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A new book devoted to the serious study of national music might seem to be a late entry in a crowded field. Music critics and scholars have been writing about national music and nationalism in music for over a century and the literature in English has even accelerated in the past thirty years. The topic has been central to the work of Philip Bohlman, Jim Samson, Richard Taruskin, and a good many other prominent musicologists. Admittedly, much of the recent work has focused on music and identity in particular places and on nationalism in the works of individual composers, while few studies have taken a wider view of the subject. Drawing on existing literature and its authors' extensive knowledge of the repertory, Nation and Classical Music: From Handel to Copland presents a detailed survey of the relationship between music and nationalism over a period of two and half centuries.
The book sets out to explore two related issues: the impact of nationalism on classical music and how the musical works themselves helped to shape nations. Its material is culled from a period beginning in the early decades of the eighteenth century, when the rise of a middle class created a demand for public performances, and ending in the middle decades of the twentieth century, with the music of Copland and Shostakovich.
Nation and Classical Music brings together two authors well qualified to grapple with the challenging subject matter. The musicologist Matthew Riley has published widely on music from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries: from Haydn and Mozart to Edward Elgar, including the edited volume, British Music and Modernism 1895–1916 (Farnham, 2010). The sociologist and historian Anthony D. Smith was for decades a leading figure in the study of nationalism. His influence reached far beyond the London School of Economics, where he taught for most of his professional life. His work was closely concerned with the role of culture in the construction of nations, most notably in The Nation Made Real: Art and National Identity in Western Europe, 1600–1850 (Oxford, 2013). He died in July 2016, just before Nation and Classical Music was published.
Riley and Smith first address the problem of terminology. The introduction begins with a discussion of the characteristics of 'nationalism' and the phenomena associated with it (ideology, political movements, language, a sense of belonging, and the growth of nations), and distinguishes between political and cultural forms of nationalism. Broadly defined as 'a form of human community', the nation is further delineated by reference to such elements as 'shared memories, myths, symbols, values and traditions' (p. 7). For the purposes of this study, 'national music' is said to be concerned with cultural nationalism and identity, while the aim of 'nationalist music' is 'purely political', and intended 'to arouse its listeners to political action' (p. 8). The book then focuses on four cultural dimensions of nationhood: community, territory, history, and commemoration. [End Page 294]
The opening chapter provides a general discussion of the musical expressions of these dimensions of nationhood. After briefly looking back to the Middle Ages and to different forms of early nations, it focuses on the place of music in the celebration of community and citizenship, drawing especially on musical examples from eighteenth-century England, Revolutionary France, and nineteenth-century Germany. It then turns to representations of national community in such mid-nineteenth-century operas as Glinka's A Life for the Tsar and Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. The chapter closes with a discussion of the elite's interest in folk music and its use by composers in many parts of Europe.
Each of the next four chapters addresses an aspect of music and nationalism. Chapter 2 explores the use of folk music in defining the nation, with references to German lieder, Beethoven's settings of British folksongs, piano music (Chopin and Grieg), orchestral genres, and finally the works of modern composers such as Janáček...