International Relations, Music and Diplomacy, Sounds and Voices on the International Stage, edited by Frédéric Ramel and Cécile Prévost-Thomas. 2018

In: Diplomatica

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London: Palgrave Macmillan. Pp. v + 275. $137.51 Hardback. isbn: 9783319631622.

Music has been a component of communication in peace and war since ancient times. It may not have a straightforward bearing on international relations since it does not affect decision-making or leadership behavior. However, music is instrumental in setting the stage for unspoken communication, musicians and composers being unofficial representatives of a variety of polities be it city states, religious establishments, empires, or nation states. Aesthetics of sound may also transcend polities and become universal, implying refinement and a common denominator of civilized interaction. A common thread between diplomacy and music is that both may communicate what war as well as peace meant. Pyotr I. Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture depicts the victory over Napoleon Bonaparte; most of Fryderyk Chopin’s music speaks of Poland’s plight; and closer in time is Dmitri Shostakovich whose symphonies are explicit about the siege of Leningrad and resistance in the Second World War (Moynahan, 2013). Diplomacy may be defined as war without military weapons and a continuous negotiation eloquently expressed. Its counterpart, music not only writes history by sound. It also addresses emotions, capturing joy, sadness, adoration, beauty, gratitude, jealousy, peril and tragedy whether by polyphonic renditions or opera and ballet where prosody meets choreography. Diplomacy and music are both based on art and science; diplomacy as art is management of political culture and ideally calculates interests, strategy and tactics just like a skillful chess player. Music, on the other hand, is generally thought of only as art and culture, but underlying the texture are harmony of sound, tonality, notation and verse, all of which need wedding abstraction to sound, voice and movement by precise measures. Another dimension left in the background is design and production of musical instruments and its relation to IR as an industry (Gribenski, 173). Science of music may be unseen but is ever present just like the art and science of diplomacy.

International Relations, Music and Diplomacy, Sounds and Voices on the International Stage, brings together multi-faceted articles that analyze what the editors introduce as the “acoustic turn” in IR, based on the new interest in “international concerns in musicology, the aesthetic turn in international relations (IR) and the cultural turn in international history.” (Ramel and Prévost-Thomas, 2). The book is divided into four parts: Shaping the Musical Scene, Sounds and Voices as Objective of Diplomacy; Shaping the Diplomatic Scene, Sounds and Voices as Frameworks of Diplomacy; Bringing Music to the Fore of the Diplomatic Scene. Sounds and Voices as Objects of Diplomacy; and Musical. Nation Branding on International Scenes.

Articles in the first part of the book journey through history starting with 17th and 18th century Roman festa where ambassadors competed to have the most elaborate display in honor of their monarch. Visuals accompanied by music symbolized political and religious power to assert a monarch’s status (Berti, 23). In the 18th century music was accepted “as a diplomatic resource” when resident diplomats contributed to musical scenes as sponsors of private or public musical performances. Thus, among the professional duties of an ambassador was to be a “musical agent” (Ferraguto, 43). This trend continued into the 19th century with the addition of cultural exchanges. Even the modernizing Ottoman Empire which was grudgingly accepted to be “of” but not “from” Europe participated in this endeavor (Araci, 2005). Cultural diplomacy was not a priority between two world wars. By the end of the Second World War, it was taken over by the cia, fronted by the Congress for Cultural Freedom, directed by diplomats (Barthel-Calvet, 65).

The second part begins with the story of the viol which developed into violin and how this novelty was accepted as the “instrument of elite sociability” in tandem with modernizing diplomatic practice (Ahrendt, 94) as diplomacy and musical performances became more public. Diplomatic practice evolved after revolutionary upheavals, until it reached people-to-people diplomacy in our time along with music that became part of state visits on the international arena (Mahiet, 120). The last chapter is about the non-official diplomacy of two French bureaucrats who succeeded in establishing radio networks between north and central Africa and France during the decolonization period (Cornago, 141).

The first article of the third part investigates the standardization of pitch which was subject to international negotiations but nonetheless opened venues to have local music related to the global scene (Gribenski, 173). Second is an account of how the international artistic community and diplomats were involved in a campaign to free the Argentinian pianist Miguel Άngel Estrella incarcerated in Uruguay. This lasted from 1977 to 1980 until Estrella was freed (Buch and Fléchet, 193). Third is a discussion of the Eurovision song contest vis-à-vis authoritarian leaders (Vuletic, 213). Lastly, Pundziūté-Gallois explains how Russian music diplomacy in the Baltics causes concern. Part four is an analysis of the foregoing by Gienow-Hecht, who offers the concept “musical nation branding” to overcome the ambivalence between music, diplomacy and IR. I am not convinced, but it may be a start.

The American pianist Van Cliburn won the International Tchaikovsky contest in 1958 and became an idol for Soviet youth. However, the Cuban missile crisis followed soon after (Cliff, 2017). Later, whenever a Soviet leader visited the White House Cliburn was invited to perform. That is where IR and music met. Having concentrated on wwi in my studies, never was I so moved emotionally until I heard the Gallipoli Symphony written by Turkish, Australian and New Zealander composers. The music was accompanied by visuals and live vocals including a Mauri chorus. In the last scene where an Anzac and Turkish officer exchanged authentic trumpets to play farewell to the fallen, the effect was beyond any spoken word. Music, songs and movement spoke of an episode so militaristic yet so human. While the quest for linking music, diplomacy and IR must continue, this book is highly recommended to historians, diplomats and musicologists alike.

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