A few years ago, I toured the United States to interview American GIs who had entered Germany in 1944/45 and liberated Nazi concentration camps. What did these soldiers think, I wanted to know, when they entered German cities and towns and encountered the first civilians among the ruins of the Third Reich? The response I heard from more than one of my interviewees startled me, indeed shocked me, and eventually inspired me to research and write this essay. Yes, the veterans told me, they had hated the Germans for having drawn them into this war, for forcing them to leave their homes and fight abroad and, worst of all, for what they had done to the Jews. "But you know," they would often add after a brief pause, "the Germans, they also gave us Beethoven." (1)
Why did these veterans think about classical music when remembering their wartime experience? Why did their love for a German composer temper their memories of the Holocaust? Where did this powerful image of the "good" German musician in the minds of ordinary Americans originate? And how do we make sense of this ostensible juxtaposition of the best and worst in German history and culture?
Despite social scientists' preference for print and visual culture, classical music as a reflector of cultural and social conditions has recently caught the interest of a some musicologists and even a few historians. Much of the existing research has focused on Central Europe. Celia Applegate, for example, has cast the meaning of music into the context of nationalism in nineteenth-century Germany, asking how music and musicology contributed to the process of nation-building and the "imagined community." Stefan Esteban has studied Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, showing that from the beginning the piece was conceived essentially in European rather than German terms. (2)
The influence of music that we know today as "serious" or "classical" extended to people around the world and its legacy is quite visible today, as reflected in the above-mentioned quote. In the United Stares the symphony scene emerged in the mid-nineteenth century largely thanks to the influx of numerous foreign musicians, bands, conductors and soloists. It was heavily dominated by the music of the Romantics, which is no surprise since this reflected very much the musical taste of European audiences at the time.
Historians of American culture have been slow to stress and retrace foreign (as opposed to immigrant) "highbrow" influences on American culture. Though the story seems familiar, no one really wants to tell it. (3) To write about classical music does not seem to be the politically correct thing to do in an age skeptical of the influence of elites, notably the influence of white European males. Hence, readers interested in the subject turn to analyses of individual composers, recollections of managers and performers, and an abundance of biographies. (4)
Music historians who have looked at foreign influences have typically paid more attention to English legacies than those of non-English speaking countries. Thus, Katherine Preston has alerted us to the lively U.S. music scene in the first half of the nineteenth century when Americans of different social ranks enjoyed both English-language and Italian operas at a multitude of occasions, including band concerts, dances and theater shows. This happy democratic period ended, Preston tells us, with the arrival of a musical elite which epitomized the serious music of the German Romantics. Culture became differentiated into various segments, with each part confined to a certain social stratum. From then on, music was either "popular" or an art but never both. (5)
This story of how American music life went elitist (i.e. sour) after the Civil War has been taken for granted in much of the historiography of American culture. Folk, ethnic, and popular music and, most importantly, that crucial date in time marking the emergence of a genuinely American music (Foster? Sousa? Joplin? Armstrong?) has preoccupied the research agenda of most music historians.
Yet the impact of the nineteenth-century serious music in the United States deserves more than the interest of a handful of music lovers, for its implications were vast, political, and universal, and extended far beyond the development of American musical life. The solidification of a "classical" canon in the United States (and elsewhere) coincided with the rise of the German Empire and its self-appointed role as a Kulturnation (a nation based on a cultural canon). Far away from the diplomatic chess games that have characterized so much of our understanding of the late nineteenth-century international scene, artists and administrators believed they had a mission to bring music, the language of emotions, to audiences around the world. By catering to images of the "internationalism" of music, these men (and a few women) sought to promote the message of the national superiority of German musicianship.
This essay, then, presents a set of ideas on music, emotions and politics I have developed over the last few years. It investigates German, and, to a lesser extent, French, and British cultural initiatives in the United States prior to World War One. It retraces the lives, thoughts and impact of musicians as well as their immediate impact on audiences throughout the nation. It illuminates the growing antagonism of American audiences and critics to the preponderance of German music in the decades before 1917. And it investigates the long-term legacy of the symphony in the United States.
European political nationalism and cultural expansionism, I believe, fueled the emergence of American culture--both high and pop--in the late nineteenth century. Lawrence Levine and a generation of historians after him have argued, insightfully, that Anglo-American elites who were obsessed with refinement and taste, played an important role in the emergence of cultural hierarchy and the promotion of classical music in America. (6) Yet as much as the elites participated in the construction of a cultural canon, this development also constituted an international affair that was coordinated by tough French, British and German intellectuals, artists, and cultural administrators.
Much of my thinking about the power of music in international relations has taken place in the context of what has been labeled "the new international history." In the last decade scholars have probed new methods for the analysis of the history of foreign relations, methods involving gender, literary criticism, travel, environmentalism, race, and culture. They have written about nongovernmental organizations, religion, sports, and the spread of diseases in the framework of international relations. Today, the history of foreign relations is characterized by an intense pluralism, and an increasing awareness that the state is only one out of many principal actors in the international arena. (7)
Culture and cultural relations, I believe, develop their own form of power, and their interactions should not be viewed solely through political lenses. Nonetheless they belong into the realm of international history. In the case of German-American relations, cultural representatives sometimes worked hand in hand with policymakers. More often, however, they were on their own. Their intentions hence need to be considered independently from the policymaking process even though the effect of their actions occasionally achieved a desired political effect.
To understand the interplay between culture and international relations, I have developed a concept I call "emotional elective affinity." Elective affinity is a term for chemical processes coined originally by the Swede Torbern Bergman. (8) According to the most prominent advocate of the concept, Max Weber, elective affinity signifies a noncausal process in which two sets of interests seek one another out and reinforce one another. "A mutual favoring, attraction, and even strengthening is involved whenever ideal types coalesce in a relationship of elective affinity." (9) Today the term elective affinity has been associated with human, political and cultural sympathies and aversions, and it is in this sense that I wish to use it in the context of international history. Emotional elective affinity describes an alliance between different people that is based on cultural fascination rather than on political calculation. This approach does not dismiss the state nor state-centered historiography. Rather, it revises our understanding of international history by paying attention to the phenomenon of emotional experiences and its long-term political consequences.
It is important to note that this endeavor--the merger of musical and political history--represents a new and rather open-ended field. Some readers may criticize me for trying to cover too long a period in too scattered a fashion. I wish to remind them that this essay attempts to sketch out the parameters of a much larger research project--this is, after all, a speculative essay by which I hope to induce an interdisciplinary debate over the meaning of music and emotions in the context of international relations.
Much of the existing literature on German-American relations before World War I has focused on diplomatic, military and trade aspects. Scholars agree that this period was one of dramatically changing political flirtations during which European nations increasingly wooed U.S. leaders in order to win their political support. Most importantly, the period after 1890 saw the rise of the Anglo-American rapprochement as well as a renewed friendship between the State Department and the Quay d'Orsay, both connections dreaded by the Kaiser. (10)
Daniel Pick has shown how long before the end of the nineteenth century war and discussions on the mechanics of international military conflicts became a standard topic in poetry, cultural debates and the news. (11) European intellectual and political leaders sensed the proximity of armed conflict long before the lines between the different factions were drawn. As tensions between the Central Powers and the Entente intensified, the United States--a seemingly neutral party with an enormous industrial capacity--emerged as a most desirable political ally.
This courtship affected both the diplomatic and the cultural arena. While European ambassadors busily embarked on diplomatic chess games and intrigues behind closed doors, cultural leaders conjured up their own special projects to charm Anglo-American elites into a bilateral alliance. Particularly France and Germany came to see the fin-de-siecle as an international competition for the export of national culture. The French feared that "unformed" German Kultur threatened their leading position in the arts and crafts. German intellectuals, in turn, nurtured long-standing fears of French modern civilization. (12) Indeed, to French, British, and German intellectuals, America represented a cultural wasteland ready to be civilized but also a convenient battlefield where the European powers would fight their last battle for global cultural preponderance.
Take, for example, a look at France. There, the central administration of the arts created a full-fledged advertising program for national artwork abroad. Professional French dealers like Goupil established renowned galleries along the U.S. east coast to sell French paintings picked and promoted by the French government. (13) In 1906, 57.2 percent of all paintings imported to the United States originated in France; followed by Great Britain (17.9 %), Italy (10.5%), and Germany (5.1 %). (14) In the same vein, the Alliance Francaise, founded in 1883, served to solidify the supremacy of French language and civilization against the onslaughts of German Kultur. From early on the Alliance had targeted the United States as its most fertile ground for civilization. By 1904, the Alliance established more than 150 committees around the country, counting some 25,000 adherents in the United States. (15)
Meanwhile, British political and cultural leaders capitalized on the growing pro-English affinity among U.S. elites. As Christopher Hitchens has shown, British aristocrats enabled, from 1902--03 on, a disproportionately high number of American students to study at English schools. Meanwhile, the British aristocracy's discovery of U.S. cash fostered Anglo-American ties. Mary Leiter exchanged vows with Lord Curzon, Consuelo Vanderbilt said "yes" to the Duke of Marlborough, and Jennie Jerome landed Lord Randolph Churchill. More than one hundred such weddings were celebrated during the years before World War I, and they collectively established a vital political link between British and American elites. (16)
Whether state-directed or not, the French and the British scored high sympathy points in the United States--unlike the Germans. By the turn of the century, American intellectuals recognized Paris, no longer a cave of promiscuous sins, as the cultural capital of the world. French art as well as British class, scholarship and novels commanded the attention of U.S. elites. In contrast, Germany was universally labeled as a bulwark of militarism and imperialism, driven by vanity and the quest for power. Observers like Henry Adams stated that German universities had become pedantic and sterile structures; that the political situation was ridiculously provincial; and that German food was downright disgusting. (17)
Monitoring U.S. public opinion as well as French and British cultural activities, German politicians and intellectuals feared that they would lose out in the European courtship for U. S. affection, and they, too, devised strategies designed to export deutsche Kultur (German culture) to the United States. The dissemination of Kultur, administrators hoped, would limit British and French influences among the American public and convince U.S. decision makers of the superiority of German statesmanship. "Our cultural efforts do not aim at doing a favor to the Americans," the German ambassador in …