Sounds of a Cold War

I've been exploring the use of music in various political context - from Madonna's mutterings, through to using work to endorse political parties. The brilliant exhibition Cold War Modern: Design 1940-1975 currently showing at the V&A examines the impact of the Cold War on art. 

The post-WWII modernist era offers two perspectives - apocalyptic, and utopian. The exhibits takes you through the visionaries that explored each of these themes.  Within music, this was demonstrated with two very different approaches.

The bleak anxiety of the early Cold War was soundtracked perfectly by Edgard Varèse's Poème électronique - a collaborative multimedia work with Le Corbusier and Iannis Xenakis for the 1958 World Fair. I remember studying this piece in university - it was amazing to see it with the original accompanying film. Within the context of the exhibition you really understand the intentions of the piece - sparse, minimal texture - fitting for a time of political tension.

In contrast, the utopian Soviet vision is captured perfectly with Shostakovich's Moskva, Cheremushki. The opera has a ridiculous libretto - we were only shown a short clip during the show, but it featured a couple dreaming of a modern lifestyle in a tower block where their every convenience would be realised. Well, convenience - within the confines of the Soviet view of utopia. I would love to get my hands on the filmed ballet version that was shown during the exhibition - it needs to be seen to be believed.

Both composers were reacting to the world in which they found themselves. For Shostakovich, his art was forcibly shaped - the Soviet regimes used creative culture to further their agendas, and were persuasive to achieve their goals. As with the other pieces in the exhibit, the political climate clearly had influence over design. And in turn, the artists, composers, architects and designers all gave back fantastic inspired work, in spite of the horror of the time. 

A highly recommended must see!

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