Music in Politics and Revolution

Music and politics seem a natural pair: most political events are accompanied by great bombast and fanfare, and have been for centuries. But the relationship can be much more complex than simply providing a soundtrack for political events. We will explore several angles in the examples that follow, from composers who had to code their meaning under threatening rulers (and who were so successful that we are still trying to understand their intentions) to musicians whose messages actually contributed to political change. Of course, music is also an important way to commemorate the events of our lives, and so there is much music whose purpose is the commemoration of great events or people, quite aside from any hidden personal convictions on the part of the composer. The possibilities are endless for this topic, but what follows are a few examples that show the range of interaction between music and politics.

Coded Meaning

Shostakovich and the Soviet Communist Party

Politics had a profound influence on the music of Dmitri Shostakovich, as it did on many other Soviet artists in the twentieth century. During Shostakovich's teenage years, the Russian Revolution of 1917 accomplished the overthrow of the tsar. Modern and experimental styles in all the arts were supported, as their revolutionary spirit seemed to match the politics of the time. But in 1922 a communist–ruled Soviet Union was established, and in 1924 Stalin's dictatorship came to power. In the name of suppressing "counter-revolutionaries" and "elitism" many people disappeared or were sent to the Siberian work camps. Stalin wanted to encourage art that supported the communist agenda, and he often chose extreme methods to ensure that his wishes were followed.

For most of Shostakovich's career, the prevailing aesthetic supported by the government was Socialist Realism. The definition of the style as given by communist party records is the "truthful and historically concrete representation of reality in its Revolutionary development." This definition was purposefully vague, but it was understood that art should be proletarian (of the working class), typical (of things in a working class person's life), realistic (not fantastical), and partisan (for the party and country). Overall, the style was meant to be an optimistic celebration of the People and their lives. This definition was somewhat elaborated for art and literature, and was explicit about excluding such painting styles as Impressionism, Cubism, and any number of less realistic styles. However, for music, the definition was much less precise. It was understood that modernist techniques such as serialism were not to be tolerated. Music with a clear melody and in a popular style was preferable. But beyond this, specifics were not expressed. Art that did not adhere to this prevailing aesthetic was labeled formalist, meaning it was conservative, academic, elitist, or with radical prominence of form. In actuality, it was the label the government used when the art or artist was felt to be contrary to the ideology of the state.

Such policies had encouraged Shostakovich to move away from any overtly modernist techniques like serialism. But he still experimented with other modernist techniques such as increased dissonance and innovative use of meter. His music had gained a large following in the Soviet Union, and even some international exposure. He was poised to become the twentieth century's next great opera composer, with his opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District (1934) opening in Moscow and Leningrad to great popular and critical success and continuing a two-year run.

However, 1934 was also the year that Stalin's purges began, known as the Great Terror. Many writers and artists were sent to the work camps, or simply disappeared. In 1936 Stalin attended a performance of Shostakovich's opera. The next day an article in Pravda, the official paper of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, called it "muddle instead of music." This was understood to be the opinion of the dictator, and spelled very bad news for Shostakovich. It was a warning to all those who had publicly praised the opera, and many of the artists Shostakovich had worked with were arrested. The opera, needless to say, was no longer performed. Shostakovich's adventurous 4th symphony, which was about to be premiered, was put away and not performed until 1961 (in a very different political climate). The details of the criticism were the usual ones: music not accessible to the people, melodies not lyrical, harmonies too dissonant, and certainly not heroic in tone.

Shostakovich's 5th symphony is commonly understood to be his attempt to be rehabilitated by the state and to avoid arrest. An article accompanying the premier in 1937 called it an "artist's response to just criticism." The article describes how the symphony is an expression of one man's experiences and suffering, and resolves the suffering in a joyous finale. Though it was signed by Shostakovich, it is impossible to know if he was the one who wrote the article, or even if he approved of its message. What it does show is that his rehabilitation was granted by the government.

In the past, many Westerners have looked on such events as clear instances of rebellion from within the Stalin dictatorship. It is anything but clear. There were no dissidents under Stalin: they simply disappeared. It would be incredibly dangerous to try to communicate anything overtly opposing the regime. Shostakovich was wise to resort to instrumental music, whose meaning could never be clearly pinned down. Indeed, this is what we should understand about the symphony; it is an example of calculated ambiguity. It was an immediate popular success, and its ambiguity may have contributed to this as well. One was not allowed to cry for the disappeared, or to hold funerals for people who supposedly have not died. So there is the sense that the symphony provided an outlet for grieving with its portrayal of a man and his suffering, and no one had to say what they might actually be weeping for. Shostakovich's continuing success throughout his life may have had something to do with the kind of catharsis he provided for his culture, a way to feel the things that were not said.

You can decide for yourself what you think Shostakovich's music means. It also provides us with an example of another important musical style in the early twentieth century: neoclassicism. After all the experimentation of the nineteenth century, several composers returned to the established forms of the Classical period as a way to simplify and reject the overly sentimental style of Romanticism. Thus neoclassical music often uses the traditional forms of the symphony or string quartet and infuses them with the new harmonic techniques and instrumentation of the twentieth century, all with a prevailing aesthetic preference for restraint and simplicity.

This style is especially apparent in the second movement of the symphony. This movement follows the form of a Classical period minuet and trio movement, a typical form to find in a middle movement. However, instead of the minuet, Shostakovich wrote a scherzo and trio ternary form, a slight riff on the Classical model, and a reference to Mahler's music. The scherzo itself is an alternation of phrases in march style with phrases in waltz style, juxtaposed jarringly and carried off with a rather ironic tone. The instrumentation is another modern innovation, as the melody begins in the low strings and then alternates between strings and winds. These playful combinations return in different ways in the second scherzo, the last part of the movement. Shostakovich also uses his harmonies in different ways, simply juxtaposing distant chords without the normal kind of preparation and resolution that might be expected for dissonances. And while the waltz sections are in a clear triple meter (as is the entire movement), the march sections often upset the meter with their duple feel. The Trio begins with the reduced instrumentation that traditionally marked such sections. But again, strange instrumentation rudely interrupts and the modern influence is asserted.

The entire symphony plays with the established norms for such a piece, in form, in harmony, and even in tone. Since Beethoven, the symphony had gained a trajectory from tragic to triumphant that had been little shaken. Listen for Shostakovich's modern touches with his harmony and instrumentation, and the odd flavor of his melodies in the second movement particularly. Then listen for the overall tone, and try to notice the ways this symphony continues the tradition and the ways in which it is new.

Shostakovich, Symphony No. 5 in D minor: IV. Allegro non troppo

William Byrd and the Protestant Reformation

Scholars have aptly noted the parallels that seem to exist between the ambiguous musical meaning in William Byrd's compositions in Elizabethan England and Shostakovich's under Stalin's dictatorship. During her reign, Elizabeth I established the Church of England (Anglican Church), which was in many respects a "middle way" that blended Catholic and Protestant practices. There were several aspects of Catholic worship and doctrine that were retained in the Anglican system, but since the Church of England conducted services in English (rather than Latin) and did not recognize the Pope as the ultimate authority in religious matters, it was considered part of the Protestant movement. The Church of England was designed as a compromise to ease tension and stop violence between the two religious factions, but it did not represent a shift towards religious tolerance. Despite similarities between Anglican and Catholic practices, it was illegal to be a practicing Catholic in England while Elizabeth was on the throne. As a composer and member of the Chapel Royal (where the queen herself would go to worship), William Byrd was expected to obey the prohibition and attend Anglican services. But Byrd was actually a Catholic whose family was fined several times for violating the prohibition on Catholic worship. We can find traces of this dual identity in much of Byrd's music, but like Shostakovich, Byrd's own intentions often remain ambiguous.

We will examine one instance of this with a song from Byrd's 1588 publication, Psalmes, Sonets & songs of sadnes and pietie. Byrd and his teacher, Thomas Tallis, held a printing monopoly for all music and music paper in England, a sign of royal favor. This 1588 collection of songs marked the first printing of music in thirteen years. In some ways it can be considered an act of loyalty to the queen and repentance for any connections Byrd may have had with certain prominent Catholics. In 1587 Mary Queen of Scots had been executed in connection with the Babington plot, one of many efforts to replace Queen Elizabeth with a Catholic monarch. Byrd had been placed under surveillance for his connections with some of the Catholic conspirators. Shortly after Mary's execution a funeral was held for the much beloved Protestant poet, Sir Philip Sidney. It seems that the elaborate funeral for this very loyal subject was intended to overshadow the memory of Mary's death with an event of great patriotism. Byrd's publication then, can be seen as both a recognition of Sidney's funeral and also an apology for any misbehavior on his own part.

However, several pieces in the collection may have also been significant for Byrd's Catholic connections and could be read as a sign of his continuing Catholic beliefs. For instance, "Why do I use?" sets part of a poem written in commemoration of Edmund Campion, a Jesuit martyr. Campion had traveled to England under the Pope's authority to support the Catholic cause there, and his death had only fueled their fire. To be caught with the poem written in his honor was often an offense worthy of arrest, or worse, as it was a sign of Catholic sympathizing. Even the lines that Byrd extrapolated from the poem would have been recognized by his contemporaries as part of the Campion poem. So what is such a poem doing in a collection intended to return Byrd to the queen's good graces, a collection dedicated to one of her favorites at court?

We can never be sure of Byrd's intentions, but it seems that the inclusion of this text could have pleased his Protestant audience as well as the Catholics, thus providing his own "middle way." For in a collection with so many references to Sidney, Protestants may have been happy to note how well the Catholic message was overshadowed by praise and fervor for the poet. And historical facts gave the Campion text a reason to be included as well, for Sidney and Campion had met in Europe and spent time discussing the issues of their day. Both men had left the encounter with a great respect for each other, despite their strongly differing views and loyalties.

The text of the song appears below. Whatever Byrd's intentions, the song's tone fits its funereal connection. The piece is considered a consort song, as it was intended for voice and a consort, or group of like instruments.

Byrd, "Why do I use my paper, ink, and pen?"

"Why do I use my paper, ink, and pen" (spelling regularized)
Why do I use my paper, ink, and pen,
And call my wits to counsel what to say,
Such memories were made for mortal men,
I speak of Saints, whose names cannot decay,
An Angels trump, were fitter for to sound,
Their glorious death, if such on earth were found.

That store of such were once on earth pursued,
The histories of ancient times record,
Whose constancy great tyrants rage subdued,
Through patient death professing Christ their Lord,
As his Apostles perfect witness bear,
With many more that blessed Martyrs were.

Whose patience rare and most courageous mind,
With fame renowned perpetual shall endure,
By whose examples we may rightly find,
Of holy life and death a pattern pure:
That we therefore their virtues may embrace,
Pray we to Christ to guide us with his grace.


Chaikovsky and the Tsar

Chaikovsky is one of the last composers that can be considered a court composer, given his close relationship with the imperial court of the Russian tsar. Not only was Chaikovsky still writing music in the genres that were an important part of court culture, such as ballet, he often wrote music for the tsar or commissioned by him. The piece now known as the 1812 Overture is an example of politics influencing the patronage of music. The Tsar Alexander I had ordered a church to be built in commemoration of the retreat of Napoleon's army from Russian soil in 1812. Upon the completion of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, a festival was to be held in honor of the occasion, and Chaikovsky was commissioned to write an overture for this grand opening. His festival overture portrays the advancing French armies by referencing their national anthem, La Marseillaise, a signal his contemporaries would have recognized. Similarly, the Russians are represented by their national anthem, God Save the Tsar. The overture is programmatic in the way it tells the story of the invasion and ensuing battles through musical cues. The initial announcement of war through the church, the early triumph of Napoleon, the numbing winter winds of Russia, the fleeing peasants, and the final triumph of the Russian army can all be heard in sound. The piece concludes with an impressive blasting of canons coordinated with the music in a final assertion of victory and ringing of bells.

You may already be familiar with this piece, as it is often used in American Independence Day celebrations, despite its original associations with Russian national pride.

Claude-Joseph Rouget de Lisle, "La Marseillaise" (National Anthem of France)

Chaikovsky, 1812 Overture


Fauré and the Requiem Mass

Fauré's life straddled a period of rapid artistic change in many of the arts as well as music. His style is representative of an aesthetic preference for order, restraint, and subtlety that had long prevailed in France. While grandiose emotional expression became the hallmark of the German Romantic style and those who followed it, there were those like Fauré who instead created lyrical and refined compositions. Fauré was considered an important composer in his own day, and was in the enviable position of having created music that remained vital throughout his life, despite the stylistic changes occurring around him. Even with the evolving nature of his own style, it was always considered to be the utterance of his own unique voice.

His most significant contributions were largely in the genres of song and chamber music. These intimate genres were the ideal outlet for his long lyrical melodic lines and harmonic adventurousness within a spare setting. Unlike the prevailing tendency to create tension with chromatic alterations that would then require release, Fauré's harmonies use chromatic alterations and added notes to accomplish a kind of stasis, or atmospheric rest. The kinds of techniques he used are difficult to describe without resorting to some rather advanced theoretical analysis, but the effect should be easily enough perceived in the examples below. Moreover, Fauré's experimentation with such harmonic devices and scales like the whole-tone scale were very influential for those who followed him.

At this point you may be wondering how Fauré's Requiem fits into the current topic. What is revolutionary about a composer who was employed as a choirmaster and organist at various churches for more than forty years choosing to compose a requiem? A requiem is, after all, the Roman Catholic Mass for the Dead, whose opening words (Requiem aeternam) supply its name. We would expect his requiem to look like most musical settings of the Latin text. But instead, Fauré's seven movements differ from the norm in a few revealing ways. His Requiem omits the Dies irae and Benedictus, and adds the Pie Jesu, Libera me, and In paradisum. Admittedly, some of these choices are not so extraordinary. Pie Jesu could substitute for the Benedictus in liturgical function. And the Libera me could follow the mass, as could the In paradisum which accompanied the coffin to its burial outside the church setting, so these two sections seem to have been simply subsumed into the requiem service in Fauré's version. But the Dies irae had formed a significant part of the Requiem Mass since Mozart's impressive example, and indeed Fauré may be the only composer in the nineteenth century to have left it out of a Latin Requiem Mass. Additionally, this movement with its fire and brimstone, its talk of judgment and sin, was usually responsible for some of the most inspired musical writing in a requiem.

Mozart, Requiem in D minor: Sequence No. 1, Dies irae

Which brings us to the point. Fauré lived during a period of questioning in France, a period of social challenges to organized religion. In the decades after his composition of the Requiem (1887-1893), Fauré would be employed at the state run national conservatory, and perhaps felt a greater freedom to express his religious doubts. But at the time of the composition of the Requiem, we can already see that some of his musical choices reveal a re-imagined version of faith. This corresponds with a revolution of ideas about faith in which members of the populace began to reject the institution of religion, but not its concerns. That is, debate still centered on the pursuit of morality and contemplation of the eternal, but without the faith and authority of an established church.

With this context in mind, it is possible to see Fauré's requiem as a revolution in the way religion is conceived of; finding meaning on a personal level without explicitly denying the idea of faith. First, the whole piece both begins and ends with the word requiem, or rest. It is normal for this to be the first word, but very unusual for it to be the last. This textual freedom is a feature of the entire piece, as Fauré frequently rearranges, repeats, or leaves out words and phrases. The choices he makes with text are very revealing about the message the piece is meant to communicate. It is significant that the piece is framed by the word "requiem," and certainly the music as a whole can be characterized by that word. Moreover, where the word "requiem" is used, which is in most movements in Fauré's setting, it is clearly audible. Listen for it in the excerpts below.

Textual reference is important in the middle movement as well, the Pie Jesu. For as scholars have pointed out, the words "Pie Jesu" are contained in the only line of the Dies irae that speaks of peace and rest, the last line. So even though Fauré has left out the terrifying Dies irae, he has included a movement that might remind his religiously educated listeners of that missing Dies irae, and consequently brings its absence to their attention. And he does this with the movement that forms the center of his work. Thus, the Pie Jesu reminds the listener of the absence of text about the day of wrath, and then instead presents a musical setting full of peace. This movement is set simply with only a soprano soloist accompanied by the orchestra.

In short, Fauré's religious concept is one imbued with compassion, music for consoling at a time of death. The music itself has a lightness and beauty that perfectly equate with "eternal rest," and communicates spirituality that is free from the horrors of judgment. This tone is also evident in the last movement, the In paradisum. Fauré seems to be giving us his own view of the kingdom of heaven here, with the emphasis on peace and rest again.

Despite its deviation from the norm, Fauré's Requiem was well received in his day. The piece has remained in use as both a functioning liturgical work and a concert piece, and has also been used in many movie and TV soundtracks. Listen to the Pie Jesu and the final movement, In paradisum, and see what kind of scene you think Fauré is painting. The setting in the recordings below is of the smaller chamber orchestra accompaniment with choir, as Fauré originally composed the work. He later revised it for a larger orchestral force with choir.

Fauré, Requiem, Op. 48: Pie Jesu

Pie Jesu
Latin English Translation
Pie Jesu Domine,
dona eis requiem,
requiem sempiternam.
Merciful Lord Jesus,
grant them rest,
eternal rest.

Fauré, Requiem, Op. 48: In paradisum

In Paradisum
Latin English Translation
In Paradisum deducant te Angeli;
in tuo adventu
suscipiant te martyres,
et perducant te
in civitatem sanctam Jerusalem,
Chorus Angelorum te suscipiat,
et cum Lazaro quondam paupere
aeternam habeas requieum.
May angels lead you into Paradise.
At your coming
may martyrs receive you,
and may they lead you
into the Holy City, Jerusalem.
May the chorus of angels receive you,
and with Lazarus, who once was a pauper,
may you have eternal rest.

Beethoven and Napoleon

Beethoven himself is often considered a revolutionary figure in the history of music. He has long been painted as the pivot point between the styles of the Classical period and the Romantics. We can certainly find in his works the innovative attitude that the Romantic generation lauded him for. And he was one of the first composers to be zealously promoted as the genius artist whose works embodied the Romantic ideal of the Sublime.

Prise de la Bastille clean.jpg
Prise de la Bastille by Jean-Pierre Houël

However, we are going to examine here one of Beethoven's works that can be more concretely associated with politics and revolutions. During Beethoven's life, Enlightenment values of social reform, universal education, and the inalienable rights of man had become watchwords. These radical new ideals had informed the principles behind the United States' Declaration of Independence and Constitution. And in 1789 they had finally erupted in the French Revolution with the Storming of the Bastille. Citizens sought to overthrow complacent monarchies and their supporting nobility and religious hierarchies in favor of representative government and a system that might reward talent rather than circumstances of birth. These kinds of battles were not won overnight, but you will recognize that the ideals behind them are very much a part of our society today.

Beethoven also supported these ideals, and so when he wrote his third symphony in 1803, he had originally intended to title it Sinfonia Bonaparte. By so doing, it would show his admiration for Napoleon Bonaparte's rise from common origins to his place as the defender of republican values in France during its first days as a republic. However, scholars believe that after Bonaparte declared himself emperor, Beethoven angrily scratched out the title and replaced it with Sinfonia Eroica. There is some evidence to suggest that Beethoven continued to admire Napoleon, and still intended to dedicate the piece to him for some years after. Yet, with rising political tensions between the Holy Roman Empire (Beethoven's home) and the ambitious Napoleon, it would have been unwise for Beethoven to appear to support Napoleon. Not only would it have been bad publicity in Vienna at the time, but it also could have caused outrage among Beethoven's patrons, many of whom were loyal supporters of the Holy Roman Emperor. Additionally, as these patrons were members of the nobility, Napoleon's overthrow of the monarchy in France represented a threat to their position. In the end, Beethoven dedicated his third symphony to Prince Lobkowitz, a loyal patron, and inscribed it simply "to celebrate the memory of a great man."

The piece is thought to portray the inner turmoil of a heroic figure in the experience of battle and its aftermath. Even though the piece may have been inspired by Napoleon, Beethoven could have had other heroic figures in mind as well. Indeed, scholars have suggested that the piece closely follows a type of narrative about Homer's Achilles that would have been known in Beethoven's day. Regardless, the third symphony is often referred to as the beginning of the heroic sound in Beethoven's compositions. His adherence to a set formal plan, four movements in the expected forms of sonata-slow-scherzo-finale, interferes little with the perception of the piece as the internal narrative of a heroic figure.

We will focus on just the first two movements. As previously stated, the first movement is in sonata form, the typical choice for symphonic first movements. The first theme is presented in the cellos though, a slightly unusual choice. Notice how the opening bars of the theme sound triumphant, even fanfare-like. But the final notes of the theme drop off with a chromatic fall that communicates the sense that something is not right. This musical intricacy does not get resolved until the truly triumphant final movement of the symphony, creating an arch not unlike a story. Notice throughout the movement Beethoven's use of the winds and strings in dialogue, and the frequent syncopated rhythms he incorporates. His characteristic dynamic contrasts are fairly simple to observe, but try also to notice how certain motives, or small musical units, keep recurring throughout the movement. Beethoven's music is often saturated with these motives, though some will be easier to hear than others.

Beethoven, Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, Op. 55, "Eroica": I. Allegro con brio

Beethoven, Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, Op. 55, "Eroica": I. Allegro con brio, first theme

The second movement provides a stark contrast to the first, both in tempo and mood. This slow movement is a march, often described as a funeral procession. It is in ternary form, beginning with the opening march whose themes are played by the violins and oboes in minor key. This is interrupted by the Trio (at 3:50); a contrasting section in major key with the flavor of a revolutionary hymn. The somber march material returns (at 5:51) with its minor key themes. However, the themes are continually interrupted by other material, first tense, then angry, as if the heroic figure's emotions are surfacing while he witnesses the procession. To continue the illusion of a passing procession, the piece ends by fading into the distance.

Beethoven, Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, Op. 55, "Eroica": II. Marcia funebre: Adagio assai

Beethoven, Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, Op. 55, "Eroica": II. Marcia funebre: Adagio, first theme

Social Revolution


It is almost impossible to be a member of American culture and remain unaware of the 1969 Woodstock music festival. Many of the musicians that participated in the festival have since become legendary and influential figures. The renown the festival earned for its muddy fields, its excess of drugs, and the general ethos of peace and free love either inspires nostalgia or distaste. In the minds of many people, it almost goes without say that Woodstock is associated with revolution.

However, the particular moment that Woodstock represents is more substantial than that. Music festivals were beginning to become more popular, and were offering a venue to hear styles of music that were not being played on the radio. The Newport Folk Festival and the Monterey Pop Festival were two of the most important of these, and were significant predecessors to Woodstock. What made Woodstock especially noteworthy was that it brought a kind of socially conscious music to the attention of an entire nation. The kinds of issues that the musicians were addressing were not the kinds of things that politicians wanted to talk about. But when the media began covering the festival as a unique event, suddenly these issues were gaining exposure in a national arena. Issues such as racial equality, pacifist opposition to the Vietnam War, and gender equality not only had a voice, but also an audience.

As a voice for such issues, Bob Dylan gained a following early on in the realm of folk music, the genre that typically dealt with social and political issues. His lyrics were poetically gifted, and his interest in beatnik writings combined with a unique vocal character made his music exceptional. The song below is an example of the kind of politically charged lyrics that many musicians of the era were singing. Dylan made an additional revolutionary step in his sound when he played at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival on an electric guitar instead of an acoustic guitar. Moving socially conscious music into this new sound realm met with opposition at first from folk fans, as electrified sounds were associated with the meaningless songs of rock 'n' roll that were heard on the radio; music that the masses happily listened to but that had little to do with political messages. His choice was influential though ultimately, and its effects are evident in the musical acts that appeared at Woodstock four years later. Listen to the song below, noting the elements that make his sound distinct and how his lyrics related to the politics of the time.

Bob Dylan, "Masters of War"

"Masters of War" (1963)
Come you masters of war
You that build the big guns
You that build the death planes
You that build all the bombs
You that hide behind walls
You that hide behind desks
I just want you to know
I can see through your masks

You that never done nothin'
But build to destroy
You play with my world
Like it's your little toy
You put a gun in my hand
And you hide from my eyes
And you turn and run farther
When the fast bullets fly

Like Judas of old
You lie and deceive
A world war can be won
You want me to believe
But I see through your eyes
And I see through your brain
Like I see through the water
That runs down my drain

You fasten the triggers
For the others to fire
Then you set back and watch
When the death count gets higher
You hide in your mansion
As young people's blood
Flows out of their bodies
And is buried in the mud

You've thrown the worst fear
That can ever be hurled
Fear to bring children
Into the world
For threatening my baby
Unborn and unnamed
You ain't worth the blood
That runs in your veins

How much do I know
To talk out of turn
You might say that I'm young
You might say I'm unlearned
But there's one thing I know
Though I'm younger than you
Even Jesus would never
Forgive what you do

Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul

And I hope that you die
And your death'll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I'll watch while you're lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I'll stand o'er your grave
'Til I'm sure that you're dead

Woodstock was about like-minded people joining together in a place where they could be free to express their anti-establishment views and imagine a new kind of lifestyle. Dylan had begun to show how a person could write meaningful music about the world around them and it could sound, in the words of a contemporary, "extraordinary." Jimi Hendrix pushed the boundaries even further, showing that such music could sound any way you wanted. Hendrix had gone to England because of the lack of opportunities for black musicians in America and to find an audience that appreciated his unique guitar technique. When he returned and played at the Monterey Pop Festival, his reception had improved greatly. The excerpt below shows his revolutionary guitar-playing style, one that became extremely influential for those that followed. It also shows the revolutionary nature of much of the musical content at Woodstock. In this case, it is a very personal display of patriotism in a pacifist context, thus showing that one can disagree with the policies of one's government and still remain a patriotic citizen, a message that his audience would have understood. While Hendrix's rendition of the national anthem may be understood as a patriotic gesture, it has also been criticized as a desecration of a national symbol. Listen and decide for yourself:

Jimi Hendrix performing the American National Anthem

"Music is nothing else but wild sounds civilized into time and tune." - Thomas Fuller

"After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music." - Aldous Huxley

"Music in the soul can be heard by the universe." - Lao Tzu

"Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy." - Ludwig van Beethoven

"Music is the movement of sound to reach the soul for the education of its virtue." - Plato

"Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent." - Victor Hugo

"Music is nothing else but wild sounds civilized into time and tune." - Thomas Fuller

Copyright © Sienna M. Wood, 2015-2022