Music and Politics

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Course Information
Discipline(s): 
Music
Terms offered: 
Fall, Spring
Credits: 
3
Language of instruction: 
English
Description: 

Music's role in the formation of cultural and national identity is, while generally undeniable, often problematic in the particulars. How does music tell stories that relate to and reflect upon political narratives? Can music constitute a political act? Surveying political developments in Western music history, this course traces musical events relevant to the history of Western culture as a whole. Our investigation of historical works and their musicological criticism will shed light on important social movements, revolutionary aspirations and politicized cultural events. In doing so, we will identify political trends in Western art music from 1750 to the present, and examine various ways in which they are still significant today.

Vienna served as a uniquely influential base for musical thought since the 18th century; its substantial public funding for the arts continues to invest in music's pertinence to the present moment. This course enables assessment of Austrian strengths vis-a-vis those found in the performing arts in the United States of America. We begin with the concept of Regietheater, which acts through reinterpretation to hold a more fitting mirror to reflect the relevance of stories created in other eras. We take an in-depth look at Vienna during the American Revolutionary War and the French Revolution with Beaumarchais, Da Ponte and Mozart's views on revolutionary times in The Marriage of Figaro. Topics central to the Napoleonic Wars as found in the works of Haydn and Beethoven will also be considered. We assess musicological criticism of Schubert, and examine Wagner and Verdi's musical projects, comparing the formation of the German and Italian nations. To better grapple with the modernist crisis, Mahler and Strauss's strivings are juxtaposed with the critical stance of French symbolists and impressionists. We evaluate artistic responses to World War II, to the Holocaust and its aftermath, both in Europe and the United States.

The more music theory skills one has at hand, the better, but no prior music theory or analysis is necessary. Ability to read music a plus, but also not required.

Complete Course Syllabus: