Both communist party officials and western observers have typically interpreted the composition of modernist music in the Eastern Bloc as an act of dissidence. Yet in the German Democratic Republic (GDR), the most consequential arguments in favor of modernism came from socialists and party members. Their advocacy of modernism challenged official socialist realist doctrine, but they shared with party bureaucrats the conviction that music ought to contribute to the development of socialist society. Such efforts to reform musical life from a Marxist-Leninist standpoint were typical of the first generation of East Germany's intelligentsia, who saw socialist rule as the only guarantee against the reemergence of German fascism. Two of East Germany's most prominent composers, Hanns Eisler and Paul Dessau, routinely used the twelve-tone method in works carrying an explicitly socialist text. During preparations for the 1964 Music Congress, aesthetician Günter Mayer drew from Eisler's Lenin Requiem and Dessau's Appell der Arbeiterklasse to argue that modernist techniques were highly appropriate for giving expression to contemporary social conditions. The efforts of these socialists to reconcile modernist techniques with their understanding of socialism undermine basic divisions between communism and capitalism, complicity and dissent, and socialist realism and western modernism.

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