Tyranny and Music.
This collection of essays explores tyranny and music through a wide variety of subjects, geographic locations, decades, and political contexts. Tyranny and Music is the result of a 2015 conference organized by editors Joseph E. Morgan and Gregory N. Reish. They frame this collection within the overarching themes of oppression and resistance, citing the tyrannical influence of Napoleon Bonaparte on European music. In the introduction, Morgan states, "as a tyrant, the impact of Napoleon suffered no apparent boundaries. It is for this reason that I did not seek a more specific theme for this essay collection" (p. xi). Because of this approach, the thirteen essays in the collection are organized without subgroupings, emphasizing the plurality of tyrannical topics and methodologies employed by each author. In spite of this presentation, themes of war, American subjects, and communism are found throughout the book, hinting at the potential connections between chapters.
The first chapter presents a communist entrapment in an American context. Here, James E. Parsons explores the political entanglements of Hanns Eisler in post-World War II Hollywood, connecting Eisler's personal struggles with one song in his Hollywooder Liederbuch. According to Parsons, "the succession of events that yielded 'Nightmare,' the only Liederbuch song for which Eisler wrote both words and music (the former in English), came to a head in mid-October 1946 when front-page newspaper accounts reported that the composer's older brother, Gerhart, was the top agent of the Communist World Party (CP) in the United States" (p. 5).
In the second chapter, Brent Wetters shifts the focus to World War II in the concentration camp Terezin, engaging in speculative readings of poetry by Friedrich Holderlin from the vantage point of oppressor (Nazi soldier) and oppressed (concentration camp prisoner and composer Viktor Ullmann). American popular music written in response to the Gulf War is the focus of chapter 3, in which Jessica Loranger highlights references to the Vietnam War, pointing toward wartime cultural collectivism while acknowledging a divide in protroop and antiwar messages. In chapter 4, war emerges in a completely different context as Sienna M. Wood discusses the works of sixteenth-century composer Noe Faignient as "vehicles of political propaganda parallel to early rebel writings that identify the state-run Inquisition as the shared enemy of both Protestants and Catholics" during the Dutch Revolt against Spain (p. 55).
Chapter 5 returns to an American subject, as Molly Williams underscores composer William Billings's use of composite texts from sacred and spiritual sources for his anthems in Revolutionary-era America, expressing sentiments against imperial British rule. In chapter 6, the American theme continues: Thomas J. Kernan evokes John Wilkes Booth's rumored cry of "Sic semper tyrannis" during the assassination of Abraham Lincoln to position how Booth is portrayed in a variety of musical genres, including Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman's musical Assassins (p. 106). Subsequently, a pair of chapters focusing on different aspects of communist China begins with chapter 7 by Max Noubel, who provides a close reading of act 2, scene 2 of John Adams's Nixon in China. Noubel argues that the characters "are linked to archetypes of the representation of the tyrant and his victims that are to be found in various forms in the history of the opera" (p. 113). In chapter 8, Mei Han considers efforts by the Chinese Communist Party to revive interest and expertise in traditional Chinese instruments, positioning Wang Changyuan's Zhan Taifeng [Battling the Typhoon] as "a perfect example of 'people's' music, and a new model for Chinese instrumental music composition" (p. 125).
In chapter 9, communism is explored in a different geographical area as Anna Oldfield discusses the musical legacy of Azerbaijani ashiq bards, whose oral traditions were promoted and manipulated by the Soviet Union to disseminate communist propaganda through traditional Azerbaijani folk music. The first contemporary topic of this essay collection is the subject of chapter 10, where Beau Bothwell outlines the role of Syrian radio during the Syrian Civil War. Bothwell's chapter "describes three of the ways in which music on the radio has been used to convey political messages about Bashar al-Asad, the Asad regime, and the competing conceptions of the Syrian nation, focusing especially on instances from 2011 to 2013" (p. 163). The Middle East remains the geographical context in chapter 11, where Daniel Guberman explores gender and politics in heavy metal. He focuses on the female-led Egyptian metal band Massive Scar Era while positioning their music as resistance against the Muslim Brotherhood and misogyny in heavymetal scenes more broadly. In chapter 12, themes of war reappear as Abimbola Cole Kai-Lewis articulates emcee Chosan's viewpoint as a Sierra Leonean, narrating and demystifying the Sierra Leone Civil War in his 2005 collaboration with Kanye West, "Diamonds from Sierra Leone." The final chapter of the collection focuses on a contemporary, politically charged American subject. Coeditor Joseph E. Morgan concentrates on acts of musical resistance in response to Donald Trump's unprecedented made-for-TV antics and divisive political rhetoric during the 2016 presidential campaign while underscoring his dominance in free media coverage.
The scope of this essay collection is impressive, providing a survey of music and tyrannical politics in thirteen distinct voices that is accessible to an equally wide audience, be they specialists, nonspecialists, faculty, students, or librarians. Overall, this work presents a far-ranging interpretation of tyranny, allowing space for an unexpected collection of writings. According to Morgan, this is intentional: "Thus, as an organizing topic for this collection, the general vector 'Tyranny, Resistance and Music' freed the investigations in order to achieve the widest and most diverse perspectives-this breadth, I believe, is
what makes this text unique and further, provides a wonderful cross section of some of the ways that the various schools of musicology are doing important, interesting, and remarkably relevant work" (p. xii). Although the essays appear as individual pieces of a whole, the lack of subgroupings is an unusual choice that fails to connect essays with similar themes, placing the burden upon the reader to do so. Nevertheless, Tyranny and Music is a wonderfully diverse collection that demonstrates the power of music as a tool of political resistance in the face of tyrannical oppression.
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2019|
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