A strange place to be Author: TriSecDate:02/26/2022 11:11:31
I love Mother Russia. Her art, music, literature, the amazing landscapes throughout the steppes, and her deep history, especially in defeating fascism.
Yes. Sad but true. I've been a student of Russia since coming of age in the late Cold-War period of the 1980s. I've long been interested in all facets of Russian life - but mostly the music. While Herr Mozart of Vienna is far and away my favorite, I consider Tchaikovsky to be my number two, although Shostakovich has given him a run for his money of late. I'm not much for religion, although I am fond of much of the liturgical artwork. Russia, in particular, is very strong in iconography, an art form I like very much. (Curiously enough, the Museum of Russian Icons is here in nearby Clinton, MA - but I have yet to visit.) Some of you may have actually read Solzenitsyn, but I myself am among the few that I know that have actually read Tolstoy - and there's a few more classics of Russian Literature on my list.
All of which should make the events of the last week difficult to process. Curiously, I am not finding it so. Perhaps there is one thing - Putin is not quite yet using Russian culture as a propaganda tool. We all know he is channeling Hitler today. I do not know who Putin's propaganda minister is, but Hitler had a pretty damn good one. No aspect of German culture at the time was free of exploitation by the Nazi regime.
In 1945, Ludwig van Beethoven's opera Fidelio was performed in Vienna as a sign of liberation. The Allies had won the war against Nazi Germany. Seven years earlier, the National Socialists had celebrated the opera as a "victory opera" in newly occupied Austria.
Hardly any other composer in history has been instrumentalized for political purposes as much as Ludwig van Beethoven. His music has served both dictators and freedom fighters around the world as confirmation of their respective political views.
"The secret of this music is still being discussed even today," says musicologist Michael Custodis from the University of Münster in an interview with DW. "International appropriation has a very complex cultural history about which we still know little and for which we have yet to develop models to explain."
The National Socialists instrumentalized Beethoven for their propaganda purposes. They were interested not only in his music, but also in his attributes as a composer and human being. Beethoven was considered a hero who had overcome the fate of his deafness. He was also admired as a German musical genius.
The fact that Beethoven also stood for values of the French Revolution such as freedom, equality and brotherhood did not bother the Hitler regime. "Dictatorships have never had a major problem with appropriating the historical narrative and, when in doubt, simply rewriting it," said Custodis. "In addition, National Socialism always staged itself as a revolutionary movement."
A revolutionary movement that — at least musically — wanted to tie in with old traditions, such as that of Beethoven and composer Richard Wagner. Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels founded the "Reich Chamber of Culture" with the subdivision "Reich Chamber of Music" to bring together these musical events. Its first president was composer Richard Strauss, who served as cultural figurehead of the dictatorship. Works by Jewish composers or political opponents were banned as "degenerate music."
I suppose the takeaway is that great art belongs to no one person or party; it belongs to us all. Case in point - let's check the BBC. During WWII, Morse code was still a thing. The BBC used to begin all broadcasts to occupied Europe with a Morse Code "V", transmitted as "dot-dot-dot-dash". Sound familiar?
So at the end of today, I'll still do my Russian language lessons. I'll still listen to Tchaikovsky, Borodin, Shostokovich, and Prokofiev. Eventually I'll read Anna Karena and Life and Fate. I have resigned myself to the fact that I will likely never see the Hermitage in-person, but there's plenty of Russian artwork on line.
These artists and authors are all long dead and buried - they should not suffer the fate of the current name and actions of the Russian State.