Naturalising Sounds: How Instrumental Music is (Made) National

International Conference, Regensburg, 22–23 January 2021
University of Regensburg, Department of Musicology

CfP deadline: 24 July 2020

In 1997 the symposium “French and German Music in the 20th Century” in Frankfurt am Main (“Französische und deutsche Musik im 20. Jahrhundert”) concluded that “today all national typology has lost its validity” (conference review in Die Musikforschung by Peter Jost). At the end of his article on “Nationalism” for the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Richard Taruskin, citing Mark Slobin, expressed a hope for a pluralistic global culture consisting of a “fascinating counterpoint of near and far, large and small, neighborhood and national, home and away”. This now seems to be contradicted by the nationalistic tendencies that are gaining popularity worldwide. Music does not remain untouched by this and can become the subject of ideological appropriation. Against this background, nationalistic currents of bygone music history gain relevance once more, after having been considered for some time as over and done with. Here we find actual examples of the mechanisms of making music “national” in a nationalistically charged socio-political climate.

The conference’s main focus lies on instrumental music and those particular moments in modern music history when national or even nationalistic qualities have been attributed to it. These instances occur outside the sounding music itself; they are manifested verbally: in texts accompanying music performances, writings of music theory and music history and, last but not least, in the press – see for example such different cases as Robert Schumann’s articles on Nils Wilhelm Gade in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik or Carl Mennicke playing off the “Mannheimer Schule” against the Italian opera introduction (Hasse und die Brüder Graun als Symphoniker, Leipzig 1906).

For the interpretation of such cases a distinction needs to be made between terms such as “national” and “nationalistic”, as well as “political”, “popular”/”folksy” and—as Peter Benary emphasized in 1979—“scenic” (“landschaftlich”). Raising questions about “moments” of nationalising music seems to be in contradiction to the long cultivated concept of folk music being the basis of all national musical characteristics. Despite this view, folk music is essentially a local or at least a regional phenomenon. Since a national element cannot constitute itself purely on the basis of sounds, there still have to be acts of reflection and interpretation to attribute such qualities to folk music.

It is the aim of this conference to discover these instances in the wide realm of instrumental music, to examine, analyse and compare them.

Keynote speaker will be Prof. Dr. Stefan Keym (University of Leipzig). As part of the conference there will be a concert with a thematically related programme (esp. Dmitri Shostakovitch’s Seventh Symphony) by the University Symphony Orchestra on 23 January.

We welcome papers of 20 minutes’ length settled in the area of modern music history, focussing on questions such as (but not excluding others):

Is it possible to distinguish different strategies of branding music with a nationality in historical or contemporary music criticism and analysis?

Who decides about the nationality of music? What are the criteria?

How are differences of opinion handled?

How does one become a national composer? Can this status be lost again?

Are there instrumental genres that at certain times tended to be treated and interpreted in a national context? What are the reasons for this?

How are obvious inter-national overlaps of musical material handled (Scotch snap, Lombard rhythm, Hungarian word emphasis)?

How is the “internationality” of particular music established?

Abstracts (2000 characters), along with a short autobiography (700 characters), should be sent to Dr. Michael Braun (michael4.braun@ur.de), Department of Musicology at the University of Regensburg, no later than 24 July 2020. Conference languages are German and English. Notifications of acceptance will be sent by 28 August 2020.