April 22, 2022


Greetings, Spy Vibers! One of the little corners of history that has interested me as I work on my upcoming book is how music intersected with the Cold War. My book will spotlight how styles and themes within art/design played key roles in many aspects of genre pop culture, from those archetypal evil villain lairs to the use of abstract painting. It was all secret codes from the culture! Music also entered into the mix, perhaps most famously with the state department's use of jazz as an instrument to promote American ideology abroad. American music was beamed via radio to listeners behind the Iron Curtain, while fictional heroes darted about in sleek sports cars and tight suits to the thrilling pulse of genre soundtracks -jazz/rock hybrids by composers like Henry Mancini, John Barry, and Jerry Goldsmith- that set the tone for adventure. Classical music, too, had an interesting relationship with politics during the era. Conductors and musicians in Germany, for example, experienced a complex fracturing in the Sixties when the Berlin Wall separated West German artists from their posts within a now-divided city. Those who were located in the East quickly found their jobs strictly controlled by a state commission that demanded an ideological formalism. Works by the old masters which had church affiliations were tolerated as canon -and as an effort to show some leniency to western eyes- but material was limited. That was one of the reasons Glenn Gould's 1957 tour of Russia was such a phenomenon, as the young genius ripped through Bach at mind-boggling speeds. For East German artists, opportunities to tour became increasingly regulated or impossible. Musicians were even called upon by the Stasi to watch their fellow colleagues for any signs they might intend to defect. Some did! Well, amidst this whole story is American pianist Van Cliburn. Like Canada's Glenn Gould, Cliburn was a young prodigy who raced onto the international scene after winning major competitions. In Cliburn's case, one of those key prizes was winning the Tchaikovsky Competition in Russia in 1958 -a prize he won with loud support from Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. Van Cliburn really wowed them all! He became a huge idol there, so much so that you can still find pinups and publications that were traded among his loyal Russian fans (see below). The whole phenomenon landed him on the cover of Time that year. As these stories played out among world-class musicians, fans of suave detectives and international spies in the west were seeing the themes echoed in genre fiction and TV entertainment. Ian Fleming even included a female orchestra musician in his cocktail of Bond, assassins, and Berlin escapes in "The Living Daylights" (first appearing in the Sunday Times in 1962). One of the most touching stories of defection appeared in Johnny Staccato with John Cassavetes, but more on that when my book finally comes together! If Spy Vibers are interested in learning more about Van Cliburn specifically, you might check out Moscow Nights: The Van Cliburn Story--How One Man and His Piano Transformed the Cold War by Nigel Cliff. You can find lots of Cliburn in Moscow DVDs (and more) at VAI Music. If you are interested in the Berlin scene, check out the DVD Classical Music and Cold War: Musicians in the GDR. More about Gould's Russian Journey. Enjoy! Below: books from USSR (50s-60s), Nigel Cliff book cover. Related posts: Notes Behind the Curtain 1Notes Behind the Curtain 2Notes Behind the Curtain 3Notes Behind the Curtain 4, and one post revised as the Goldfinger Variations

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