Music in Motion: Changing Performance Venues and New Disciplinary Approaches

AHA Session 112
Central European History Society 4
Saturday, January 3, 2015: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
New York Ballroom West (Sheraton New York, Third Floor)
Walter Frisch, Columbia University
Celia S. Applegate, Vanderbilt University

Session Abstract

Though music is often composed for a particular set of performers within an institution and a given space, it is also uniquely transportable. From the Middle Ages onward, written music and peripatetic musicians traveled widely. By the late eighteenth century, aided by the rise of printed music and the growing periodical press, certain composers and performers attained celebrity that reached from Europe to far-flung colonies and trading ports. But this expansion of the scale of the circulation of music meant that the meanings assigned to musical works could be radically transformed when performed in new settings. Music could also move within a society. For example, large-scale works were transcribed for domestic performance; before the advent of recording, people often heard the latest opera in piano reduction at home rather than in the gilded opera hall.

These displacements of music from one setting to another provide ideal terrain for interdisciplinary work involving both historians and musicologists. Historians and musicologists work today in a Schengen zone of scholarship, where people and topics cross disciplinary borders yet remain conscious of differences in language, custom, knowledge, and ways of going about their work. Musicologists pay increasing attention to detailed historical context for their musical analyses, while historians are interested in using a wider variety of non-textual sources to re-examine historical problems. Thus, studying the protean meanings assigned to performances of music in different venues can shed light on questions of cultural transfers, how changing venues altered the relationship of the sacred and secular, and how these trends were mobilized to create national and extra-national communities.

This panel focuses on music performed in German-speaking lands, where the relationship between the formation of national identities and a musical tradition was particularly charged. But the papers on the panel reflect the growing interest in questions that travel far beyond national borders. Ranging from the late eighteenth to the twentieth century, the panelists examine the theme of musical displacement from a variety of perspectives. Kira Thurman examines how performances of German art songs by African-American musicians were received in postwar Germany, where the purported universality of the classical canon came into conflict with racial and national prejudice. Anthony Steinhoff explores the political, religious, and national meanings that were read into performances of one of the most controversial pieces in opera history, Richard Wagner’s Parsifal, as well as the ways in which the opera itself complicated and undermined such projects. Andrei Pesic analyses the fault line between cosmopolitanism and the formation of national musical canons at the end of the eighteenth century by examining the cultural transfers that occurred when a French concert series was adapted in Berlin.

By taking the measure of how changing spaces for performances altered the meaning of musical works, this panel will measure the velocity, the friction, and the transformations undergone by music in motion. At the same time, it will seek to highlight the “movement” of music across disciplinary boundaries.

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