[Politics in music]

Sunday, July 01, 1956

This episode is from the WNYC archives. It may contain language which is no longer politically or socially appropriate.

Starts off clarifying a statement made on a previous episode. Party line in music composition. Confused as to how there can be party lines in music. Can see it in painting. But with music, with all its abstractions, seems difficult to put in a formula. Talks about Dmitri Shostakovich. In 1948, he was accused of writing music that reflected formalism with bourgeois influences. "Music was directed against the people." That gives me pause. Can't explain it, don't understand it. Shostakovich apologized. In the Soviet Union, there is a union of composers which controls music. Mr. Shostakovich published an article in Pravda denouncing this union. Calling for an effort to reflect the truth of life in music. Coming out for intellectual freedom. Freedom to discuss is innate in people. Any attempt to stifle discussion will fail because it contradicts the call of the 20th Congress which permits freedom of discussion. Shostakovich says that the people who have been running music often present naive demands on composers. They don't understand a composition's significance is not definable by its external proportion of sadness and cheerfulness; is defined by the pathos of feelings expressed in it. During the war, Stalin would make an address to the public after a victory. Began with these words, "Fighters, workers, intellectuals." Talks about intellectuals. Cover story in Time magazine about intellectuals in America and Jacques Barzun. Intellectuals vs. the people. Animosity from both sides.

Educational system. Drop in number of students in science and engineering compared to the Soviet Union. Survey by Carnegie Corporation on the status of mathematics - the least popular subject. 50% of blame goes to the teachers. The other 50% goes to the teachers' teachers. Future teachers pass through elementary school learning to detest mathematics. Drop it as early as possible in high school. Avoid it in teachers' colleges because it is not required. Talks about the teaching of mathematics. Talks about his high school geometry teacher. Should be taught by poets. Maybe magicians too. Mathematics as a method of discipline. Teach mathematics so the child will learn it. Making things difficult to learn comes from old times. Make subjects interesting. mentions progressive schools briefly. Teaching geometry. Posits question "what do we really want to do with our education?

Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection

WNYC archives id: 70501
Municipal archives id: LT7297

Hosted by:

Gilbert Seldes


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About Lively Arts, The

Legendary critic and author of The Seven Lively Arts Gilbert Seldes discusses big-thinking issues in art and life from his characteristically populist perspective.

Simultaneously a timely and visionary program, Gilbert Seldes's The Lively Arts (1953-1956) examines contemporary issues of 1950s television, radio, and theater, as well as current events and the intellectual arts. Seldes, who was the first Director for Television at CBS News and the founding Dean of the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania, was also a renowned critic, author, playwright, and editor. As a major social critic and observer, Seldes viewed theater, television, and radio with a prescient eye to the future based on a well-informed understanding of the past. 

These programs feature commentary and discussion on a wide range of topics — from sex and censorship in the movies to progressive education to juvenile delinquency to political campaigning on television — many of which are still hotly debated today. Serving as a precursor to Seldes's television programs and providing an audio context for his seminal books, this show is key to understanding today's cultural commentary.


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