Classical music inspired by hatred
How hatred inspired some of our most famous composers and their music
Sometimes, hatred of a person or object can be almost as powerful as infatuation in serving as a muse.
Beckmesser, villain of Wagner’s opera Die Meistersinger, is a vicious caricature, sometimes thought to embody the composer’s anti-Semitic prejudices, or alternatively his hatred for the hostile critic Eduard Hanslick.
One early plan named the character Veit Hanslich. Perhaps fortunately, Wagner thought better of that.
Part of Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra lampoons Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7, quoting a phrase that itself is a quote from Lehár’s The Merry Widow, followed by woodwind giggles.
Bartók’s son Peter recalled listening with his father to the symphony’s US premiere on the radio: Bartók took exception to the repetitions in the grotesque march, and the banality of its theme.
It’s possible Bartók didn’t get Shostakovich’s Lehár reference – Lehár was Hitler’s favourite composer and that theme was Shostakovich’s own expression of hatred,representing the Nazis approaching Leningrad.
Shostakovich had to bury his loathing of the Soviet system deep within music disguised for state approval. His Symphony No. 11 ‘The Year 1905’ contains a horrifying musical depiction of a massacre, followed by a lament for the fallen and finally a resurgence.
The work’s title masked the fact that it was written soon after the USSR brutally crushed the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.
Prokofiev’s Piano Sonatas Nos 6, 7 and 8, meanwhile, were a musical response to the atmosphere, public and private, of the Second World War. The Seventh Sonata finishes with a wild toccata that incarnates – within a thrilling pianistic framework – motoric destruction and the sickening boom of falling bombs.
And for Gabriela Montero, the love for Venezuela expressed in this feature is almost synonymous with hatred towards those responsible for its fate.
‘Words are simply inadequate to express what I feel about the theft of my homeland by forces so dark that I can only describe them in music,’ she explains. ‘My musical creativity is a profoundly personal act of outrage, protest, dissent and resistance.’ Composed in 2011, her Ex Patria is ‘a crushing tone poem that brings the listenerminto a barbaric world of theft, decay and personal sorrow.’