Polystylism and the State: A case study


Not that I’m trying to get all political in this space, but I want to single out certain people in positions of power around the world for their recent displays of musical acumen.  First is senior White House advisor David Axelrod (above), who took a “musical leave of absence” from his duties in Washington to hear the Chicago Symphony play Lennyz “Serenade after Plato’s Symposium” simply because it is so rarely played.  Well done, Mr. Axelrod.


Next, even greater honors go to one Vladimir Putin, “Prime Minister” of Russia, who recently held a forum for Russia’s literary leaders, during which he said, and I am totally not making this up:

Humanity has entered a new development stage, and cannot turn back. It should be taken for granted. There is no way to reverse progress.

You know no worse than I do, and possibly better than I do that new means of expression appear every now and then in music and pictorial arts. Take our compatriot Alfred Schnittke. His music appeared sophisticated to the extreme. One did not think more complicated music could have been written-but contemporary composers write music of which experts say that no unprepared listener can hear out a piece from beginning to end. But some people enjoy such music and say that is the only way music should be today.

Say what??  Did the PM and general éminence grise of Russia seriously just name check Al Schnittke?  Damn straight.  But Putin has distinguished himself in matters musical before: in 2007, at the death of Mstislav Rostropovitch, the then premier issued a statement of public grief and attended the cellist’s funeral.  I remember that this seemed somehow natural to me at the time, but my good friend and insightful commentator El Bensón (who is apparently an opera blogger at this point) was duly startled, and contextualized the event with the following question: “Do you think George Bush would make a public announcement about the death of Yo Yo Ma?”


george-bush conducts

Unfortunately, just when things were looking up in the public sphere with regard to music, there’s This which basically cancels out everything that was ever good or right with humanity.  Pity.

On the flip side, if you want to read one of the finest pieces of writing about politics in music (not the other way around), I would direct you to our good friend Slavoj Žižek’s article “Shostakovitch in Casablanca“.

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