October 29, 2020

Music and Politics

Music is an expressive window to people’s beliefs and values. Although Tomoko does not dwell on politics, but she is proud to be an American citizen. Her musicianship even helped her gain that status; her immigration interviewer loved music and said, “I am a member of the Marin Symphony,” so it was an easy process.

Usually people associate musicians with modern-day politics in terms of protest songs, folk songs such as Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land,” and the blues such as Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit.”

Certainly classical music included patriotic anthems. However, classical composers also expressed a political voice counter to the establishment. For instance, Beethoven’s third symphony was initially called “Bonaparte,” but when Napoleon crowned himself emperor, the symphony was renamed “Heroic Symphony composed to Celebrate the Memory of a Great Man.” Verdi’s opera “Nabucco” symbolized resistance to domination by other countries. Wagner’s majestic music was co-opted by Hitler. In contrast, Shostakovich was denounced by the Communists because his music did not embrace Stalinist ideology.

One wonders what music will emerge out of the politics of 2020. Let us look for compositions of hope.