Music and Displacement: Diasporas, Mobilities, and Dislocations in Europe and Beyond

By Walden, Joshua S. | Notes, September 2011 | Go to article overview

Music and Displacement: Diasporas, Mobilities, and Dislocations in Europe and Beyond


Walden, Joshua S., Notes


Music and Displacement: Diasporas, Mobilities, and Dislocations in Europe and Beyond. Edited by Erik Levi and Florian Scheding. (Europea: Ethno musicologies and Modernities, no. 10.) Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2010. [viii, 207 p. ISBN 9780810863798 (hardcover), $75; ISBN 9780810872950 (paperback), $50.] Music examples, bibliographies, illustrations, index.

The study of displacement, or forced migration, exile, and the formation and movement of diasporas, is a relatively young field of inquiry in musicology. Some scholars have recently begun to investigate the impacts of displacement on composition, performance, and listening in a transnational context, examining such questions as the relationship of music to the experiences of nostalgia and acculturation among dispersed peoples, the representation of exile in musical works, and the roles of music in the construction of identities in displaced communities. This new volume, edited by Erik Levi and Florian Scheding, considers this topic in a set of essays that explore music in Europe, America, Israel, and North Africa, paying particular attention to musicians forced into exile from Central Europe during the twentieth century. The book offers a useful investigation of some of the various techniques by which scholars might consider the significant effects of displacement in the history of music.

Music and Displacement is divided into three parts that consider the consequences of displacement on the creation and reception of music from complementary perspectives. Part 1 investigates the ways forced migration, racist policy, and genocide have affected musicians and their work. Part 2 focuses on musical evocations of identities in exile, and on historical instances in which musicians have responded to the conditions of displacement to undertake innovative projects in the fields of composition and performance. Part 3 covers displacement's impacts on music criticism, and the roles a theory of displacement might play in broadening musicological knowledge. Taken together, these groupings of essays provide a usefully broad range of approaches to the subject matter.

The first chapter, by Philip V. Bohlman, addresses music composed and performed by prisoners in Nazi concentration camps. Bohlman interpolates his text with poetry, song, and musical notation, as he explores examples of music that is extant in manuscript form alongside music that has not survived, about whose performance historians know only from reports of life in the camps. He also considers the presence of song and its potent symbolism in works of literary fiction about World War II by authors including Imre Kertész, Primo Levi, Irène Némirovsky, and W. G. Sebald, arguing that music's role in this genre is to "provide the reader with rhetorical strategies for listening to silence," for contemplating the displacement and loss brought about by the Holocaust (p. 26). The Holocaust also provides the historical context for the discussion in chapter 2, in which Peter Petersen studies the effects on music of the mass exile and genocide that took place under Nazi rule. Touching on Nazi controls on Jewish musical activities in the ghettos and camps, the representation of the Holocaust in postwar compositions, and the uneven treatment of Nazi anti- Semitism in German scholarship, Petersen outlines both the consequences of and responses to anti-Semitic ideology and violence in the realm of musical production and reception in Germany.

In the following chapter, Michael Beckerman addresses the historiography of displaced composers and the challenges involved in interpreting their music as representative of the conditions of exile. Beckerman offers an insightful reminder of the danger of making assumptions about the ways historical subjects might have reacted to their contexts. He demonstrates, for example, how the biographies of exiled Central European composers Jaroslav Jez?ek and Eric Zeisl can be readily characterized as alternatively tragic or triumphant, based on the sometimes contradictory evidence of their ambivalent reactions to their experiences in America. …

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