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Timeline is a journey into the events, characters and concepts that shaped our Western musical tradition. Hosted by VPR Classical's James Stewart.

If you'd like to go deeper, please see our suggested reading list.

Timeline is made possible, in part, by a grant from the Ida and William Rosenthal Foundation.

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George Walker successfully balanced three careers, one as a world-renowned pianist, one as a sought after professor and another as a prolific composer.
Barbara Steinberg / CC-BY-SA

June 17th 1997, was “George Walker Day” in Washington DC as established by Mayor Marion Berry. It was a day to commemorate the life, music and legacy of one of the most accomplished American composers of late 20th Century, George Theophilus Walker.

William Grant Still's career took off in the 1920s as he became associated with the Harlem Renaissance.
U.S. Public Domain

William Grant Still Jr. was called the “Dean of Afro-American Composers.” His career was full of “firsts”; milestones that broke through the racial and social barriers that were so prevalent in the United States.

Scott Joplin was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1976, almost 60 years after his death.
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Much like mazurkas evoke Poland and waltzes remind us of Vienna, the “rag” will forever be tied to the United States. Composer Scott Joplin was called “The King of Ragtime.” Though his works were popular during his lifetime, Joplin did not have an easy life or kingly riches.

After over 50 years of Soviet occupation, Estonia reclaimed its independence through peaceful protest and singing.
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August 23, 1989, almost two million people joined hands in a human chain that stretched for 675 kilometers, connecting the capitals of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. This was the 50th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact which the Soviet Union still used as justification to occupy these countries. The event was called the “Baltic Way” and was a peaceful protest against what these citizens called illegal occupation.

We’ve been telling the story of the Estonian "Singing Revolution," how a people used song to affect real, political and historical change.

In September of 1988, 300,000 Estonians gathered at the singing festival grounds to protest Soviet occupation.
Ivo Kruusamagi / Creative Commons Atrribution-Share Alike 4.0 International License - no changes

We’ve been telling the story of the Estonian “Singing Revolution” and how non-violent, musical protest changed the course of a culture and a nation.

This statue of composer/conductor Gustav Ernesaks sits on the Estonia singing festival grounds, watching the amphitheater.
SofiRussia / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license - no changes made

After World War II, the iron curtain of the Soviet Union fell on all the member states. One of the goals of Stalin’s regime was to bring uniformity across the vast territory that was now under Soviet control. Russification is a term used to describe the cultural assimilation that was taking place. Russian citizens would come by the thousands and settle in these other territories, to influence the labor force and local politics. Smaller countries, like Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia saw, not just the end of their independence but the eventual eradication of their culture, their way of life.

U.S. Public Domain

Has music ever changed the world? Can culture hold a people together? This story explores those questions.

What significant role has music played in our history, current culture and in our joint, hopeful future?
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Over the years we’ve talked about a lot different subjects and explored the development of music throughout history. We’ve had deep discussions about where music comes from and what music is. We’ve looked at the ways music touches our lives and influences our health and behavior. We’ve explored the ancient past and modern practice. However, over the past few months I’ve been asking a question, “so what?” What does all of this mean? Maybe a better question is, for what? What is this exploration for?

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Originally aired on Jan. 26, 2016 

The years 1813 to 1816 were a dry period for Beethoven. He was wrestling with his health and with his family.

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Originally aired Jan. 16, 2016

At the dawning of the 19th century, Beethoven had not given up hope that his doctors would find a treatment to reverse his hearing loss. His condition was not only affecting his musical output but also his social life, which was very important to him.

Originally aired Jan. 11, 2016 

Ludwig van Beethoven has been called the most admired composer in all of music history. His legacy stands as a monument for the entire 19th century and beyond.

Hiroshima castle was one of the iconic landmarks destroyed by the bomb in 1945. It was rebuilt in the 1950s.
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In 1986, the Hiroshima Jogakuin School was preparing to celebrate its 100th anniversary. As they combed through a century’s worth of photographs and documents, they came across quite a few pictures of Sergei Palchikoff, one of the founders of their music program in the 1920s and 30s. The school had lost touch with the Palchikoffs after the war and now they wanted to reach out to the family.

Sergei Palchikoff's beloved violin was his constant companion over a lifetime of conflict and change.
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We’ve been telling the story of Sergei Palchikoff, his family and his beloved violin that survived the bombing of Hiroshima 75 years ago. I’ve spent the better part of a year piecing this tale together from newspaper articles, old recordings and online resources. After the first episode aired on VPR Classical something remarkable happened. I got a phone call from Carmel, California; it was Anthony Drago, Sergei’s grandson.

"Then there was no city. You could see the ocean." Words of Kaleria Palchikoff-Drago, Hiroshima bombing survivor.
U.S. Public Domain

Archive Recording

Interviewer: Did you feel anything at all when the light struck you?

Kaleria: Yes, I felt it was very hot. It felt uncomfortable.

I suppose there was an explosion, big sound, but I never heard it. I just saw the house tumbling down.

James: That was the voice of Kaleria Palchikoff-Drago, from a recording the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey conducted immediately after the bombing of Hiroshima in 1945. In a calm tone in this interview, Kaleria recounts what it was like to witness a nuclear holocaust first-hand.

On August 6, 1945, the B-52 bomber "Enola Gay," from a height of over 30,000 feet, released a 9,000 pound bomb called "Little Boy" on the city of Hiroshima.
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August 6, 1945, was a clear, blue Monday morning in the city of Hiroshima.  At 7:09 air raid sirens shattered the morning air as allied weather planes flew over, driving a city of around 345,000 people indoors and into shelters. About 15 minutes later, the planes left, the skies emptied and the all-clear sounded; Hiroshima woke back up and started their Monday over again.

This is a pre-bombing aerial shot of the city of Hiroshima, the home of the Palchikoff family in the 20s and 30s.
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Over the past few episodes we’ve been telling the stories of hibaku-pianos and violins, musical instruments that survived the atomic blasts of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 75 years ago. In our last episode we were telling the tale of Sergei Palchikoff and his violin.

Sergei Palchikoff's violin began it's journey from Russia to Japan as Sergei fought with the "White Russian" resistance to Soviet control.
Images U.S. Public Domain - collage by James Stewart

We begin with a performance by violinist, Soichi Sakuma playing at a school in 2017 on a hibaku-violin, an instrument that survived the atomic blast of Hiroshima in 1945. On Timeline we’ve been telling the stories of instruments just like this, relics of a time of great suffering and how they have been rescued, restored and are now being used to play songs of peace. This violin has a history of violence and conflict spanning well over a hundred years. The story of this instrument is really the story of its original owner, Sergei Palchikoff and his family.

U.S. Public Domain

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In the past few episodes we’ve been looking at musical instruments that have been rescued from the ashes and rumble of those explosions. They’ve been reclaimed and are now being used to promote peace and to bring understanding of the real human cost of war.

U.S. Public Domain

World War II was the bloodiest conflict in recorded history. It’s estimated that somewhere between 70-85 million people died, about 3% of the global population at the time. That number is too big to comprehend. I don’t think anyone can truly grasp or understand that level of loss and suffering. So today we’ll talk about just one young woman and her piano.

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We’ve been discussing the ways that music has changed the world, exploring how art and music have affected us as a species and as a society. In this episode, we’ll discover one piano tuner’s passion to change hearts and minds through restored instruments.