Music and the Cold War

A College of Music faculty member travels to one of the world’s great libraries to shed new light on twentieth-century music.

Kevin Bartig, assistant professor of musicology, spent the 2011-12 academic year as a fellow at the Kluge Center of the Library of Congress. The Center was established in 2000 through an endowment of $60 million from John W. Kluge and brings together visiting scholars and postdoctoral fellows from across the humanities and social sciences.

During his time at the Library, Professor Bartig is researching a new project on the role of music in American-Soviet cultural relations from the 1920s through the early Cold War. His work looks at the reception of Russian music in the United States and American music in Soviet Russia, as well as the networks of composers, musicians, and institutions that facilitated trans-Atlantic musical exchange. In particular, he is examining the efforts of individuals who traveled between the two countries and institutions (such as the American-Soviet Music Society) that fostered transnational cultural understanding well before governments officially adopted cultural exchange as a diplomatic tool.

Professor Bartig reports on his work at the Library: 

“Certain American composers—Aaron Copland, Elie Siegmeister, Leonard Bernstein, Roy Harris, to name a few—perceived very different things in Russian musical culture that often reflected their own biases about domestic musical issues, particularly the forging of a national musical school. A corresponding trend can be seen among Soviet composers looking at American music. I've been spending a lot of time looking at materials in personal archives, specifically letters, telegrams, speeches, notes on publications, and other documents that reveal contemporary perceptions and understandings. And there is no shortage of this type of material: the Music Division of the Library alone holds some 500 archival collections, some containing upwards of half a million items. Also important to my project is what American musicians knew about Soviet music and vice versa, a question that is not so simple given that politics, war, and sheer distance consistently disrupted exchange. So I'm also studying published materials that originated in both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R, particularly specialist journals from the 1920s and 1930s. In many cases the Library is the only repository in the country that has copies of these materials.”