Whatever may be said about the lack of centrality of serious music in twentieth-century culture, there can be no doubt that it has engaged the attention of the dictators for whom our epoch is so infamous. Though none of us can be sure of the precise connection between art and life, for totalitarian regimes that connection has been always absolute, and often bloody.

Nearest to us in this dismal record of the manipulation of art for the aggrandizement of illicit power is the China of Mao Tse-Tung, especially the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. Mao’s campaign against the arts was crafty in the extreme, for it was based on the suppression of the same artists who only slightly earlier, under the rubric of “Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom,” had followed the demands of their own aesthetic goals. While most Western attention was concentrated on the torture of writers, music, too, was given the...


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