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Aleksanteri Conference







Rosenberg, Jonathan

Fighting the Cold War with Violins and Trumpets: US Symphony Orchestras and the East-West Struggle

This paper will explore the intersection between classical music and international politics during the Cold War. It will probe the transnational story of a key cultural export program initiated by the US government in the 1950s, which sent leading American symphony orchestras to perform in Europe and around the world. The aim of the program was to advance the political and ideological objectives of the United States during a time when the East-West competition dominated the attention of policymakers.

In considering the transnational activities of non-state actors (i.e., symphonic ensembles), the paper will examine the practice of cultural diplomacy in the 1950s, a time when the United States sent orchestras across Europe in order to present American cultural achievements to both allies and adversaries. Policymakers believed the virtuosity of the country's symphony orchestras could advance the idea that the United States was capable of impressive attainments in the realm of high culture. And significantly, the tours sought to showcase the accomplishments of liberal capitalism, which was not limited to producing Hollywood blockbusters or nuclear weapons. Instead, on concert stages from London to Leningrad, the U.S. government deployed symphonic performances as a distinctive cultural export, convinced that the appearance of splendid American ensembles could fortify the country's position on a divided continent.

The paper will examine the tours from three perspectives: First, it will consider the U.S. government's reasons for initiating the program. Second, it will consider the journeys from the perspectives of the performing musicians. Finally, the paper will examine the local reception of the tours, which were covered closely by the press throughout Europe. The paper will be based on US government archives, the archives of leading symphony orchestras, and material from the press in several countries in Europe and the Soviet Union. In sum, the paper will seek to demonstrate how violins and trumpets were used to help the United States try to attain ideological supremacy in the Cold War.


Saturday 31 Oct, 12.00-13.30 SESSION 8
Panel: Exhibitions and the Performing Arts