Musicians as Public Intellectuals

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract

15 Downloads (Pure)


In Ronald Harwood’s play “Taking Sides” music appears as a “pure”, separate world, protecting those involved in it of any contamination by common life. The German conductor Furtwaengler is presented as the type of artist only concerned with this “pure” world, in a sense then also shared by his French colleague and composer Milhaud: “Musicians have no ideal other than music” (1935). Accordingly, musicians would be the opposite of “public intellectuals”. However, it is not so. There are numerous examples that invalidate such idea: just think of Verdi and Wagner, two of the biggest names in European music whose bicentenary is celebrated this year. They were both really “public intellectuals”, not only because of their active participation in political life, but also because of the social, political, and ideological repercussion of their own music. This is just my point: To what extent may the medium of music, as such, participate in the intellectual debate? To what extent is music in itself able to “take sides”? To what extent has music the power to say, to silence, to persuade, to argue, in short, to be active in the ideological, political, social conflicts? I will approach these issues, starting from the case study of two Communist composers living in the Western world: one, in Portugal, resisting a dictatorship of fascist type (Lopes-Graça, 1906-1994); the other, in Italy, under the conditions of a liberal democracy (Luigi Nono, 1924-1990). Some short music examples may contribute to stimulate the discussion.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages2
Publication statusPublished - 2013
EventEuropean Conference on Public Intellectuals - Luso-­American Foundation, Lisboa, Portugal
Duration: 24 Oct 201327 Oct 2013


ConferenceEuropean Conference on Public Intellectuals


  • Música
  • Sociologia
  • Público


Dive into the research topics of 'Musicians as Public Intellectuals'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this