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  • The Composer as Intellectual: Music and Ideology in France, 1914–1940
  • Stephen Schloesser
The Composer as Intellectual: Music and Ideology in France, 1914–1940. By Jane F. Fulcher (New York, Oxford University Press, 2005) 488 pp. $74.00

Fulcher continues the project that she began in French Cultural Politics and Music: From the Dreyfus Affair to the First World War (New York, 1997), extending her narrative from World War I to World War II. Her aim throughout continues to be the integration of two historical disciplines often kept separate: on the one hand, the history of "official politics and culture and responses to them" and on the other, the history of "musical, stylistic development" (17). Writing in the methodological vein associated with the "New Cultural History" journal Representations, Fulcher explores music as a form of "representation." Musical genres, styles, repertoires, and techniques, when "surrounded by a discourse," are all capable of being "coded" and becoming carriers of "ideological meaning" (11). Since "there is no discursive meaning without interlocution or context," Fulcher retrieves the "interlocutors who are now absent" and recreates "the dialogues of which they were a part" (323, 18). As a result, we remember the often forgotten—namely, that composers were "also intellectuals who responded to the major ideological-aesthetic questions and polemics of their period" (18).

Each of four chapters is devoted to a political epoch. The first (1914–1918) lays out Fulcher's method of surveying various musical institutions (schools, publishers, musicological journals, the Opéra, and concert-going)—as well as compositions—deployed in the context of wartime nationalism. The second considers the 1920s, identified today with the avant-garde but dominated at the time by conservative voices. In Chapter three, tables are turned as the socialist Popular Front is elected into government (1936) and the left applies lessons learned from the right. Finally, the fourth chapter follows the pendulum's rightward swing (1938–1940) following socialist defeat.

Fulcher divides each chapter into two parts, a structure embodying her basic strategy, uncovering the "dialogue," "tension," "challenge," and "opposition"—that is, the always contested meanings—embedded in the codes used by the "two cultures" of "conformity and dissent" in each epoch (46). Wartime factions fought about what constituted genuine "French Music" and whether its "purity" needed to be "protected" against "foreign contamination" (29). These conflicts evolved during the postwar decade to arguments about whether the "classicism" synonymous with "the French" should be seen (from the right) as particularly "national" or rather (from the left) as humanistically "universal" (88). (Jean Cocteau straddled both sides.) During the Great Depression, the increasingly powerful left's attacks on tradition were opposed by various factions: center to right republicans, Catholics (for example, Francis Poulenc), and fascist sympathizers (260). Finally, although "few scholars have seen an official aesthetic shift in 1938," Fulcher's innovative look at a nonconformist "revolutionary spiritualism" from 1938 to 1940 illuminates [End Page 281] wartime works, especially those of Olivier Messiaen (328, n. 25). A brief coda looks ahead to both Vichy and Resistance aesthetics.

Fulcher's two-volume overview of the years 1898 to 1940 adds a crucial piece to a complex puzzle: How do politics and the arts interact, both in tandem and in subversion? Her study could profitably be read with works exploring the post-1945 American scene, including Frances Stonor Saunders' The Cultural Cold War (New York, 1999), David Caute's The Dancer Defects (New York, 2003), and Penny Von Eschen's Satchmo Blows Up the World (Cambridge, Mass., 2004). Since music is the least "representational" of the arts (in the sense of mimetic resemblance), it is often viewed without reference to extratextual reality. Fulcher succeeds brilliantly in her stated (but too modest) aim—to show that "all which we have largely relegated to the 'background' . . . were significant forces in French musical evolution" (323). Beyond that project, her retrieval of music as "representation" (in the discursive sense) models an archeological method with which to unearth layers of significance. Fulcher's study is essential reading.

Stephen Schloesser
Boston College
...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1530-9169
Print ISSN
0022-1953
Pages
pp. 281-282
Launched on MUSE
2007-08-16
Open Access
No
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