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Politics and Nationalism Panel

Saturday, January 16, 1:00pm
Music Room 1145
Emma McCullough, chair

Politics and Nationalism Panel: John Hausmann, Emma McCullough, and Ryan Weber

Politics and Nationalism Panel: John Hausmann, Emma McCullough (chair), and Ryan Weber

"Between the Lines: The Influence of Language in the Creation of Grieg's Songs"

Ryan Weber, Music History/Theory
University of Connecticut

"The lyricism of German, Danish, and Norwegian poets is so totally different that the music, too, must be equally varied in order that the contrasts among the several nationalities can be perceived."

—Edvard Grieg [paraphrase; letter to the American music historian Henry T. Finck (1900)]

Situated between the multiple planes of universal, national, and individual identity, it is within the realm of his more than 180 songs that the Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg labored to establish a musical synthesis that was indelibly connected to his literary sources. As Norway struggled to establish a unified language among its own circulating dialects in the nineteenth century, a similar effort took place in the creation of Grieg's own compositional idiom in which elements of diatonicism, chromaticism, and modality embodied the shifting national spirits of the poets from which they were drawn. The often conflicting aspects of German, Danish, and Norwegian nationalities served as catalysts of change and transformation in his songs. Yet, within this degree of variance, Grieg manifested a syncretic musical language.

This study will ascribe two techniques that embody this concept. The first, termed chromatic juxtapositioning, accounts for the manner in which Grieg employs elements of different modal and diatonic spheres within the vertical and horizontal dimensions of the score. The second technique, tetrachordal transformation, illustrates the degree to which different scale segments interact within a given piece to create an eclectic pitch space of identity. Taken together, these procedures share a correspondence with the national origin of the poetry as well as the more universal aims of the composer. This study will thereby explore a selection of Grieg's late songs that serve not only as reflections of cultural dialects, but also of the integrative compositional processes through which these competing tensions are presented.

"Yevtushenko, Shostakovich, and Criticism in the First and Fourth Movements of Shostakovich's 13th Symphony"

John Hausmann, Musicology
University of Louisville

In 1962 during the Khrushchev "Thaw," one of the memorable Soviet artistic partnerships combined the rising poet Yevgeniy Yevtushenko and the venerable composer Dmitri Shostakovich in collaboration on Shostakovich's 13th Symphony. Yevtushenko's numerous poems critical of the regime were not conceived of as conveying a unified message, touching on topics as diverse as anti-Semitism, bureaucracy, civil rights violations, the fear of citizens to express opinions, and the mistreatment of women. Shostakovich realized the political and expressive potential of Yevtushenko's poems, taking four published texts and commissioning another expressly for the symphony, which he unified to express criticism of many aspects of Soviet life. In Shostakovich's oeuvre, the 13th Symphony is the piece that most criticizes the regime, and is the closest he came to undisguised dissidence. The work reveals insight into the collaborators' personal feelings on morality and social justice.

Shostakovich uses recurring musical gestures, such as the rising modal cadence introduced in the first bars of the symphony, in addition to the tolling of a chime. Through these recurring gestures, Shostakovich achieves musical cohesion and unifies the texts. He also draws connections between the critical content of the poems. These connections reveal how Shostakovich engaged with the criticism of the texts, either by conveying Yevtushenko's criticism, or reinterpreting it. I will examine the structure and content of the poems and the music of the first and fourth movements as the ones most expressive of the collaborators' stinging criticisms of the Soviet government.

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