Gibbs to discuss political contexts of classical selections



About 20 years ago, lifelong Chautauquan Christopher Gibbs wrote a review for The Chautauquan Daily on German composer Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana.

“Although the presentation was wonderful and a great time, I questioned the background of the work,” Gibbs said. “It was written in Nazi Germany and embraced by Hitler in the Nazi era. It is an instance of something that is now a very popular piece of music, and people do not make any political connections to it.”

Fast-forward to present day, and Gibbs, the James H. Ottaway Professor of music at Bard College, is opening Week Five’s theme, “Art & Politics,” with a lecture on music and politics at 10:45 a.m. today in the Amphitheater.

Following the inter-arts performance of Carmina Burana Saturday, Gibbs plans to shed light on the political history of famous music compositions.

“With classical music, we listen to be inspired, entertained and amused without thinking there is a context for all of these pieces,” he said.

His basic points are to highlight famous pieces he first heard in the Amphitheater and Norton Hall during his summers at Chautauqua Institution.

“I will speak on Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner and some 20th-century composers around the time of World War II,” Gibbs said.

During the American and French Revolution, Mozart wrote pieces with a political element, Gibbs said. Many of his well-loved operas reflect his political hope for fraternity, liberty and freedom.

“I hope to have a conversation about not listening to classical music in a vacuum and just saying that it’s very beautiful, moving or inspiring,” he said.

Gibbs is a New York City native and has an extensive history at Chautauqua Institution. He attended the Boys’ and Girls’ Club, which he left to become a photographer for the Daily.

Throughout his career, he has worked with the Philadelphia Orchestra for 15 seasons and has given pre-concert lectures at the New York Philharmonic, Cleveland Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic and Carnegie Hall.