Activism and Music in Poland, 1978-1989

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Activism and Music in Poland, 1978-1989

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Title: Activism and Music in Poland, 1978-1989
Author: Bohlman, Andrea Florence
Citation: Bohlman, Andrea Florence. 2012. Activism and Music in Poland, 1978-1989. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: This dissertation presents a historical study of intersections between music and activism in Poland from the election of Cardinal Karol Wojtyła as Pope John Paul II in 1978 to Poland’s first democratic elections in 1989. Musical action in three cultural spheres shapes the project: (1) the political activism of musicians, (2) activists who turn to music as a political instrument, and (3) the musical ambitions of the communist authorities, the Polish United Workers’ Party. I critique the repercussions of politics in music as well as music’s significance for policy makers and dissidents, and I assume that neither course of influence is intrinsic or inevitable under state socialism. In doing so, I highlight the complex relationship between activist culture and music at the end of the Cold War. Throughout the decade, religious hymns, patriotic anthems, experimental music, and popular songs shared spaces in Polish society, projected analogous ambitions, reflected communal responses, and partook in debates about culture’s capacity to effect political action. The plurality of musical genres and music histories during the Cold War reflects the political tensions in the Polish opposition to state socialism. The diverse materials I investigate in this dissertation respond both to the tumultuous politics of the 1980s and to the ethnographic, historical, and analytical methods I employ to write music history. My thesis—that political activism offered politicians, activists, and musicians the opportunity for constructive creative action—provides a model for rethinking Cold War music history. I begin with an explanation of the Communist Party’s program for music and the practical means by which it carried out this vision through the decade. Two chapters examine specific historical moments: I critique the ways in which music has come to be associated with the August 1980 strikes that brought about the formation of Solidarity, the first independent trade union in the Eastern bloc, and map the sites of music making in the weeks after martial law’s imposition in December 1981. I explore the resonance of popular sacred hymns and plainchant for musicologists, composers, and members of the opposition through the final decade of the Cold War. The dissertation concludes by analyzing the unofficial musical discourse on independence, drawing out the concept’s resonance for artists invested in their own musical autonomy.
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