Stravinsky and His World

This week-end, I immersed myself into a music festival at Bard college.  The featured composer at this year’s festival was Stravinsky of “Fire Bird” fame. From the first lecture on music, ethics and politics, I remember two concepts.  The first is that war, particularly mechanized war, the result of failed politics, has a profound, far-reaching effect on the entire culture on the nation or nations engaged in war. 

The composition of classical music during and after WWI was forever altered by Stravinsky’s “Fire Bird”, written as a rebellion against the Romanticism of the previous century.  The phenomenon gave birth to the twelve-tone scale, serialization of composition, which introduced new sounds into, ultimately, culturally accepted new, unharmonious tracks into classical music.  This method of composing was used by such notable “between the wars”composers as Schoenberg, Bartok, Hindemith and others. This makes me wonder about the possibility of classical music remaining harmonious had there been no world wars, particularly is European society remained the cultural center of the Western world.

The second concept that the lecture on music, ethics and politics impressed on my memory, and which I hope will remain there, has to do with the observation of the what sounded like the “musselman”, a person in the death camps so devoid of human understanding, even self recognition, that he/she had no ethics.  These “creatures” were ostracised by other death camp prisoners.  They were labeled what sounded like “musselmen” which in Yiddish (or Hebrew, I do not know) means Muslim.  That is, these “musselmen” were so depraved that they were on longer considered by the Jews in the camps members of the race of Chosen People.  In the context of the times, this is not a racist remark.  It is an observation that leaves me full of sorrow.  It makes me wonder about the amount of evil the human race can take before we all become “musselmen”.

 

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