Academic journal article German Quarterly

Music and German National Identity

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Music and German National Identity

Article excerpt

Applegate, Celia, and Pamela Potter, eds. Music and German National Identity. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002. 319 pp. $20.00 paperback.

Is national identity inherent in music, or is it an external construct? The editors of this carefully conceived and multifaceted anthology open the book with a lucid and helpful essay in which they point out that constructions of German national identity in music "... can more often be traced to writers, thinkers, statesmen, educators, impresarios, demagogues, and audiences, but only occasionally to composers" (3). The authors describe the development of music criticism, music journalism, and musicology in Germany as contributions to the concept of the Germans as "the people of music."

Fifteen wide-ranging essays follow, and there is not a weak one in the group. Bernd Sponheuer delineates two ideal types of German identity in music. In the exclusivist type, German music is uniquely superior throughout many epochs and styles, while the universalist ideal proposes a German music that is superior because it fuses other traditions, and thereby transcends them. It is that which "... brings the 'purely human' to its fullest expression" (40). The reader might think of Bach, whose genius is said to lie in the synthesis of north German contrapuntal craftsmanship with Italian melody and French ornamentation. John Daverio next critiques Nietzsche's assessment of Schumann and explores some late choral compositions.

Thomas S. Grey's essay, "Wagner's Die Meistersinger as National Opera" deals not only with the work as an icon of national identity, but also with the question whether National Socialists twisted Wagner's ideas to their own purposes or rather used the work consistently "... with Wagner's own ideas about German art and the German state"(79). Grey points out surprisingly that Wagner revised the text to make it less chauvinistic, militaristic and aggressive.

The essays by Philip V Bohlman and Bruce Campbell discuss aspects of folk song and volkisch material. Each writer uses his material skillfully to elucidate aspects of the book's central topic. Doris L Bergen moves into the area of religious music with a discussion of the Nazi supported "German Christian" movement and its chilling but ludicrous efforts to "dejudaize" sacred music.

A book about music and German identity without the voice of Thomas Mann, probably the most musically involved and astute of 20th century writers inside or outside of German literature, would be unthinkable. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.