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  • Scott M Williamson

Creativity during Crisis: 1918-1920 (Part I)

Updated: Sep 8

Like me, do you find yourself interested in how creatives responded to the global pandemic 100 years ago during the Spanish Flu of 1918-1920? Below are some ideas or intersections I've been working on, am teaching this year, and/or will be developing, so please stay tuned for more updates...


I'll be writing/posting more about Beethoven in 2020, as I prepare for a virtual / live-streaming solo show from WLU NOV 7: Immortal Eternal Feminine Distant Beloved...


Creativity during Crisis: 1918-1920 (I)

Coming in the huge wake of the first World War, 100 years ago saw the dawn of one of the most creative and notably productive decades in modern histories.

The "Jazz Age" emerges, seemingly like Athena, Anansi or Eshu, appearing fully-formed... but in reality and as we might expect, more complex and messy, rarely dull, and so worth the time...


The "Jazz Age" manifests across the US, London, Paris, continental Europe and world capitals from North Africa to Japan, while the "Roaring 20's" gilded the age, and helped create the largest income gap in the modern world before the present day (according to BBC Music Magazine, June, 2020).


Tricksters and African myths are current topics this season, along with Prometheus & Pandora, vz. Beethoven... (Above: A slide from an "International Abolition of Slavery Day" presentation, Dec. 2019, 30 years after the communist revolutions of 1989...)


The "Harlem Renaissance" in NYC and the "Weimar Republic" of Germany's vibrant cultural-populist "avant-garde" cabaret, theatre, film and art "new objectivity." This "anything goes" open-minded, experimental arts scene epitomizes a decade that was impressively creative, diverse in expression and voice, pushing boundaries like the forward-thinking, avant-garde artist knows how to do...


(Left: A gift-piece of the Berlin Wall, at the Museum of the 1989 Revolution, Timisoara, Romania.)


Timisoara is the city where I had the privilege of living for half of last season, before COVID canceled the Fulbright program in mid-March and sent non-essential intellectuals home...


Playing a communist dictator like Nicolae Ceuasescu was unlike any role preparation I've ever done. And the layers of meaning are still resonating, long after the final curtain in Dec. 2019...


Many seeds of mid-20th c. fascism and "Cold War" era totalitarian-dictatorship were watered and tended 100 years ago, following the controversial Versailles treaty and the turbulent, economy-crashing inter-war period...


What parallels exist between, say Germany's economic crisis c. 100 years ago, what we know now, and where we are? What can our histories yet teach us?


Romanian composer, George Enescu, 1881-1955. Virtuoso violinist and world-renowned teacher of Yehudi Menuhin and Ida Haendel, he was an early European champion of gamelan music and colleague of the young Ravi Shankar. Reaching his prime 100 years ago, he was a visionary polymath whose career in the US started roaring in the 1920's. He had great success as a performer and recording artist across the 1920's, and was considered in 1936 by the NY Phil. as a successor for Toscanini...


So much possibility...



One of the intersections I'm working on is Beethoven in 2020. Julia Wolfe wrote "Fire in my mouth" to immediate and wide-ranging acclaim last year. Check it out. She and her bang-on-a-can co-founder, David Lang regularly contribute timely and substantive works where history intersects with the present, where historical stories are re-voiced through some of today's brilliant creative filters...


I instantly loved Lang's updated and pared-down version of the Fidelio libretto. Prisoner of the State is NOT your grandmother's "Rescue Opera" tyvm... I was so intrigued by the BBC broadcast of it as part of Radio 3's yearlong celebration of Beethoven's 250th anniversary. For me, I'll keep looking for those "off the beaten path" or "road less traveled" intersections like Lang's and others...


Stay tuned for more "unspooling threads" through these cultural-historic labyrinths of creativity...


Prisoner of the State resonates with one of my 2020 themes for looking at familiar content with new lenses: Beethoven and his many current intersections, from health, suicide prevention and medicine to early 19th c. free-lance artists, Beethoven will survive any misguided attempts to appropriate or ignore his influence...


#RevisedMusicHistoryCurricula and other IDEAs (Inclusion, Equity, Diversity, Access).

21st c. leadership requires diversity, equity and inclusion for "best thinking" to freely ideate and envision, and for "best practices" to progress and evolve for the success of the team, the group, the community, the common good and for the Commonwealth itself...


(Beethoven Bust in the Museum of Modern Art, Strasbourg, France, Author iPhone photo, Dec. 2019)

(Max Klinger's famous Beethoven statue in Leipzig: fin-de-siecle, decadent-expressionist "monument," prototypical of the German-nationalist/Aryan-hero "myth-making" at work. Klinger (1857-1920) and his Secessionist aesthetics would be co-opted by the neo-classical-loving, German-mythic-hero- appropriating Nazis.)


(Bartok statue in "Hero's Park" in Timisoara, Romania. Bartok was ill in the Hungarian-Romanian countryside in 1918 with the Spanish flu. Many of his most popular and enduring works came after...)

How about Danish eccentric Rued Langgaard (1893-1952), author of the dystopian, occult-title-sounding triptych of visionary works: Music of the Spheres (1916-18), End Times (1923) and From the Abyss (1950)?


Like so much interesting content outside the SOB ("Symphony-Opera-Ballet" = classical-music-industry) traditional "box", Langgaard's "celestial" sound world was striking when I first heard a now-famous BBC Proms broadcast. Hearing it again was a welcome, atmospheric reminder of a brilliantly curated program of music, much of itself a product of global crisis and renewed creativity from the 20th century...


It's been a summer of self-isolation to regroup, reset, and prepare to launch another season as free-lance artists: In my case, performing, teaching, consulting & coaching; co-producing, curating & helping make opportunities for creatives wherever we can intersect... check out my latest project here

where my business partner breaks down our "Musician Leadership Intensive" program for you...


What themes resonate with you in this new season? What lessons from 100 years ago interest you? Let me know: I'd love to hear from you (drop me a message or send a note)...


(Beauford Delaney: Portrait of Marian Anderson, VMFA, Richmond.)


P.S. Check out my new program link here, and let me know if you'd like to schedule a chat and talk about working together on your next "big" project, organization or idea.

The Musician Leadership Intensive may be just the thing!

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