Again and again people turn to music in order to assist them make sense of traumatic life events. Music can help process emotions, interpret memories, and create a sense of collective identity. While the last decade has seen a surge in academic studies on trauma and loss in both the humanities and social sciences, how music engages suffering has been largely overlooked. This book seeks to explore music's relationships to trauma and grief by focusing upon the late 20th century in Eastern Europe. The 1970s and '80s witnessed a cultural preoccupation with the meanings of historical suffering, particularly surrounding the Second World War and the Stalinist era. Journalists, historians, writers, artists, and filmmakers repeatedly explored themes related to pain and memory, truth and history, morality and spirituality both during glasnost and the years prior. In the copious amount of scholarship devoted to cultural politics during this era, the activities of avant-garde composers stands largely silent.
Performing Pain considers how works by Alfred Schnittke, Galina Ustvolskaya, Arvo Pärt, and Henryk Górecki musically engage contemporary concerns regarding history and suffering through composition, performance, and reception. Drawing upon theories from psychology, sociology, literary and cultural studies, this book offers a set of hermeneutic essays that demonstrate the ways in which people employ music in order to make sense of historical traumas and losses. Seemingly postmodern compositional choices—such as quotation, fragmentation, and stasis—provide musical analogies to psychological and emotional responses to trauma and grief. The physical realities of embodied performance focus attention on the ethics of pain and representation while these works' inclusion as film music interprets contemporary debates regarding memory and trauma.