Diplomatic Instruments: U.S. Symphony Orchestras And The Cold War

    • Bologna October 2016
    • Presentation speakers
      • Jonathan Rosenberg, Hunter College and the CUNY Graduate Center, USA


    This paper will explore the intersection between classical music and international politics during the Cold War. As part of a larger study I am working on, Dangerous Melodies and Diplomatic Instruments: When Classical Music Mattered in America (W.W. Norton, forthcoming), which explores the relationship between classical music in the United States and twentieth-century world affairs (from the Great War to the Cold War), the paper will probe the story of a key cultural export program initiated by the U.S. government in the 1950s, which sent leading American symphony orchestras to perform in Europe and around the world. The program’s aim was to advance the political and ideological objectives of the United States during a time when the east-west competition dominated the attention of American policy makers. The paper will examine an important aspect of American cultural diplomacy, which saw the U.S. government send symphony orchestras across Europe, including behind the Iron Curtain, in order to present American cultural achievements to both allies and adversaries. As will be seen, American policy makers believed the matchless virtuosity of the country’s symphony orchestras could advance American foreign-policy aims by promoting the idea that the United States was capable of impressive attainments in the realm of high culture. The tours also showcased the accomplishments of liberal capitalism, which, the tours sought to demonstrate, was not limited to producing Hollywood blockbusters or nuclear weapons. On concert stages from London to Leningrad, the U.S. government deployed the symphonic performance as a distinctive cultural export in the conviction that the appearance of a splendid American ensemble could fortify the country’s position on a fractured continent. The paper will examine the symphonic tours from three perspectives. First, it will explore the U.S. government’s reasons for initiating the program, using archival material from government archives and congressional hearings. Second, it will consider the journeys from the perspective of the relevant musical institutions and performing musicians, using sources from various orchestral archives. And finally, it will assess the foreign response to the performances, using press coverage to ascertain how the concerts were received on the local level.