Academic journal article Studia Musicologica

Polenblut. Images of Poland and the Poles in German Operetta

Academic journal article Studia Musicologica

Polenblut. Images of Poland and the Poles in German Operetta

Article excerpt

The operetta as a genre rarely attracts the interest of musicologists. This is partly due to the repetitive, conventional style of this music, as well as the fact that it is intended for the mass bourgeois audience, with its rather unsophisticated musical tastes. In German-speaking cultural circles, the heyday of the operetta can approximately be dated to 1870-1945, that is, the period when categories of national identity and state affiliation were strongly articulated in both politics and social debates. In bourgeois culture of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the operetta played a major role, as it developed and promoted national and local self-identification and standpoints. Its links with everyday life phenomena and social behaviour are evident in the choice of subject matter, in the preferred types of value judgment and the representations of both desirable and criticised attitudes.1

Berlin and Vienna became the main centres of the German-language operetta in the late nineteenth century. From there, the rich operetta repertoire reached the German and Austrian provinces as well as the annexed and dependent countries, such as the Czech territory, Hungary and Poland. This repertoire was characterised by the strong presence of characters and motives associated with national and ethnic minorities. The operetta played a major role in the process of integrating those minorities, acting as an educational tool and an intermediary, familiarising the society with the lights and shadows of multiculturalism and national diversity. A similar function was fulfilled in the interwar period by the cabaret, whose development contributed to some extent to the decline of the operetta after World War II.

Among the wealth of German operettas, an important place is occupied by works referring to Polish subjects in their plots, or featuring Polish characters. The dominant - though not the only - way of presenting Poles in the operetta was to confront them with representatives of the German society. Marked differences of behaviour and personality between the characters frequently generate dramatic conflicts in the action of the musical play. The way those characters are represented testifies to the presence of stereotypes concerning the different nations, while the moral judgments passed on the persons of the drama frequently reveal generalisations concerning large communities or even entire nations. In this respect, German operettas on Polish subjects deserve closer attention, since by analysing those works I can reconstruct the image of the Poles common in the German society in that period, as well as measuring the temperature of mutual relations between the two coexisting nations. This is the most important aspect of the operettas in questions.2 In individual stage works, it is also highlighted on the musical level through the introduction of Polish national dances, quotations from, or stylisations of, Polish music.

The vast repertoire of German operettas containing Polish motives calls for an in-depth study and systematic description. At the present stage of research, I can confirm the existence of about a dozen such compositions whose action involves Polish characters, while the plots frequently reflect the Polish-German social relations. The list of eleven operettas presented below is the result of preliminary research to date and is presumably incomplete. Further studies will most likely uncover other such works in the same genre.

The role of Polish elements in the listed operettas varies from one work to another.3 In some of them, those elements determine the main course of events, while in others they are but marginal additions introducing local colour. As analytic material, I have selected for the purposes of this paper three operettas: Polnische Wirtschaft, Polenblut and Die blaue Mazur. All of them were composed in more or less the same period - the 1910s, a time of fundamental social and political change. …

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

Oops!

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.