The fascinating intersection of classical music and politics

LISTENING to classical music calms you down and brings peace to the mind. On the other hand, when you think of politics you think of complexities and bringing order to chaos. Hitler and a violin just do not go together, an instrument that produces a sound so bright, calm, pure, solemn, merry and the darkness of a dictator who caused deaths of millions. (Hitler did listen to music and this was proven when his gramophone records were found.) These two opposite subjects have intersected many times and their intersection is fascinating yet underresearched. There have been frequent events in history and in the present where they crossed paths.

Classical music has been used to voice out different political views and this type of music is called protest music or song. People have come together and formed organizations because of their love for it. Even during times of political upheaval classical music is still prevalent and remains as popular as before.

It has also constantly brought people together. The West Divian Orchestra, consisting of young musicians from Israel and neighboring countries, was organized by conductor Daniel Barenboim and Palestinian writer Edward Said in 1999 and continued to persevere—keeping their ideals despite the political disorders caused by the Israeli-Lebanese War in the summer of 2006.

Protest music is defined by what the song wants to achieve—like giving emphasis to social problems, being a form of political propaganda, recruiting members and expressing emotions on certain issues, or simply defying the status quo. Protest music is used to change consciousness, stir emotions, impose ideology, arouse courage, mobilize forces, incriminate power, organize workers, provoke outrage and express fear as defined by Edmonson.

An example of a political piece is “Bad Neighbors” by Catherine Likhuta—her most political piece, dealing with the ongoing war in Ukraine. The piece has two horns that represent Russia, its aggression and invasion and Ukraine fighting for its freedom. We can clearly see here how classical music was used to express a political event.

On more recent events, controversies flood the areas of relationship between politics and classical music. In 2015, 21-year-old composer Jonas Tarm came across unpleasant events. His performance for his piece called “Marsh U Nebuttya,” or “March to Oblivion,” by the New York Youth Symphony in Carnegie Hall was cancelled. According to Jonas Tarm, his work was “devoted to the victims who have suffered from cruelty and hatred of war, totalitarianism, polarizing nationalism--in the past and today”.

This goes to show that, indeed our current situations and the political landscape have a massive effect on classical music or music in general.

It has been known that classical music inspires different forms of music.

An example would be the song “Do You Hear the People Sing?” from the musical “Les Miserables.” It speaks about Parisians rebelling against their rulers. This song is a great demonstration on how classical music is used in modern times. It was used in the recent Hong Kong protests that started in June 2019 when pro-democracy activists rallied against the extradition bill that was about to be passed. They sang, “Do you hear the people of Hong Kong? They are standing up for their rights.”

To this very day classical music is powerful even with all the technology and new music styles. Nothing can take away how classical music manages to express an emotion or a certain view even without using words. There is a growing trend now when modern classical music composers incorporate auto tune and technology in their works and what makes their pieces even more meaningful is that they use the current events and happenings as inspiration. This is the beauty we experience when two different worlds meet to strength one and the other.

Carreon and Perez

2nd Year Students, University of San Carlos

Contributed Opinion Article


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