The Composer as Intellectual: Music and Ideology in France 1914-1940

By Davis, Mary E. | Notes, December 2006 | Go to article overview

The Composer as Intellectual: Music and Ideology in France 1914-1940


Davis, Mary E., Notes


The Composer as Intellectual: Music and Ideology in France 1914-1940. By Jane Fulcher. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. [xiv, 473 p. ISBN 0-19-517473-9. $74.] Index, bibliography.

Since the day in 1792 when rebel troops entered the Tuilleries Gardens singing the Marseillaise, music has been linked to revolution in the French imagination. But what of the connection between music and politics when passions are cooler and the times less obviously explosive? In her two-volume study of music and politics in France during the Third Republic, Jane Fulcher aims to address this question and illuminate its importance to one of the most significant periods in French history. In the first installment, French Cultural Politics and Music: From the Dreyfus Affair to the First World War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999) she traced the tensions between left-wing republicans and the right-wing nationalists who ultimately held sway over them, and she worked to reveal the ways in which this political dynamic played out in musical culture between 1894 and 1914. Now comes the sequel, The Composer as Intellectual: Music and Ideology in France, 1914-1940, which proposes to follow the entwined trails of politics and music from the declaration of war in the summer of 1914 to the Nazi occupation a quarter of a century later. Aiming to "reintegrate two previously separated histories-that of official politics and culture . . . with that of musical, stylistic development" (p. 17), Fulcher focuses on composers who qualify in her estimation as "intellectuals," with the dual goal of unveiling the ideological orientations implicated in their works and demonstrating the ways in which their compositions were appropriated for political purposes.

Perhaps to an even greater extent than was the case in the two decades covered in Fulcher's first volume, the years considered here saw a complex and shifting series of political alignments in France, as well as wholesale changes in national political sentiment. The war itself sparked complicated and extremist political responses; in its wake the French government reeled and the French people struggled to achieve a consensus about the nation's future. The Versailles Treaty of 1919 left France not only devastated but impoverished and desperate for the payment of German reparations, and as those funds failed to materialize in the 1920s the deepening monetary crisis culminated in the steep devaluation of the franc. With economic concerns as a flashpoint, control of government was held alternately by iterations of the right-wing Bloc national (1919-24; 1926-32) and the more liberal Cartel des gauches (1924-26; 1932-34). These governments were fairly moderate, but more extremist politics took hold in 1936 with the ascent of Léon Blum's radical leftist Popular Front. Most importantly, the growing German threat colored politics during these years, right up to the Nazi invasion of France in May 1940 and the establishment of the government at Vichy that July. Layer into that history a discussion of musical developments during the period, and you have the makings of a groundbreaking study with the potential to alter perceptions about both music and politics in an era that arguably defined modern practice in both arenas.

Fulcher's book goes a considerable distance toward this end. Rich in detail and laden with references to sources that will unquestionably prove valuable to scholars who follow her lead, it lays out a number of the major themes and topics that brought politics and music into direct contact in France (read Paris) during the years under consideration. In four main chapters, Fulcher moves chronologically through the decades at issue, weaving through her discussions a broad interrogation of both the ways in which French music was implicated in "political-cultural initiatives of the state, and the responses of its opponents" and the degree to which "ideological orientations became demonstrably associated with aesthetic values" (p. …

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