The Cultural Economy of Music: US and German Histories, 1880–1930

AHA Session 130
Central European History Society 7
Saturday, January 4, 2020: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Clinton Room (New York Hilton, Second Floor)
Harry Liebersohn, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
The Audience

Session Abstract

In the past two decades there has been a remarkable “aural turn” in historical studies, in which historians have turned as never before to music and sound as historical traces, documenting social, cultural and political relations across an astonishing number of times and places. While earlier generations (Jacques Barzun, William McGrath), wrote memorable studies of music in contextual intellectual history, more recently scholars have explored other approaches, including music and critical theory (Michael S. Steinberg); music and the formation of national identity (Celia Applegate and James Loeffler); and music in global, cross-cultural settings (John W. Troutman). We are only beginning, however, to see work in the cultural economy of music, that is, studies of music as part of business and labor economies as well as moral economies enforced by society and the state.

This panel advances the nascent interest in the cultural economy of music. The panel’s speakers combine original research with awareness of the broad implications of music’s business and moral economies for larger histories of power and culture since the late nineteenth century. Rachel Miller will speak on the talent agencies that organized musical performers on popular entertainment circuits; Martin Rempe will explore orchestra conductors on the German-American circuit as business entrepreneurs; David Suisman will speak on military music, a subject with global reach in the formation of national identities; and Claudius Torp will speak on the moral economy of the piano, a history with close comparisons in Germany and the United States.

Taken together, these papers are clearly defined in space and time but have broad implications for economy, society, and culture. They concentrate on Germany and the United States with an eye to the overlapping musical and social histories of performance, instrument-building, and phonograph histories in the two countries. As for the temporal dimensions, the 1880s mark a moment when the industrialization of music (in areas like sheet music and piano production) had taken off, soon to be followed by the large-scale capitalization of the phonograph industry and the globalization of phonograph and record sales, with the United States and Germany, along with Britain, leading phonograph sales around the world in the first decade of the twentieth century, a continuous story until the late 1920s.

This panel promises to have broad appeal to historians of Germany and the United States as well as historians interested in labor history, the history of the senses, the history of the emotions, middle-class culture, and the formation of national identities. We very much hope to be able to present this panel, cohesive in this topic, original in its research, and engaging in its subject, at the 2020 AHA meeting.

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