Scholars have primarily seen the musicologist Zofia Lissa (1908–80) as a communist ideologue and key instigator of the Sovietization of Polish musical culture after World War II. An examination of materials from seven archives in three countries related to her life reveals a more complex picture of her views and of how she deployed her power. Before World War II she was a fierce advocate for both modernist aesthetics and communist politics, as well as a cutting-edge thinker about issues of social identity. World War II, which forced her to flee deep into the Soviet Union to avoid the Holocaust, transformed her thinking about these topics. Working in Moscow with a Polish and Polish-Jewish diaspora, she saw how popular song could mobilize war-wearied exiles despite seemingly unbridgeable political and social fissures. These ideas became the core of Lissa’s postwar advocacy for the mass song, a genre of accessible socialist music that had deep roots in the USSR. Viewing the Polish mass song from Lissa’s perspective reveals how she believed that the genre could reflect the experiences of widespread loss among Poles and harness these reactions in service of a communist musical culture. In showing how musical performance can enunciate collective identities founded in the experience of trauma, Lissa’s views shed light on a cultural logic that continues to inform commemorations of World War II in Poland to this day.
Zofia Lissa, Wartime Trauma, and the Evolution of the Polish “Mass Song”
J. Mackenzie Pierce is a former fellow at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, and the Polin Museum in Warsaw. His research has been published or is forthcoming in 19th-Century Music, Nadia Boulanger and Her World, and The Cambridge Companion to Music and Fascism, and he has overseen premieres of the works of Roman Palester and Tadeusz Zygfryd Kassern. He holds a PhD in musicology from Cornell University and a BA with Highest Honors from Swarthmore College.
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J. Mackenzie Pierce; Zofia Lissa, Wartime Trauma, and the Evolution of the Polish “Mass Song”. Journal of Musicology 11 May 2020; 37 (2): 231–266. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/jm.2020.37.2.231
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