Confronting the National in the Musical Past

Third Sibelius Academy Symposium on Music History

May 21–23, 2014 at the Sibelius Academy, University of the Arts, Helsinki

An international conference hosted by the Rethinking Finnish Music History research project at Sibelius Academy.

Keynote speakers
Celia Applegate, Vanderbilt University, USA
Philip V. Bohlman, University of Chicago, USA

Third keynote to be announced

Conference outline
In cultural studies, a growing interest towards questioning methodological nationalism has emerged. Methodological nationalism points to an attachment between historiography and historical research, on the one hand, and nationalism and the nation state, on the other – an attachment, which has gone, for the most part, unquestioned. For instance, music history has regarded the contemporary nation states as defining the borders and essence of various musical idioms, regardless of whether or not those nations were in existence in the period of the music in question.

The “Netherland schools” and “German Baroque” are among the best known and widely used examples of methodological nationalism at work in music historiography, and, even in the 21st century most general histories of music – independent of genre – are narrated from a national point of view. Most of these nationally oriented histories of music manifest the tendency of associating Great Composers – and famous artists – with a certain nationality, no matter the ethnic and cultural origin of those individuals. It is also very common to read about “Italian”, “Spanish”, “Norwegian” or “French” music as if these were supra-historical epithets, something that in and of themselves qualify and define the essence of those musics.

Widening the scope into categories that are more international and multinational is not necessarily a solution to the ideological fallacy described above – we still have the “national” to contend with, even if our grasp extends beyond national borders. Even through this paradigm shift, it is very difficult to do away with international comparisons of musics . We can, however, detach our research from nation states: instead of focusing on musical idioms, styles and practices within the borders of nations, we can shift our focus towards transcultural musical processes that unfold independent of those borders.

In conclusion, we could argue that a certain “national gaze” has pervaded western music historiography ever since the 19th century, and in relation to this we still have a number of problems to solve in our historical research. The symposium provides a forum for presenting new, critical research in this field, as well as acting as a forum for a critical re-evaluation of the historical narratives to which methodological nationalism has given ground.

We invite proposals for papers and group sessions under the following themes:

1. Writing the Nation in Music Historiography
2. (De)constructing the National Grand Narrative in Music
3. Methodological Nationalism in the Music Media
4. Methodological Nationalism in Music Education
5. Globalization vs. Competition Between Nations in Music History
6. Cultural Transfer in Music History

The Conference committee welcomes individual papers and proposals for panels and roundtable discussions. For individual papers, abstracts of no more than 300 words should be submitted. Panels and roundtable proposals should include a session overview, participant biographies and description of individual contributions. Abstracts and proposals should be sent to conference secretary, Dr. Kaarina Kilpiö ( by January 31, 2014.

Keynote speaker biographies

Celia Applegate studies the culture, society, and politics of modern Germany, with particular interest in the history of music, nationalism and national identity. She is the author of A Nation of Provincials: The German Idea of Heimat (Berkeley, 1990), the co-editor (with musicologist Pamela Potter) of Music and German National Identity (Chicago, 2000), and the author of Bach in Berlin: Nation and Culture in Mendelssohn’s Revival of the St. Matthew Passion (Cornell, 2005), winner of the DAAD/GSA Book Prize. She is currently working on comprehensive interpretation of musical life in Germany from the 17th century to the present, titled Music and the Germans: A History. She is Past President of the German Studies Association and Vice President of the Central European History Society.

Philip Bohlman is a distinguished scholar whose teaching and research covers a broad range, with special interests in music and modernity, folk and popular music in North America and Europe, Jewish music, music of the Middle East and South Asia, music and religion, and music at the encounter with racism and colonialism.

A pianist, he also is the artistic director of the New Budapest Orpheum Society, a Jewish cabaret ensemble at Chicago. He has written and published extensively, and among his most recent publications are World Music: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, USA, 2002), The Music of European Nationalism (ABC-CLIO, 2004), and Jewish Music and Modernity (Oxford University Press, 2005).

The New Budapest Orpheum Society has released the double-CD Dancing on the Edge of the Volcano(2002). Current projects include books on music drama in the Holocaust and a translation of Johann Gottfried Herder’s writings on music and nationalism. Bohlman was awarded the Edward Dent Medal by the Royal Music Association in 1997 and the Berlin Prize from the American Academy in Berlin in 2003.

Conference Committee at Sibelius Academy

Vesa Kurkela (chair), Anne Sivuoja-Kauppala, Heidi Westerlund, Lauri Väkevä, Veijo Murtomäki, Kaarina Kilpiö (conference secretary), Markus Mantere, Olli Heikkinen, Saijaleena Rantanen, Derek B. Scott, University of Leeds.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.