Taking sides

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When one of my friends says ‘I saw this and thought of you’, you can bet it’s not a kiss-me-quick hat or Behind the scenes at The Apprentice. ‘It’s a play about music and nazis!’ was what Chris said when he announced he was taking me out for a birthday treat, and oh boy, was it right up my street.  Taking Sides is Ronald Harwood’s exploration of the moral, social, political and philosophical questions surrounding music and power, seen through the lens of the interrogation of the conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler by an American officer in Berlin after the war.

For as long as I’ve disliked Wagner and Wagnerites, and especially since I read Fred K Priebke’s Musik und Macht I’ve had countless arguments about this subject, partcularly with people who claim music is pure, beyond politics, and independent of the person or context that gave rise to it. And yet, just when you think you’ve banged the last logical nail in the argument, up comes a piece of music that you want to dislike, and it just hits you straight in the gut nevertheless. Or vice versa – knowing the context of a piece that you’ve liked all your life has the power to change your view instantly.  Taking Sides dealt with the complexity of this enormous subject brilliantly.

The subject won’t go away, either. Only last year, Gary Glitter’s music was removed from a GCSE paper. While not condoning child abuse, I do wonder why Gary Glitter’s music doesn’t transcend his personal life, whereas the music of other composers with known tendencies to anti-semitism or pederasty isn’t given the same treatment. It is well documented that those panels depicting the stations of the cross at Westminster Cathedral were created by a sculptor who abused his own daughters, yet they’re still there.  Discuss…

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