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The Impact of World War II on the Artistic Output of Germany, the Soviet Union, and the United States: A Study of Piano Works by Hans Pfitzner, Sergei Prokofiev, and Samuel Barber

Dimitra Kokkinopoulou, University of Nebraska - Lincoln

Abstract

The purpose of this document is to compare and contrast how the WWII-era political situations within the United States of America, Soviet Union, and Germany impacted citizens from the perspective of artists. In addition, it discusses the way artists and particularly musicians managed to deal with the cruelest war ever. The selection of these particular countries for this document is a result of their involvement in WWII and the different regime. ^ The three pieces discussed were written in 1942, an important date when the first people were taken to the concentration camps, the Battle of Normandie occurred, and the Declaration by United Nations against the Axis was signed. Each composer was differently connected to his country’s regime. For example, Samuel Barber did not face critical difficulties in continuing his artistic work in democratic America but in the cases of Germany and the Soviet Union it is difficult to untangle composers’ immersion in totalitarianism. In Sergei Prokofiev’s case Stalin’s strict and militaristic governance often caused him or his family serious problems. Artists of the Soviet Union always were feared that the government would describe their work as “formalistic” and name them enemies of the regime. Hans Pfitzner, a fairly unknown German pianist and composer, was ideologically close to the Third Reich regime and took advantage of all the opportunities the regime gave him.^ Music served as a tool of propaganda, resistance, entertainment, or an expression of grief. The pieces analyzed in the document are Samuel Barber’s Excursions Op. 20, Sergei Prokofiev’s Seventh Piano Sonata Op. 83 and Hans Pfitzner’s Six Piano Etudes Op. 51. All three composers used musical characteristics of their country’s cultural tradition in order to support their homeland. For instance, in Barber’s and Prokofiev’s case rhythm becomes an essential vehicle of expression originating from the country’s folk music. Finally, Pfitzner used harmony and melodic material similar to 19th century German classical music.^

Subject Area

Performing arts

Recommended Citation

Kokkinopoulou, Dimitra, "The Impact of World War II on the Artistic Output of Germany, the Soviet Union, and the United States: A Study of Piano Works by Hans Pfitzner, Sergei Prokofiev, and Samuel Barber" (2017). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI10682585.
http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/dissertations/AAI10682585

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