Jessica Gienow-Hecht Esteban Buch Tobias Hof (Sektionsleitung)

Fragile Sounds, Fragile Humanities: Visions of Musical Humanity in the Transatlantic World Since World War II

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This section offers a critical reflection of the historical genesis, transformation, and problématique of the fragility of the term ‘humanity’ in the transatlantic world with a particular eye on musical representation. Moving the focus from political actors, legal experts, and activists to cultural representation, we wish to examine the notion of ‘humanity’ in the musical international arena, including Amnesty International Festivals, human rights galas, as well as UNESCO concerts.
Notions of “humanity,” we argue, frequently inspired networks of musical actors and practices. Its meanings evolved and were contested in tune with sociopolitical processes and institutions such as racism, nationalism, illiberalism, colonial expansionism and authoritarian regimes, as well as supranational cooperation (U.N., UNESCO), transnational activism, and international cultural events.  As a result, understandings of ‘humanity’ have always been fragile and disputed, morphed and clashed remarkably.
Music and musical activism have highlighted these tensions in non-textual ways. In tandem, the panelists wish to show the extent to which cultural actors developed their own set of visions of ‘humanity,’ ranging from a much-contested vision at U.N. human rights concerts since 1949 to an appeal for international action, sanction, and relief for a region in crisis. In doing so, the panel seeks to deepen the dialogue between international history and cultural history.

Brandon Keith Brown (Berlin)
Jessica Gienow-Hecht (Berlin)
Ode to What? The Human Rights Concerts at the United Nations Since 1949

The presentation examines the human rights concerts organized by UNESCO, since the first anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights, in 1949. It kicked off with the first anniversary, held in New York’s Carnegie Hall and staffed by a melée of international celebrities straight out of a Who’s Who in film, music, and politics, including Leonard Bernstein and Sir Laurence Olivier. Designed to hail unity and justice, profile and contours of these concerts changed considerably over time reflecting the fragility and internal conflicts over the meaning of this annual event among organizers and the UN at large. How do we make sense of this story in the context of human rights, music and international relations?

Anais Fléchet (Paris)
Yehudi Menuhin at UNESCO: Music and Human Rights, 1960s-1980s

With his faith in a musical humanism that transcended borders, his fascination for India, and the success of the West Meets East album he recorded with the
sitarist Ravi Shankar, world-class violinist Yehudi Menuhin may be considered as the perfect example of a liberal utopian, who saw music as a vehicle for universal harmony. Yet, his commitment to music and peace was founded on a confrontation with the harshness of the world, experienced by many during the Second World War II, and an awareness of the strategic stakes of the Cold War and the connection between a sense of duty and personal ambition. Drawing on archival materials from the Foyle Menuhin Archive at the Royal Academy of Music, the UNESCO and the US National Archives, this chapter explores Menuhin’s reflections on music and diplomacy and retraces his action at the head of the International Music Council between 1969 and 1975.

Esteban Buch (Paris)
On the fragility of musical meaning: Mahler's Fifth and the Argentine Dictatorship (1980)

In recent years, musical practices have gained some historians’ attention as an important dimension of soft power and international relations. But how can we
account for the meaning of music when performed in contexts that are characterized by extreme moral and political issues, such as the military dictatorships in Latin America? Does a piece of instrumental music have political meaning in such situations? Does the notion of a political meaning of music make sense when applied to works without words, program, quotes of national tunes, or other explicit political signifiers? Is the notion of « fragile fact » relevant for understanding them? This paper will explore these topics by discussing a specific performance under a military dictatorship known for its violations of human rights, namely Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, performed in Buenos Aires in 1980 by Daniel Baremboim and the Orchestre de Paris.

Tobias Hof (Toronto)
"We are the World": Constructing Competing Visions of Humanity in 1980s Charity Songs / "We are the World": Die Konstruktion konkurrierender Visionen von Menschlichkeit in Benefizliedern der 1980er Jahre

The paper examines various charity songs that were created in response to the 1980s African famines. I argue that they offer insight into the self-image of a society and allow us to grasp the cultural construction of competing visions of humanity. During the crisis, humanity became a normative and powerful, albeit vague social value, which encouraged and impelled musicians to participate in fundraising efforts and civilians to help the starving. It had both a purportedly objective meaning of a shared existence between all people and a normative call to action to help one’s fellow human predicated on that common bond.

Frederick John Packer (Ottawa)
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