, et. al., the musicians are mainly pawns or shuttlecocks subject to the whim of those with political agendas: politicians, jingoists, pressure groups, or governments. The phrases repeated throughout the book by different speakers such as "Art is above politics" and "Music is the universal language" come to seem pretty empty. “Russian Assails Authors” New York Times July 7, 1950 MOSCOW, July 6 (UP) – Dmitry Shostakovich, Soviet composer, nominated five famous Western writers today for the “rogue’s gallery of warmongers.” They were Upton Sinclair and John Steinbeck of the United States, and Andre Malraux, Jean-Paul Sartre and Andre Gide of France. Writing in Izvestia, the official organ of the Soviet Supreme Council, Mr. Shostakovich said, they had “lost their honor and conscience.” He said they had “deserted their people and are digging graves for their own culture.” Mr. Steinbeck was the object of the sharpest attack. “The Soviet people well know the author of ‘Grapes of Wrath,” Shostakovich wrote. “But from the pen of this writer who once was able to think came the book ‘Bombs Down.’ Steinbeck jumped from the camp of progress and love of man to the camp of unbridled reaction, barbarism and cannibalism.” He added that “These traitors are true servants of capitalism.” “Shostakovich Gives Views on New York” New York Times May 28, 1949 MOSCOW, May 27 – Dmitri Shostakovich, reporting his New York impressions in the humorous journal Krokodil, said he was struck by the fact a majority of the audience at a Leopold Stokowski concert sat sprawled in their chairs wearing coats and hats. Mr. Shostakovich said the orchestra had played well, but “unfortunately, the program, with the exception of works of Khatchaturian, Sibelius and Brahms, was of no interest.” He said the sight of the audience sitting in the concert hall in hats and coats “appeared very unusual to me.” The only other concert impression related by the famed composer was an incident during the intermission, when he heard a woman persistently calling his name. “I asked that this energetic woman be let through to me. She said ‘Hello’ and added that ‘You resemble my cousin very much.’ This was all she wanted to tell me and I thought she wanted to speak about music.” Mr. Shostakovich was shocked by the American custom of printing works of great writers in “thin booklets in which, of all the amazing wealth of ideas and sentiments, only the love scenes are left in.” “Enough to say that ‘Anna Karenina’ is reduced to thirty-twp pages and supplied with a colorful pornographic cover,” he added. Mr. Shostakovich reported that United States skyscrapers were “depressing” and was unfavorably impressed by the “disorder” at La Guardia Field. “Shostakovich Holds U.S. Fears His Music” New York Times May 27, 1949 MOSCOW – May 26 (AP) – Dmitri Shostakovich, commenting on his recent trip to the United States, said today that the United States State Department fears his music. The composer’s remarks were carried in an article in the literary journal New World, under the title “The Great Battle for Peace.” The article concerned Mr. Shostakovich’s views on the Communist-supported “peace congress” that he attended in New York. He described his reaction to orders of the State and Justice Departments to the Soviet delegation to leave the United States immediately after the congress. “On the way home I thought much about this. Yes, the rules of Washington fear also our literature, our music, our speeches on peace – fear them because truth in any form hinders them from organizing diversions against peace.” --- Special to The New York Times. MOSCOW, May 26 – Mr. Shostakovich also charged that Igor Stravinsky had become a sterile composer. He said that the latter after “breaking with testaments of the Russian national school and having betrayed his motherland, joined the camp of bourgeois modernist musicians.”

  3. 5 out of 5

    Kat

    This book made me wish I knew more about classical music, but sadly, I don't. I did make a list of the songs I did not know with plans to listen to them. I never thought about politics and music being linked. If you are a fan of classical music, you would enjoy this book tremendously. This book made me wish I knew more about classical music, but sadly, I don't. I did make a list of the songs I did not know with plans to listen to them. I never thought about politics and music being linked. If you are a fan of classical music, you would enjoy this book tremendously.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Dad

    I found this book to be an excellent historical account beginning with WWI and continuing to the Cold War. Although I ave read many accounts of military history during this period, I had never read about the illogical reaction of the population to German composers or worse the treatment of German conductors or musicians. I lost a lot of respect for the major orchestras (Boston, Chicago and New York) and lost respect for the American Legion who enflamed much of the population against the German p I found this book to be an excellent historical account beginning with WWI and continuing to the Cold War. Although I ave read many accounts of military history during this period, I had never read about the illogical reaction of the population to German composers or worse the treatment of German conductors or musicians. I lost a lot of respect for the major orchestras (Boston, Chicago and New York) and lost respect for the American Legion who enflamed much of the population against the German propaganda allegedly rampant in German music. The attitude of the masses was very disappointing and the logic that it was okay to play music from the dead composers but not from the living. All in all, this was a very thoughtful and provocative book.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Bill O’Neill

    A book that demands to be skimmed. An interesting topic, but every event, the lead up, the reactions, the letters to the editor and the reviews are described in great detail. At the same time, there’s little in the way of Detailed analysis. I wanted to form an opinion, e.g., as towhether Wagner was an ideological precursor to the Nazis. I got no answers here.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Steve Trusedell

    Unless you have some major prior knowledge about the history of classical music in the US, this is not for you. If you appreciate the music. already know a lot about it and wish to increase your knowledge about the relationship between music and politics, this is THE book. Perhaps the best on classical music of the year.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jean Bonilla

    I found this book thoroughly engaging. Rosenberg does an excellent job of laying out the main theme - the influence of classical music on and its role in U.S. political policy and national thinking. In his assessment of the decades between 1914 and today, he uses several characters to illustrate his points, notably Arturo Toscanini, Karl Muck, and Wilhelm Furtwängler. Each of them was either lauded or vilified at certain points for specific actions that captured the mood of the public at that mo I found this book thoroughly engaging. Rosenberg does an excellent job of laying out the main theme - the influence of classical music on and its role in U.S. political policy and national thinking. In his assessment of the decades between 1914 and today, he uses several characters to illustrate his points, notably Arturo Toscanini, Karl Muck, and Wilhelm Furtwängler. Each of them was either lauded or vilified at certain points for specific actions that captured the mood of the public at that moment. Toscanini was a hero; Muck was despised simply for being German and wrongly vilified for refusing to play the Star-Spangled Banner; Furtwängler had a questionable relationship with the Nazi regime, so probably deserved the opprobrium. One of the most interesting elements in Rosenberg’s sketch was the contrast between U.S. attitudes towards Germans in WWI and Germans in WWII. In the First War everything German was deemed “bad.” Germans were interned, German music was not played on the radio or in the concert hall. Germans were driven down to Texas where they established an ethnic community. (I remember my carpool mate, Whitney, talking about his relatives down there. They had German-language radio stations, German stores, the works. It’s funny to have history intersect so completely with my own life.) In the Second War, hatred was focused more on the Nazis and the vile actions were attributed to the few at the top. The relationship between Hitler and Strauss was peculiar, to say the least. Americans, too, had an intense love affair with his opera. It seems to have been on every concert schedule. In the First War, ultimately, it was not played. In the Second War, the issue was endlessly debated, partly because he was a “living” composer who, theoretically could benefit from copyright payments for performance of his work! I’m not sure that question was ever resolved satisfactorily! Oddly, during the First War, though not during the Second War, Americans had the same conversation about “benefiting” Bach, Mozart, and other long-dead German composers. The final player Rosenberg brings onstage is Dimitri Shostakovich. During the war, Shostakovich wrote music that America embraced as a fitting symbol of unity between allies. (Apparently it wasn’t very good, but no one regarded that as important.) After the war, the Stalinist regime persecuted him, but also used him to showcase their “struggle for ‘peace, progress, and democracy’” through the arts. Rosenberg can’t seem to make up his mind if Shostakovich was used as a propaganda tool or was genuinely speaking on behalf of his government at the 1949 Waldorf “Peace Conference.” Rosenberg describes a lengthy speech by the composer and notes that the finale of the conference was a Shostakovich piano concert, but it seems America would have been more satisfied if he had jumped out the window and demanded asylum! Rosenberg’s final segment addresses the role of classical music in shaping our culture and policies during the Cold War. The conference mentioned above was a segue between eras, so to speak. I was surprised that it took a number of years before the United States really embraced the idea of sending musicians abroad to play for their country. Once we got going, it became a standard part of our repertoire. In a huge debate in the 1950s, Congress got involved by allocating funding that was for the Commerce Department to engage in trade fairs, to the State Department to send cultural events overseas, and to USIS to promote those cultural events overseas. Several senators described the nature of the east west conflict and the role cultural exports could play in helping to achieve victory: “We are presently engaged in a great struggle for hundreds of millions of people around the world so that the American way of life will prevail over the slavery which totalitarian communism would thrust upon them.” It was more than a competition to see which nation could produce the most destructive tanks or the most accurate missiles. Just as the two systems competed for military superiority, they vied for artistic and cultural supremacy, which meant the concert hall became a setting in which to deploy American power. One of the interesting juxtapositions the author uses is between “musical nationalists” and “musical universalists.” The former saw music as defining a country and a culture; the latter saw music as bridging differences across borders and speaking to all mankind. Each of his chapters is cast in this debate between the two philosophies. He never chooses one and makes a case for it, however, but contents himself with describing the views of others. (NOTE: Speaking of mankind, I am constantly annoyed by Rosenberg’s references to “gendered language!” That is in fact the proper way to speak and I find it very annoying that people consider it to be discriminatory.). I found this outreach strategy Rosenberg described particularly interesting because of my own work for many years bringing music, art, dance, food, wines, and other “American” things to showcase overseas. We really cared about our host nation friends and believed that it was a way to improve people’s understanding of our country. I wasn’t aware that we had done such an event in February 2008 - Lorin Maazel took the NY Philharmonic to N. Korea. He was an amazing conductor and musician. When we met him in Budapest, I’ll never forget him telling Moni how his children got up early to practice their instruments before breakfast. Now that’s discipline!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Peggy

    Fascinating and detailed history of the connections between classical music and 20th century politics.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Byl

    There was a time when classical music was an important part of American culture, listened to by many and thought to be an important part of American life and manners. The purported subject of the book concerns the political implications of historical events, composers and musicians on politics over the last 100 years. Various topics are presented with a sort of both-sides collection of anecdotes, reviews, letters to the editor, etc. Reprinting laudatory excerpts from newspaper and magazine revie There was a time when classical music was an important part of American culture, listened to by many and thought to be an important part of American life and manners. The purported subject of the book concerns the political implications of historical events, composers and musicians on politics over the last 100 years. Various topics are presented with a sort of both-sides collection of anecdotes, reviews, letters to the editor, etc. Reprinting laudatory excerpts from newspaper and magazine reviews on the quality of performance isn't really relevant but there's quite a lot of that as well. The book is filled with interesting anecdotes but fails as good history since the principal points being made go something like this: X happens, a concert, a musical event, the country goes to war and certain composers and musicians become controversial due to their nationality. So far, so good. But then we are basically treated to a long series of anecdotes, music reviews, even letters to the editor, that are of the "on the one hand" variety followed by more quotes and anecdotes that are of the "on the other hand" variety. It's all rather meaningless and tiresome in the end and very repetitive over nearly 500 pages. There is no particular historical case being made other than "Stuff happens and people disagree over the meaning and importance of it." After several hundred pages of musical personalities—conductors, composers, musicians, reviewers etc.—pontificating about how important some event might be for the calming of international tensions there's a relatively short paragraph toward the end stating the plain fact that looking back, a classical music concert, whatever its graces and importance, did not really affect the actions of presidents, dictators and politicians in general. It's a hard case to make that the world is now a better place because Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic toured Russia in 1959. After all, the Berlin Wall went up just a couple of years later. So it goes. On the somewhat positive side it's entertaining to realize that the U.S. of 1917 was in many ways not that different from the collectively close-to-insane society that we see a lot of today. The assertion that the Metropolitan Opera performing a Wagner opera in 1917—after the U.S. had joined the fray in World War I—might be giving comfort to the enemy and would very likely make it more difficult for the allies to win the war is mildly jaw-dropping but not so much so given our current politics and personalities. Some of the subjects covered: American entry into World War I and the virulent reaction in the United States to performance of living German composers as well as at the extremes those who wanted to ban ALL German music including Beethoven, Brahms, etc.; World War II and the fetish for Richard Wagner's operas by Nazi officials (which by then wasn't so much of a problem for U.S. audiences); the problems of very famous conductors, composers and performers who stayed in Germany during World War II (Karajan, Richard Strauss, Walter Gieseking, Furtwangler) and were viewed as sympathizers later on; Shostakovich, Copland and McCarthyism in the 1950's; Van Cliburn's win at the Tchaikovsky competition (first time by an American) and the ways in which the U.S. attempted to propagandize that event. Later on, the State Department sponsored tours through Europe and Russia by American orchestras, again with the overt idea of furthering the cause of peace and the more covert notion of demonstrating American economic superiority and the benefits of capitalism. I do think there's an excellent book that could be written about this but this isn't it. For specialists and completists only (sadly). Disappointing. In short a book that I was looking forward to reading that ultimately misses the mark. It's not especially good history and is too long by half.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Kelly Sedinger

    The title might make you expect a broader history of classical music in the United States than this book provides; instead the focus is mainly on the role classical music and musicians played in the various political divides and events that took place in the 20th century, starting with how anti-German sentiment in WWI affected classical music (at the time dominated by German musicians everywhere), and then how WWII, the rise of Communism, the Red Scare, and the Cold War all affected music (as we The title might make you expect a broader history of classical music in the United States than this book provides; instead the focus is mainly on the role classical music and musicians played in the various political divides and events that took place in the 20th century, starting with how anti-German sentiment in WWI affected classical music (at the time dominated by German musicians everywhere), and then how WWII, the rise of Communism, the Red Scare, and the Cold War all affected music (as well as how music responded and played its own role). On that basis the book is often fascinating, and as a lot of the musicians mentioned within are the ones who were either active or recently deceased when I was learning about classical music in my youth, the book helps put a lot of the music I studied and those who produced it into historical context. Well-written and recommended.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Susan Brunner

    This book’s full title is Dangerous Melodies: Classical Music in America from the Great War through the Cold War. I personally love reading history. This is quite a different approach to history as it is through the lens of music. I had not thought about or before considered the effect of classical music, which is all from Europe, on people in the US during the first and second world wars and the cold war. Classical music comes from Europe. I had not realized about the anti-German feelings in the This book’s full title is Dangerous Melodies: Classical Music in America from the Great War through the Cold War. I personally love reading history. This is quite a different approach to history as it is through the lens of music. I had not thought about or before considered the effect of classical music, which is all from Europe, on people in the US during the first and second world wars and the cold war. Classical music comes from Europe. I had not realized about the anti-German feelings in the US during the first world war. You hardly hear about this. I know that Germans were the second largest immigrant group to the US and the third largest in Canada (after the French and English) prior to the second world war. I have German relatives in Canada who immigrated in the mid to late 1800’s and were in Canada during the first and second world war. I know that my great-grandfather, who died in 1905 was basically a German speaker, but my grandfather was bilingual, and my father, who was born in 1914 spoke only English and grew up in a home that spoke English. I know people in the community felt that they had to keep their heads down and not cause any trouble, but they also signed up for service in both world wars. There is a short review of this book on Kirkus Reviews. On NPR News they show highlights of a review with the author by Scott Simons. Tim Page at the Washington Post has great an easy read on this book. Jonathan Rosenberg speaks at Politics and Prose on his book Dangerous Melodies. The Q&A starts at around 33 minutes into the video. This is a rather long video speech by Jonathan Rosenberg on C-Span.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Melissa

    Most of the stories in this are presented without commentary which gives a strange equal weight to protesting fascism and Americans being xenophobic.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Lee Barry

    The book requires a commitment to the subject matter and at almost 400 pages, I'm not ready to put off my other books. It is indeed relevant in current times. What I read I liked. The book requires a commitment to the subject matter and at almost 400 pages, I'm not ready to put off my other books. It is indeed relevant in current times. What I read I liked.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Emily Taradash

    Though the information in the book is very interesting, the writing is academic and feels like it could have been edited significantly.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Greg Baker

    Great.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Donovan

  17. 5 out of 5

    Bob Wratz

  18. 5 out of 5

    Keith

  19. 5 out of 5

    Łukasz

  20. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca Sia

  21. 5 out of 5

    Earl Adams

  22. 5 out of 5

    Tim Symington

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jim

  24. 4 out of 5

    Sharmyn (Lumsden) Lilly

  25. 5 out of 5

    Brian

  26. 4 out of 5

    Kathy

  27. 5 out of 5

    J.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Robert Luke

  29. 5 out of 5

    H5angela

  30. 5 out of 5

    Dph

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