Jessica Gienow-Hecht has won a grant from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft to pursue a project titled “The Quest for Harmony: Classical Music, Emotion, and the Discourse of Human Rights in the United States since World War Two.”
On 17 June 1967, South Korean composer Isang Yun, then living in West Berlin sponsored by the Ford Foundation, was kidnapped by South Korean agents and clandestinely flown to Seoul. There, he was incarcerated, threatened, and sentenced to life imprisonment after confessing — under torture — to espionage for the North Korean government. In the course of the next two years, some 200 internationally renowned artists from the world of classical music including Igor Stravinsky and Otto Klemperer pressured the South Korean government to set Yun free in the name of human rights. Finally, in February of 1969, their efforts were crowned by success and Yun was able to return to Berlin. Yun’s case is by far not the only one instance where the world of classical music joined hands with human rights activism; in fact, there is a long list of names and cases testifying to an international human rights engagement, ranging from the international outcry over the kidnapping, imprisonment and torturing of Argentine pianist Miguel Angel Estrella, between 1977 and 1980, to the recent and belated appreciation of Luigi Dallapiccola’s “The Prisoner” (1948), a one-act opera that draws on ideas of torture and hope in a world that knows no justice.
How do human rights and classical music relate to one another? What does it mean that since World War Two, hundreds of artists have cited the “universalism” of music to lobby for justice, freedom and human rights? Specifically, which role has the U.S. classical music scene played in this scenario? Jessica Gienow-Hecht has won a grant from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft to pursue a project titled “The Quest for Harmony: Classical Music, Emotion, and the Discourse of Human Rights in the United States since World War Two.” It will investigate the relationship between classical music and human rights in the post-World War II period. Combining a variety fields including law, emotions, classical art-music, cultural diplomacy and the history of U.S. foreign relations, the project seeks to make sense of the increasing engagement of U.S. symphony orchestras and international artists for the sake of human rights. The project will begin in 2018, include one doctoral student as well as one student assistant, and run for three years. A call for applications for both positions will be published here in early 2018. For more information, please write to Verena Specht at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Picture: The New York Philharmonic in North Korea; 2008.