Bombing the enemy with culture

Reports of Condoleezza Rice giving a piano recital on Friday (28 July) at the forum of the Association of South East Asian Nations (left) set me thinking about a couple of incidents in the past when the enemy was quite literally bombed with culture. I wrote here recently about the bizarre story of Hitler's court pianist, Ernst Hanfstaengl, who defected to the US in the Second World War. The US intelligence service arranged for Hanfstaengl to record a piano recital of Debussy and his own works interspersed with appeals for Hitler to sue for peace. CBS pressed thousands of copies of the recital as a single-sided phonograph record. These were then dropped by parachute over Germany addressed to the Nazi leaders, with instructions that the packages be delivered unopened to the addressees, read the full, and truly extraordinary story, here.

Somewhat better thought through was the dropping, by the RAF, of texts of Paul Eluard's famous poem Liberté over German occupied France. Eluard was born in Saint-Denis in 1895, and his works reflect the major events of the 20th century, including the World Wars, the French Resistance against the Nazis, and the political and social ideals of the 20th-century. In 1943 Francis Poulenc composed his choral work Figure Humaine to Paul Eluard's texts, including the poem Liberté.

By the miracle of the internet here is Paul Eluard himself reading Liberté. If you understand French listen to the words (this link gives the French text), if you don't just listen to the cadences of this most musical of all languages. Surely one minute of this poem is worth more than one week of vacuous posturings about Lebanon by today's world leaders? -

Now playing - Francis Poulenc's (right) Figure Humaine from the double CD of his choral works sung by The Sixteen directed by Harry Christophers. Absolutely essential listening, this set also includes Chanson Francaises to the texts of Paul Eluard, and other of Poulenc's choral works. This re-issue no longer seems to be in the catalogue, but the stunning July 2006 bargain re-issue of Poulenc's Dialogues des Carmélites performed by Kent Nagano and l'Opéra de Lyon is. For me the last act is right up there among the masterpieces of music theatre. This bargain is unmissable, buy it while you can. Dialogues des Carmélites is based on a real episode from the French revolution, in which the enclosed Carmelite nuns of Compiègne chose martyrdom rather than relinquish their faith and live in the world. Like Paul Luard's Liberté, a chilling reminder that great art never loses its relevance.

Audio file credit - Toute la TSF, an extraordinary audio archive that contains riches too numerous to describe. Image credit - Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to The music of Taizé


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