The violence in music debate rages on across the mass media of America. Television, magazines, newspapers, and of course the radio blast the commercial marketing of popular music with one wavelength, while simultaneously reprimanding the creators and listeners of this music for their negativity. It is a violent world that we live in, and this violence is reflected in the art that we create. Some people argue that the world today is significantly more violent now than it was in decades and centuries past. It is also said that the violence in our art may in fact be the root cause of the violence in our society. Both popular and alternative music is filled with lyrics about violent events, and the music itself, according to some people, causes violent reactions in the brains of certain people. However, history has shown that it has always been a violent world, and that while the face of violence and the means by which that violence becomes part of the lives of different people changes and evolves with each generation, the core essence of violence does remain. This violence, which would be considered by some people to be the fatal flaw of the human race itself, is difficult to face, for it is a reflection of our own weaknesses. It is much easier to find a scapegoat, someone or something that can take the blame on the behalf of the greater Human Race, than to come to terms with this unavoidable aspect of the self. It is commonly said that today's popular music is ever so violent, and this is treated like a new event. Popular music may in fact be violent, but is it possible to say if a violent society is inspiring commentary through music, or if violent music is inspiring a society to fall? Music historians will argue that while both are somewhat true, the violent nature of music is not new, and has served an important role in the development of our culture . Perhaps violence in music is the healthy outlet for our collective Jungian Shadow, or perhaps violence in music is a means by which to study this flaw so that it can be overcome. The violence and some music is accused of inciting may also be a constructive reaction to assist in the evolution of mankind somehow, or it may be simply a natural reaction to the anti-self that is revealed through musical Shadow-play. It might simply be easier to blame violence on art and music than to blame it on people. The history of the connection between music and violence is a long and fascinating one, but even a glimpse at a few well-known examples of music violence can reveal a significant amount of truth about ourselves as humans.
There was a recorded link between music and violence even in ancient times of humanity. In Greek mythology, for example, music is often used as a weapon. One such embodiment of music violence would be the Sirens, monstrous creatures that appeared in the form of beautiful singers. Sirens would use their music to lure sailors to their deaths, for they would lean in close to listen to the hypnotic voices and then be pulled under the water to drown. "Approaching sailors were drawn to them by their enchanting singing, causing them to sail on the cliffs and drown." (Hardy) Perhaps this was one of the earliest times it was believed that music would lead to violence. There are other examples in Greek mythology as well. Orpheus was one of the greatest musicians in Greek mythology. Orpheus wrote music, sang, and played the harp, and he was known throughout the lands as the most brilliant musician there was. Orpheus used his music to pay his way through the Underworld to find the should of his dead mate, Eurydice. However, when Orpheus began to play the music of Apollo instead of the music of Dionysus, and he refused to play for the Maenads (companions of Dionysus) when they requested him to, it provoked a violent riot the kinds of which have not been rivaled by modern rock concert riots. The Maenads tore Orpheus to shreds and threw his dismembered and mutilated body into the river, all because they didn't like his music. There are other examples of music violence in Greek Mythology, as well as examples throughout other ancient myths.
Much of history has been a constant battle between civilization and barbarianism, and music has been used to define that fine line. Music continued to provoke violence in wartime throughout many cultures, and even to lead soldiers directly into battle. An example of this is the history of fife and drum, both of which are instruments from prehistoric times and have a long military history. In the 15th century the Swiss, who were famous for their military excellence, developed the modern use of fife and drum as military music because of their needs for extended marches. This tradition spread throughout Europe to the Germanic Principalities, to the French, and to the English, which lead to the tradition being brought to America. In the military pattern, there would be one or two fifers and one or two drummers for ever 100 soldiers, and they would provide music for the army while marching, as well as sending musical signals during camp life and in battle. "Musical signals... were used to position the troops onto and off of the battlefield. Signals were given to make varying formations, turn in various ways, halt, march, extend and retract lines. An army on the march could be stretched-out or compacted by playing the appropriate music." (Kentish Guards) The fife and drum is strongly associated with the bloody Revolutionary War and even bloodier Civil War in America. After the Civil War, the bugle was introduced and preferred in the American military. Music has a long history of being used to communicate and direct soldiers in battle, even giving the direct signal to kill the enemy.
Music has also been used to represent the violence of war in the form of battle music. "The spectacle and political importance of war have made it a popular subject of music for the purposes of simple entertainment or the expression of deep sentiments. Long before recorded history, past combat has been celebrated or lamented in song." (Sumeda) Throughout native cultures, war music has been used for ages, but the European battle music tradition began in 15th century Italy. A famous Renaissance battle piece was La Bataille de Marignan by Clement Janequin, which used trumpets and drums to represent the gruesome battle between the Imperial and French armies in 1515. From the Baroque era of music, von Biber composed his Battalia which utilized musical elements such as dissonance and strange instrument modifications to mimic the sounds of battle and the cries of wounded soldiers. Beubauer is famous for his piece in the 18th century which reenacted the victory of the Russo-Austrian army over the Turks in 1789 using complex orchestration. Beethoven, of course, is well-known for his Wellington's Victory, which used cannons and muskets as part of the large orchestra. This technique was used again by Tchaikovsky in the 19th century in one of the most famous western battle music pieces, the 1812 Overture. Throughout the 20th century, battle music was used to score movies and television shows depicting war.
Popular music, of course, has not only used wartime or battles as the stage for violence. Opera is known for being extremely bloody and violent, although the mass media today seems to easily gloss over this fact. Other classical music has not only portrayed violence, but also provoked it. A famous example of real-life riots are those that took place at the opening of Stravinksy's "The Rite of Spring" (also known as "Spring the Sacred: Pictures from Pagan Russia"). This is a ballet premiered in May of 1913 in Paris. The work provoked outrage among some audience members and the violence escalated quickly. "This eventually degenerated into a ...riot, which has made it one of the most notorious premieres in music history." (Antandrus) What precisely caused the rioting? Some believe it was the violent and brutal style of music which was unexpected by the audience that was used to very placid ballet scores. Others suggest that it was the subject matter of the ballet which infected the crowd, namely the pagan sacrifice. Though some conspiracy theorists believe that an enemy of the composer planted someone in the crowd to start the rioting in hopes of making the premier a complete disaster.
In Nazi Germany, music was believed to have great potential to harm or help the public. The American jazz style of Swing was completely outlawed. Yet youth of the day continued listening to it in underground clubs and secret locations. Swing Kids, as these rebellious youth were known, were open about their sexuality and protested the strict regimentation of Nazi social values. Like the concerned parents of America…