Welcome, Musical Politicians!

Welcome to HIST 315: Music and Politics in 20th c Europe! Whether you’re a musical politician or a political musician, I hope you’ll enjoy our journey together this semester and engage deeply with the themes and materials in this course. Over the course of the semester, we will explore the ways in which a variety of historical actors have created and used music for political ends in Europe across the 20th century and into the present. Working thematically, we will delve into four major moments when the politics of European music attained critical importance: the Soviet Union under Lenin and Stalin, Germany in the Weimar and Nazi eras, the youth and protest movements active across Cold War Europe in the 1960s-1980s, and our current moment of globalized culture. Along the way, we will explore how authoritarian régimes have tried to harness music to serve their purposes, and how and why composers have complied with or resisted such efforts. We will also consider the perspectives of composers and songwriters who sought to use music to make a political statement and discover how music influenced the thinking of protest leaders and disaffected young people on both sides of the Berlin Wall. Turning to the present, we will examine how musicians have tried to heal the rifts of the 20th century and think critically about what has been gained and lost in the process. Most of all, we will confront the indeterminacy of musical meaning and reflect on how that has influenced each of our case studies. This course emphasizes close reading, careful listening, creative thinking, and vibrant discussion. No prior musical training is required; we will work together in class to develop our own vocabulary for discussing musical works. Open minds and spirited participation are encouraged!