In spring 1945, a small group of students, among them Serge Nigg and Pierre Boulez, protested during the first performances in liberated Paris of the neoclassical works Stravinsky had composed in America. Whereas Boulez's biographers have interpreted the student protests as a sign of René Leibowitz's successful promotion of serialism in France, scholars of the Cold War have seen the 1945 concerts as a precursor to Stravinsky's participation in the 1952 L'Œuvre du XXe siècle, a festival in Paris indirectly funded by the CIA. These interpretations subsume the immediate postwar period in France within a synchronic view of the early Cold War era. But the 1945 protests against Stravinsky were not about the decisive embrace of a single musical style; rather, they were about the desire of young French composers to play an active role in shaping the postwar future of music in France.
In 1945, Nigg—and not Boulez—represented the aesthetic opinions of a generation of French composers who had grown up during the German occupation of Paris and the political aspirations of those who, like Nigg, flocked to the French Communist Party at war's end. Nigg's participation in the 1945 Stravinsky debates gives us occasion to examine his earliest musical compositions and the political opinions he would express with increasing ideological fervor in the 1950s. Although in verbal pronouncements he supported socialist realism, Nigg's rare and complex use of a French folk tune in his 1954 Piano Concerto betrays his ambivalence about the Soviet demand for communist composers to reject "falsely cosmopolitan tendencies" in favor of their national cultural heritage. Having rejected in 1945 both Stravinsky's neoclassicism and French nationalism (the latter tainted by associations with Vichy during the occupation), Nigg had to choose in the early Cold War between his aesthetic and political loyalties.