After World War II, many argued that music was apolitical. Is it?

Posted on: April 18, 2022

Wilhelm Furtwängler conducts the Berlin Philharmonic in 1935, with Nazi party members applauding.

“We might be tempted to say that politics has nothing to do with classical music,’ ” write Emily Richmond Pollock and Kira Thurman in Friday’s (4/18) New York Times. “It is an argument that has been heard again and again when artists come under scrutiny for their involvement in current events—most recently, musicians whose ties to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia have been questioned. Performing classical music, or listening to it, has never been an apolitical act. But the idea that it might be flourished in the wake of World War II, thanks in part to the process of denazification, the Allied initiative to purge German-speaking Europe of Nazi political, social and cultural influence…. In moments of war and violence, it can be tempting to either downplay classical music’s involvement in global events or emphasize music’s power only when it is used as a force for what a given observer perceives as good. Insisting on a utopian, apolitical status for this art form renders us unable to see how even high culture is implicated in the messy realities of political and social life. We must work to understand the complex politics of music, even when that means embracing discomfort and ambiguity.”