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Reviewed by:
  • Musical Encounters at the 1889 Paris World’s Fair
  • Lesley A. Wright
Musical Encounters at the 1889 Paris World’s Fair. By Annegret Fauser. Rochester, NY: The University of Rochester Press, 2005. [xviii, 391 p. ISBN 1-58046-185-9. $75.] Music examples, illustrations, index, bibliography, appendices.

Annegret Fauser's fascinating study brings to life the 1889 Paris World's Fair as a complex "sonic landscape" far more intriguing than simply the site where Debussy and Ravel, among others, came upon the Javanese gamelan and recent music of the Russian Mighty Five. By exploring how music from Western and non-Western traditions was exhibited, understood, listened to, and written about, she illuminates the complexities of cultural production and reception in late nineteenth-century France and even Europe. The research is accurate, detailed, and thorough (among her primary sources, for example, the author has scanned fifty-seven periodicals and newspapers). The translations from the French are impeccable, the control of the secondary literature in several disciplines impressive, and the flowing narrative replete with well-chosen quotations, long-forgotten information, thought-provoking footnotes, and perceptive comments galore. "Thick history" in the very best sense, this beautifully produced volume entertains, informs, and stimulates the reader throughout its length.

A concise introductory chapter informs us that between 6 May and 6 November 1889, in the shadow of the newly erected Eiffel Tower, some thirty-million people attended this World's Fair. The enterprise, celebrating the centennial of the French Revolution, was advertised as a gigantic encyclopedia that showed and explained everything. Sounds of all types (whether simple noise, music, or music-as-noise—the last a label applied by some Europeans to certain African and Asian musics) enveloped the visitor. Amidst the babble of visitors, bands blared, musical entertainers worked the cafes, dancers glided or [End Page 364] stamped or wriggled to various musics, audiences assembled in the acoustically deficient concert hall at Trocadéro for concerts of Western art music, and so on. The physical location of music shaped the way it was listened to just as aesthetic debates about the music of different nations and times reflected the politics of the writers. The national government (and even the city of Paris) consciously planned the image they hoped visitors would take home from this event, and music was important to their efforts.

In recreating this "soundscape," Fauser (p. 7, n. 18) has borrowed a term and taken up the challenge of Reinhard Strohm's Music in Late Medieval Bruges (rev. ed., Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), where he calls for a "historical ethnomusicology which assumes a sonic history incompletely reflected in our texts." And so, with multiple tools, she treats us to an investigative report of the highest order. After all, who were these informants whose responses help us to experience unrecorded music? What did they actually hear? Where did they hear it? And, more important, why did they value or undervalue the music of various traditions? And how did they listen to the familiar and the unfamiliar or attempt to close their ears to it?

Musical Encounters is organized in six chapters, followed by two extensive appendices that reproduce and/or reconstitute the concert programs at the fair and list nightly performances at the Opéra and Opéra-Comique during the six months of the exhibition. A glossary of names briefly sketches some of the principal figures who participated in creating this soundscape.

The first chapter examines the official concerts that presented a retrospective of the previous century of French music and put an official stamp on the emerging French canon in both orchestral and organ repertory. Choral programs with large forces evoked comparisons with concerts of the Revolution's decade. Building on Katharine Ellis's work, Fauser also discusses the nationalist symbolism shown by the responses to early music and even the harpsichord itself. Discussion of historic performance practice also allowed commentators to put the theme of authenticity front and center, a theme that would resurface in comments on other kinds of music. The chapter concludes with an analysis of French reception of other national concerts at Trocadéro (Scandinavia, the United States, Spain, and Belgium).

Chapter 2 takes...


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