Alan Bush, the Byron Symphony and the German Democratic Republic: A Cold War musical collaboration

Julie Waters

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


British composer Alan Bush (1900-1995) was a committed Marxist and member of the British Communist Party. In 1958 Radio DDR, an organ of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), commissioned Bush to compose the Byron Symphony. At this time Britain had no diplomatic relations withthe GDR. Bush was given generous terms and a relatively free hand to create an ambitious large-scale work with a choral finale. Consistent with his Marxist convictions, he presented Lord Byron as a politically 'progressive' hero on the national and international stage. The symphony received its Leipzig premiere in 1962, a year of heightened Cold War tension. How did this musical collaboration between British composer and communist state come about, and what did each party gain from it? To what extent was the commission politically driven? My article addresses these issues in the context of Bush's association with important musical figures in the GDR, his Marxist beliefs, and the GDR's desire to establish legitimacy post-partition and build cultural bridges with Britain, in part by celebrating and reconstructing iconic English figures.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)201-211
Number of pages11
JournalMusicology Australia
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2011

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