Music and German National Identity
by Celia Applegate and Pamela Potter
University of Chicago Press, 2002
Paper: 978-0-226-02131-7 | Cloth: 978-0-226-02130-0
Library of Congress Classification ML275.M933 2002
Dewey Decimal Classification 780.943
Nearby on shelf for Literature on music / History and criticism / By region or country:
CELIA APPLEGATE AND PAMELA POTTER
For musical audiences today, the words Ã¢â‚¬Å“GermanÃ¢â‚¬? and Ã¢â‚¬Å“musicÃ¢â‚¬? merge so easily into a single concept that their connection is hardly ever questioned. The catechism of the three BÃ¢â‚¬â„¢sÃ¢â‚¬"Bach, Beethoven, and BrahmsÃ¢â‚¬"reinforces the notion of German leadership in musical developments of the past three hundred years. Even a cursory glance at the repertoires of concert halls throughout the world reveals a preponderance of works from the German-Austrian masters of the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries. These works form the largest share of what we call Ã¢â‚¬Å“classicalÃ¢â‚¬? or Ã¢â‚¬Å“seriousÃ¢â‚¬? music, and sustain not only much of concert life but also the classical music recording industry and tourism. Germany and Austria function to this day as the twin centers of classical music, with their multitude of orchestras, opera houses, and conservatories, and have gained renown as home to some of the most inÃ¯Â¬â€šuential composers, conductors, educators, and music scholars. When musicologists place Finnish, Czech, Russian, or Spanish musical compositions under the heading of Ã¢â‚¬Å“musical nationalism,Ã¢â‚¬? they implicitly compare them against a universally accepted German music and presume that other nations tried to distinguish themselves by deviating from the German standard. German music achieved the ultimate in universality when NASAÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Voyagers 1 and 2 headed out into space in 1977, each carrying an aluminum-encased, gold-plated phonograph record with generous portions of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven among its musical offerings from earth to listeners unknown.
But how did music come to be so closely associated with Germany or Ã¢â‚¬Å“GermannessÃ¢â‚¬?? When and how did Germans come to be regarded as the Ã¢â‚¬Å“people of music,Ã¢â‚¬? and music regarded as the Ã¢â‚¬Å“most German artÃ¢â‚¬?? And what, if anything, distinguishes German music from the music of any other national group? An attempt to answer these questions is not merely an academic exercise. For more than two hundred years, not only academicians have been concerned with the Germanness of music and musicians, and debates far aÃ¯Â¬?eld from the pages of scholarly journals have raged over the question of just how Ã¢â‚¬Å“GermanÃ¢â‚¬? are these songs, symphonies, sonatas, and operas penned by German and Austrian masters. A preoccupation with musicÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s connection to German identity or character has entered the realms of imaginative literature, philosophy, travel memoirs, private letters and diaries, journalism, and of course music scholarshipÃ¢â‚¬"ultimately seeping into musical life, inÃ¯Â¬â€šuencing musical events, shaping musical organizations, affecting composition, performance, and the music industry, and placing German music in a position of central importance.
The existence of debates, past and contemporary, over how or whether certain music is German reveals the fundamental contribution that music has made to German imaginings of nationhood and collective identity. Paradoxically, however, such connections between music and Germanness were rarely consciously cultivated by the composers themselves. Although at certain points in history people attributed to composers such as Bach, Handel, Mozart, and Beethoven an acute awareness of their own German character and a desire to contribute to German greatness, such attributions were usually made as part of a retrospective search for a distinct German identity and had little, if anything, to do with the actual intentions of these composers. Even the role of Richard Wagner, an outspoken commentator on the meaning of being German, became exaggerated to the extent of rendering him a prophet of HitlerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Ã¢â‚¬Å“thousand-year Reich,Ã¢â‚¬? and although early-twentieth-century composers as diverse as PÃ¯Â¬?tzner, Strauss, and Schoenberg were known to proclaim their own commitment to perpetuating German musical greatness, their works do not necessarily reveal unambiguous German content or character. Rather, as we suggest in this introductory essay and as most of the following essays further explore, the
How, then, have the links between music and German national identity been forged? The further back into history one searches, the more elusive the very notion of a German national identity becomes. Most historians would agree that the eighteenth century marked the beginning of an emerging consciousness of German identity among certain speakers of German, as well as accompanying forms of cultural and political activism aimed at deÃ¯Â¬?ning a putative national culture and debating the political future of central Europe. Musicians and composers of the eighteenth century, however, remained largely on the margins of such activism and did not at Ã¯Â¬?rst consciously contribute to the emergent national culture. Certainly many would have called themselves German, but for them to have labeled their music Ã¢â‚¬Å“GermanÃ¢â‚¬? or to consider their work as a contribution to something called a national culture would have required a stretch of the imagination exceedingly rare for the time. For although literate and often well traveled, the composers and musicians of the eighteenth century practiced their art mainly within the conÃ¯Â¬?nes of either the court or the town. The former was cosmopolitan, the latter provincial. Neither was in any meaningful sense national.
Musical life of the eighteenth century was not, however, wholly without national signiÃ¯Â¬?cance. But this signiÃ¯Â¬?cance was conveyed through the process of writing about music, not through musical composition. Indeed, the one nationalizing milieu that existed in central Europe was that of literary cultureÃ¢â‚¬"in James SheehanÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s words, Ã¢â‚¬Å“a culture of readers and writers for whom print had become the essential means of communication and printed matter the primary source and subject of cultural activity.Ã¢â‚¬? German national consciousness began in such circles, emerging from discussions about developing a unity of taste and judgment on literary matters and eventually spilling over into musical matters. In 1770, Friedrich Nicolai estimated that there were about twenty thousand people participating in the national debate. The earliest articulation of musicÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s meaning and of its relationship to national identity came from among those twenty thou-sandÃ¢â‚¬"journalists, aesthetic philosophers, scholars and historians of music, writers of Ã¯Â¬?ction and poetry.
Writers about music existed at Ã¯Â¬?rst on the edge of literary culture, marginalized because Ã¢â‚¬Å“printed matterÃ¢â‚¬? was not their primary focus and because their subject seemed to have far less direct relevance to a national identity deÃ¯Â¬?ned initially in terms of its literature and language. Still, early music periodicals began to suggest the importance at least of opera to national culture. Already in 1722, Johann MatthesonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Critica musica and Der musikalische Patriot urged greater attention to native German operatic traditions, which were in danger of disappearing altogether in the maelstrom of Italian operaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s popularity. Short-lived though these and many subsequent journals proved to be, they did provide an early forum for discussion of the Germanness of music, as Bernd SponheuerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s contribution to this volume shows. Nevertheless, their articulation of a national identity to music was tentative and inconsistent. Writers like Johann Adolf Scheibe retained a strong Enlightenment interest in the universality of music and regarded German-speaking composers as at their best when drawing on a variety of European styles.
By the end of the eighteenth century, however, claims for musicÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s importance to German national culture grew increasingly bold. For instance, Friedrich Rochlitz, the founding editor of the long-running Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung in Leipzig, committed his new journal almost from the outset to articulating the exclusively German character of certain music, as well as its crucial contribution to German national culture. In 1799, he wrote of how important it was for Germans to understand their musical past, not as a succession of achievements of accomplished men, but, in a curious formulation, as part of Ã¢â‚¬Å“the history of the development [Bildung] of the nation overallÃ¢â‚¬?Ã¢â‚¬" or elsewhere, as the history of Ã¢â‚¬Å“the culture of music among contemporary Germans as well as the shaping [Ausbildung] of the nation through this art.Ã¢â‚¬? In 1801, Rochlitz commissioned Johann Karl
Friedrich Triest, a pastor in Stettin and as such a member of the nation of readers and writers, to compile such a musical history of the nation. In his Ã¢â‚¬Å“Comments Regarding the Development of Music in Germany in the Eighteenth Century,Ã¢â‚¬? an article appearing in the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung in 1801 and discussed in detail in the essay by Bernd Sponheuer, Triest chose to emphasize the importance of recent developments for Ger-manyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s musical self-realization and culminated in a paean to J. S. BachÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Ã¢â‚¬Å“German industriousness and national spirit.Ã¢â‚¬?
Even bolder, however, was the 1802 Bach biography by J. N. Forkel, whose work as musical director at the University of GÃƒÂ¶ttingen and as musical scholar epitomized the new participation of musicians in the intellectual life of the cultural nation. The biography amounted to the Ã¯Â¬?rst fully realized statement of the existence of a speciÃ¯Â¬?cally German music. Moreover, Forkel placed music squarely within the nationalizing project of literary culture (just as Rochlitz had done with his journal by associating music with national Bildung) by naming Bach the musical counterpart to the Greek and Roman classics so central to the humanistic curricula of the Gymnasium and of reformist universities. Bach was Ã¢â‚¬Å“the Ã¯Â¬?rst classic that ever was, or perhaps ever will be,Ã¢â‚¬? and thus Ã¢â‚¬Å“an invaluable national patrimony, with which no other nation has anything to be compared.Ã¢â‚¬? Rochlitz, Triest, and Forkel together forged the link between writing music history and promoting national consciousness. Their work thus contributed to a process we might label Ã¢â‚¬Å“canon formation,Ã¢â‚¬? by which the notion of a Ã¢â‚¬Å“national patrimonyÃ¢â‚¬? came increasingly to inform musical listening and performance.
But how did such ideas on music and national patrimony sit with the authorities? What was the role of this national patrimony in the political process of building a nation? In fact, the states of GermanyÃ¢â‚¬"whether national, Prussian, Austrian, or otherwiseÃ¢â‚¬"had not always promoted a uniÃ¯Â¬?ed German state or a German culture. To the contrary, the political nationalists from the late eighteenth century on met with considerable state opposition and even repression. Those promoting a nationalist cultural agendaÃ¢â‚¬"through journals, celebrations of great Germans like Luther or Bach, folk song collecting, and other such projectsÃ¢â‚¬"were hardly less suspect in the eyes of bureaucrats and aristocrats committed to the status quo. Nor were such suspicions unfounded, for after 1815, political and cultural agendas within a loosely deÃ¯Â¬?ned German nationalist movement often reÃ¯Â¬â€šected an increasingly generalized dissatisfaction with small statism and the fragmentation of public life that it engendered. Moreover, growing literacy rates meant that the market expanded for books and newspapers, bookshops and coffeehouses, all of which contributed to nationalismÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s force, even as the states of the German Confederation tried through censorship and taxation to slow down the trend. The result, as Hagen Schulze has written, was that Ã¢â‚¬Å“a huge gulf open[ed] up between state and society.Ã¢â‚¬?
Given the stateÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s initial opposition to the national project, any evidence of state intervention in musical life before 1871, while abundant, should not mislead one into thinking that German politicians exercised a long tradition of manipulating music toward nationalist ends. Still, a number of state and local governments contributed to the signiÃ¯Â¬?cation of music as a national treasureÃ¢â‚¬"not, in other words, as merely a pleasant accessory to public ceremonials. The Prussian stateÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s work in this regard was precedent setting, but also highly pragmatic. For instance, the Prussian kingÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s decision in 1809 to include a special music section in the prestigious Academy of Arts reÃ¯Â¬â€šected his acquiescence to the reformersÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ agenda of state and social renewal. But this was a nationalist agenda only insofar as its central axiom was that the state, to successfully combat Napoleonic power, had to draw on the moral as well as the physical resources of the people. Musicians, for their part, saw an opportunity here to advance their own agendas. According to the musician who stood behind this particular reformist initiative, Carl Friedrich Zelter of the Berlin Singakademie, music had a Ã¢â‚¬Å“communal purpose,Ã¢â‚¬? and that was Bildung, the Ã¢â‚¬Å“activity of inner or spiritual forces, to the end that man realizes his complete existence and becomes nobler.Ã¢â‚¬? One could argue that music had contributed more than any other art to the Ã¢â‚¬Å“formation of the German nation,Ã¢â‚¬? understood morally and culturally, that no other art lay so close to the essence of being German, and hence no other art so deserved the stateÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s sponsorship and support.
Such agendas probably had less immediate effect on how Germans of the time heard music than did the more public statements of men like Rochlitz and Forkel. But gradually, as the state involved itself in the training of musicians as well as in the appointment of musical directors and institutional leaders of various sorts, the public became more aware of the stateÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s compelling interest in the excellence of musical culture. In such large public events as the Lower Rhine Music Festivals, local governments of Rhenish citiesÃ¢â‚¬"chief among them DÃƒÂ¼sseldorfÃ¢â‚¬"committed themselves as Prussia had to celebrating music as a national inheritance and treasure. Even such a fundamentally silly undertaking as Ludwig I of BavariaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Doric temple of Valhalla, a monument to German heroes on the banks of the Danube above Regensburg, included the busts of a few composers among those of rulers, warriors, and other great men of the German nation. Ludwig, like Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia, shared a general consciousness of cultural nationhood with the nationalist movement, and while hardly eager to change the political arrangements of the German Confederation, both kings sponsored a number of national cultural projects.
By the time Ludwig was building his Valhalla, composers were no longer as passive in the creation of their own national signiÃ¯Â¬?cance as composers in the eighteenth century had been. The nineteenth century was, after all, an extended period of transformation in Europe, and the social status of musicians changed along with that of many other trades organized through court and guild. The changing social opportunities for musicians conditioned new attitudes, and an unprecedented awareness of oneÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s importance to national cultures became a deÃ¯Â¬?ning feature of the modern nineteenth-century composer. Such changes developed slowly and unevenly, however, and each composer had different reasons for and different means of responding to the national idea. Mozart, for example, writing in the thick of what most historians consider the advent of the national idea, was frustrated by his transitional social status as neither servant nor master in the world of court culture, but he did not imagine any solution to his problems in dreams of nationhood.
Beethoven had considerably greater interest in the politics of both revolution and restoration, yet one balks at the notion of calling him a nationalist or of suggesting that he ever thought deeply about Germany (of any shape) or Germanness. One can point to a few works, written at various moments during the Napoleonic wars, which reÃ¯Â¬â€šected a kind of standard-issue patriotism, perhaps even the nationalism of the anti-French backlash among central Europeans. Yet for every one of BeethovenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s utterances about laying his work Ã¢â‚¬Å“upon the altar of the FatherlandÃ¢â‚¬? or living Ã¢â‚¬Å“German and free,Ã¢â‚¬? one can Ã¯Â¬?nd many more tributes to the Ã¢â‚¬Å“bearers of crowns . . . who have saved the people,Ã¢â‚¬? to the Ã¢â‚¬Å“princesÃ¢â‚¬? who with Ã¢â‚¬Å“GodÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s powerÃ¢â‚¬? have won the victory, to the kaiser, the king, and so on. Just as one should not conclude that Beethoven was a devoted dynasticist, neither can one cast him as a German nationalist. All such political and even cultural concerns seem for him to have been transitory in contrast to his musical, extraordinarily individual preoccupations. To paraphrase his famous letter to Prince Lichnowsky, there would be thousands of nations, but Ã¢â‚¬Å“there is only one Beethoven.Ã¢â‚¬? As for his perfunctory and occasional displays of national consciousness, however, one must remember that Beethoven was very much a man of his unsettled and contradictory times.
A generation later, a few composers seem to be more consciously engaged but equally ambivalent with regard to politics and its position in their creative musical output. As John DaverioÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s contribution to this volume shows, Schumann, like Beethoven, poses complications, even though at Ã¯Â¬?rst glance he appears to have offered a direct musical response to contemporary political events. He is widely known for having established the Neue Zeitschrift fÃƒÂ¼r Musik in 1834 partly to address his concerns over a decline of standards in German musical lifeÃ¢â‚¬"expressing frustration over the absence of a successor to Beethoven, proposing to wage war against the degraded musical tastes of his country exhibited in the cult of the piano virtuoso, and hoping to use the journal to expose mediocrities in contemporary music, all of which were of foreign origin. But this reputation as a promoter of German musical self-awareness does not always jibe with his actual political engagement, or lack thereof. In the course of examining the handful of compositions inspired by the revolutions of 1848, Daverio reveals that Schumann, both in his choice of texts and musical styles, displayed a rapid about-face from enthusiast to critic with regard to the contemporary political situation.
Other nineteenth-century German composers took considerably more interest in their place within a national culture, but they did so through activities other than composition. We may take Felix Mendelssohn as exemplary. In his convictions, his activities as a music director, and only occasionally his compositions, the German nation palpably existed, never as a political reality or even a political dream, but as a notional cultural unityÃ¢â‚¬" indeed as a source of personal identity. To put it most simply, Mendelssohn more consciously felt himself to be German than any composer of an earlier era and with more far-reaching consequences. His sense of German identity comes through clearly in his travel letters, often in the form of a self-consciously German sense of disappointment that the musical life of various places (Paris, London, Rome, to name a few) should fall so short of his expectations and his German-bred standards. That reaction consisted of equal parts of pride and insecurity: in a letter to his former mentor Carl Friedrich Zelter, he rejected the whole idea of political unity (such things Ã¢â‚¬Å“will surely not come, and I also believe that that is a good thingÃ¢â‚¬?) and wished for an Ã¢â‚¬Å“end to our exaggerated modesty which makes us accept everything that comes from others as good, and which keeps us from appreciating our own until it has Ã¯Â¬?rst been recognized by others.Ã¢â‚¬?
As an orchestral and festival director as well as founder of the Leipzig Conservatory, Mendelssohn went on to achieve a large measure of recognition for Ã¢â‚¬Å“our ownÃ¢â‚¬? by placing the works of German composers in the center of the European concert repertory, where they have remained ever since. MendelssohnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s historicism, which he shared with an entire generation of intellectuals and artists, reÃ¯Â¬â€šected his sense of national identity and shaped his work as a composer in such works as the Reformation Symphony, the Lobgesang, and the St. Paul and Elijah oratorios. But it was more in his role as musician and organizer that MendelssohnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s historicism left its mark on forging the links between music and German national identity. It emerged in part out of his generationÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s concern for the future of a speciÃ¯Â¬?cally German musical heritage that BeethovenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s death had rendered vulnerable and in need of both preservation and renewal. As his 1829 performance of BachÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s St. Matthew's Passion in Berlin (and subsequently, under other directors, throughout northern Germany) revealed, the Bach revival involved much more than performing unfamiliar works for skeptical audiences. It was something of a national movement. Large constituencies of the culture-consuming, taste-making classes were drawn into an afÃ¯Â¬?rmation of their German identity through attendance at and amateur participation in BachÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s works, and a steady Ã¯Â¬â€šow of publications for the literate public further clariÃ¯Â¬?ed the national signiÃ¯Â¬?cation of Bach as a German original.
The case of Ã¢â‚¬Å“Georg Friedrich HÃƒÂ¤ndelÃ¢â‚¬? (a Ã¢â‚¬Å“re-GermanizationÃ¢â‚¬? of the Englishman-by-choice, George Frideric Handel) was similar, from the writings of critics like Rochlitz and Ludwig Rellstab to the large-scale participation of musical amateurs in the growing choral festivals of the nineteenth century. Even though Handel spent most of his career away from his native Germany, nineteenth-century patriots placed him Ã¯Â¬?rmly in the pantheon of great Germans, demonstrating not only the Germanness of his musical style but the efÃ¯Â¬?cacy of the past for revealing the truths of collective identity. Musical historicism also colored the reception of the works of nineteenth-century composers and further strengthened the links between music, even or especially new music, and German national culture. A scant generation after Mendelssohn, music critics found a nationally inÃ¯Â¬â€šected historicism at the heart of what was German about BrahmsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ German Requiem: as Adolf Schubring wrote, it was Ã¢â‚¬Å“as artful and serious as Sebastian Bach, as elevated and powerful as BeethovenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Missa Solemnis, [and] saturated in its melody and harmony by SchubertÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s benevolent inÃ¯Â¬â€šuence.Ã¢â‚¬?
If we compare Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Brahms in terms of their musical response to a sense of national identity, we Ã¯Â¬?nd very different devices, approaches, and musical means of evoking nationhood, or at least commenting on its state of being. We might be justiÃ¯Â¬?ed in interpreting all of these devices as evidence of nationalism in music or as evidence of a composerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s national identity inÃ¯Â¬â€šuencing his compositions. We might not be justiÃ¯Â¬?ed, however, in regarding such evidence of national consciousness as either stable or even essential to the composerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s work.
In this context, one cannot overlook the growing signiÃ¯Â¬?cance of folk song in the nineteenth century and its contribution to the forging of a German national music. Ever since Herder claimed to have discovered the genius of a people in their folk poetry and music, sending generations of patriotic German intellectuals on Volk-Ã¯Â¬?shing expeditions in countryside and library, the close association of the Ã¢â‚¬Å“nationalÃ¢â‚¬? in music with whatever sounds folksy has been an inevitable, if often unproductive, feature of debates on national styles. The case of Brahms is again germane. His recent biographer, Jan Swafford, refers unaffectedly to BrahmsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Ã¢â‚¬Å“connections to song in generalÃ¢â‚¬? and Ã¢â‚¬Å“German song in particularÃ¢â‚¬? as manifesting his Ã¢â‚¬Å“[r]o-mantic and nationalistic devotion to folk music and to the idea of songfulness, of lyric melody in instrumental music.Ã¢â‚¬? The eclecticism and light-handedness of this judgment is revealing, and perhaps appropriate. The use of folk melody meant many things to composers and sometimes nothing at all. Brahms, of course, just as readily inserted Hungarian melody into his instrumental writing, less because he sympathized with the exile nostalgia of his Hungarian friends and more because he liked the sound of it.
Mendelssohn, in contrast, altogether scorned the appeal of folksiness, but for his own aesthetic reasons: Ã¢â‚¬Å“Anything but national music! May ten thousand devils take all folklore! Here I am in Wales, and oh how lovely, a harpist sits in the lobby of every inn of repute playing so-called folk melodies at youÃ¢â‚¬"that is to say, dreadful, vulgar, out-of-tune trash and simultaneously a hurdy-gurdy is tootling out melodies, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s enough to drive one crazy,... Scottish bagpipes, Swiss cow horns, Welsh harpsÃ¢â‚¬"all playing the HuntsmenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Chorus with ghastly variations or improvisations.. . . Anyone who, like myself, canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t abide BeethovenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Nationallieder ought to come to Wales and hear them howled by shrill nasal voices accompanied by doltish bumbling Ã¯Â¬?ngersÃ¢â‚¬"and then try to hold his tongue.Ã¢â‚¬?
And that brings us Ã¯Â¬?nally to Wagner, NightwatchmenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s horns, and other issues of national or nationalist composition. WagnerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s unique status among composers rests on his capacity to write about music while writing music (a practice that Brahms, among others, despised). Our assessments of his national commitments are thus grossly overinformed compared to those of other composers, even before we approach the issue of how people listened to him. According to the legendary image we have inherited, Wagner deÃ¯Â¬?ned himself in relation to his nationality; he expressed his ambitions explicitly in terms of the national past and national future; he lobbied for the imprimatur of national leaders; he sought sources for his operas in both the legendary and the historical past of a cultural Germany; he impugned the Germanness of possible rivals. In all these ways, Wagner presumably overwhelmed any would-be competitors for the title of Most German Composer.
The more his national stature grew during and after his lifetime, the more Germanness in music came simply to denote Wagnerism, thus for a time at least eliding a national style with a personal one and providing an all-too-singular answer to the German question in music. Yet after a close examination of this Most German ComposerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Ã¢â‚¬Å“most German work,Ã¢â‚¬? Die Meistersinger, Thomas GreyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s essay confronts us with a bundle of contradictions: earlier, discarded versions of the Meistersinger libretto were actually more overtly nationalistic and militaristic than the considerably milder Ã¯Â¬?nal product, and contemporary advocates and opponents alike never took note of any chauvinism in the work. But the coincidence of its premiere with the FrancoÃ¢â‚¬"Prussian War and Ludwig NohlÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s subsequent canonization of Wagner as the Ã¯Â¬?rst worthy successor to Beethoven and the savior of Germanness started a trend of reading more nationalism into his work than Wagner ever would have intended, a trend that intensiÃ¯Â¬?ed and climaxed in the naziÃ¯Â¬?cation of Bayreuth in the 1930s and 1940s. Thus even in the case of Wagner, the composer and his works became mythologized as symbols of German nationalism primarily at the hands of critics, essayists, propagandists, and statesmen, far exceeding what the composer himself ever could have envisioned. As Grey reminds us, Wagner was by no means solely responsible for the production of his symbolic status; indeed, when he himself mused on the subject of Ã¢â‚¬Å“what is German,Ã¢â‚¬? he left the question hanging, unresolved, unanswerable.
The consolidation of a German national culture in the nineteenth century must be seen, then, as only partially the project of composers themselves, in or out of national costume, andjust as much that of writers, conductors, bureaucrats, organizers, and musical amateurs, making their own creative use of music both new and old. Among the most enduring and least pretentious of these makers of national culture were the many members of the wide variety of singing organizations. The Prussian capital was home to some of the Ã¯Â¬?rst such organizationsÃ¢â‚¬"FaschÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Singakademie and ZelterÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Liedertafel. Although the former was dedicated chieÃ¯Â¬â€šy to the cultivation of sacred music in the German tradition and the latter to a manly and convivial performance of its membersÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ own song compositions, the two together deÃ¯Â¬?ned a range of collective celebration of national song. Indeed, the lied itself became a widespread genre that was practically by deÃ¯Â¬?nition German. Goethe had transformed established forms of German verse from trivial ditties into serious poetry that was immediately set to music by many of his contemporaries, with Goethe himself favoring the musical settings of Zelter. The national importance of the lied began with the Goethe-Zelter pair, then intensiÃ¯Â¬?ed as more German composers gave musical expression to a new German literary canon and as countless performances of lieder, both amateur and professional, gave it a more Ã¢â‚¬Å“nationalÃ¢â‚¬? reach than any other musical genre. Yet it was the authors of these texts who became famous, while the musical settings by such great names as Schumann and Liszt had no greater resonance than those of a host of lesser-known composers. Writers on music then exploited the popularity of these politically charged songs and engaged in lively debates on them in the pages of their newly established music periodicals as a way of reaching a broader readership.
Music critics of the nineteenth century continued the work begun in the eighteenth of deÃ¯Â¬?ning the Germanness of music in their responses to performances and new publications of music, but they approached the task with far more zeal and imagination than their forerunners. The concept of Ã¢â‚¬Å“absolute music,Ã¢â‚¬? which E. T. A. Hoffmann inaugurated with his ecstatic review of BeethovenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Fifth Symphony in 1813, would go on to become the single most inÃ¯Â¬â€šuential aesthetic idea concerning music. It represented a quintessentially romantic and universalist appreciation of instrumental music, oriented to transcendent questions of existence far above the lesser matters of national character. But at the same time, it valorized musical genres like the symphony that not just the Germans but all Europeans associated with German composersÃ¢â‚¬"Beethoven, of course, chief among them. The history of the idea of absolute music, as explored in this volume in the essays of Bernd Sponheuer, Albrecht RiethmÃƒÂ¼ller, and Hans Vaget, thus reveals the gradual development of German musicÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s reputation as superior precisely because of its universality and transcendence of national differences. As these essays all point out, however, few of those engaged in this discourse sought to pinpoint what actually made this music superior.
Music criticism gained a new preponderance in the nineteenth century, both as a result of its sheer bulk and institutional weight and because of its close association with composers, conductors, and scholars, many of whom were themselves active critics. The creation of a uniÃ¯Â¬?ed musical canon could thus be reinforced simultaneously in concert halls, lecture halls, and the pages of increasingly specialized journals. Composers, notably Robert Schumann in his Neue Zeitschrift fÃƒÂ¼r Musik and Wagner in his occasional writings, legitimated the act of writing about music as an essential aspect of understanding music. A marked preoccupation with GermanyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s importance in the European musical world characterized their work, and even more, the work of their imitators.
Similarly, music scholarship, still in its infancy and likewise carried out largely by musicians, critics, and composers, also became preoccupied with German masters of the past and embarked on one of its greatest achievements in 1851 when the newly founded Bach Gesellschaft inaugurated a massive projectÃ¢â‚¬"the complete edition of BachÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s works. The Bach edition, a phenomenon in its own right, marked an important event in the nascent discipline of musicology and resonated throughout the community of composers, critics, and scholars. Brahms, for instance, himself a part-time musicologist, received the Ã¯Â¬?rst volume as a Christmas gift from Clara Schumann in 1855, and thereafter subscribed to the complete series. Further critical editions of the works of a single Ã¢â‚¬Å“GermanÃ¢â‚¬? composer followed with the complete works of Handel (1858), Mozart (1876), Schubert (1883), Beethoven (1884), and Lassus (1894).
Many of the critical editions that followed came to be classiÃ¯Â¬?ed as Ã¢â‚¬Å“monumentsÃ¢â‚¬? and served as a sonic counterpart to the many statues, some devoted to musicians, that patriotic burghers erected in town squares and city parks during the monument frenzy in Germany dating from the 1860s. The most ambitious editorial projects were the government-sponsored, multivolume scholarly editions of early music from German-speaking regions, the Ã¢â‚¬Å“monumentsÃ¢â‚¬? (DenkmÃƒÂ¤ler) series. The largest among them dated back roughly to the last decade of the nineteenth century: DenkmÃƒÂ¤ler der Tonkunst in Ãƒ-sterreich began in 1888, DenkmÃƒÂ¤ler deutscher Tonkunst in 1889, and DenkmÃƒÂ¤ler der Tonkunst in Bayern in 1900. The term Denkmal literally means an occasion for thought, a spur to thinking, a reminder, even a warning. The musical DenkmÃƒÂ¤ler projects reminded Germans of their musical greatness and implicitly warned against musical superÃ¯Â¬?ciality and fashion. The great German tradition so celebrated was for the most part an eminently serious and intellectually demanding one, embracing a Ã¢â‚¬Å“strong concept of art.Ã¢â‚¬? Its alternative, as Carl Dahlhaus argued most fully in his synthesis Nineteenth-Century Music, was coded foreign, non-German, to wit, Italian.
Finally, the stateÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s participation in emphasizing the national signiÃ¯Â¬?cation of musical life grew steadily during the nineteenth century, taking on dominant proportions after 1871. The increasing importance of the state in shaping national identity reÃ¯Â¬â€šected the gradual eclipse of popular nationalism by a more ofÃ¯Â¬?cial version, in the German case a matter of the Hohenzollern dynasty seizing in awkward embrace a century-long legacy of nation-making among political liberals and romantic intellectuals. The transformation of the Hohenzollern kings from Prussian dynasts to Ã¢â‚¬Å“Number 1Ã¢â‚¬? Germans unfolded to the strains of Beethoven symphonies and overtures. The kaiserÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s or BismarckÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s association with the music of Beethoven constituted, moreover, a fundamentally different phenomenon from the mere accompaniment to royal movement represented by, for instance, HandelÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Water Music. As David Dennis has shown, it was Beethoven in particular who mattered to politicians of all stripes, especially in his heroic mode. The nationalist moment, then, had arrived when blue bloods linked themselves to commoners merely on the basis of a shared nationality. By the 1870s, certain music could usefully demonstrate the Germanness of the new state and its kings, and thereby legitimate the new stateÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s particular solution to the question of what was the German fatherland. In 1889, the DenkmÃƒÂ¤ler deutscher Tonkunst was launched with an edited volume of Frederick the GreatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s compositions for Ã¯Â¬â€šute, presented to the reigning heir Wilhelm II as a means to Ã¯Â¬â€šatter and simultaneously draw attention to the need to preserve musical Ã¢â‚¬Å“treasuresÃ¢â‚¬? in published editions. This tactic succeeded, as Wilhelm, impressed with the Ã¢â‚¬Å“patriotic and artistic goalsÃ¢â‚¬? of the undertaking and seeking legitimation himself, provided the necessary funds to secure future volumes.