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  • Singing in the Age of Anxiety: Lieder Performances in New York and London between the World Wars by Laura Tunbridge
  • Karen Leistra-Jones
Singing in the Age of Anxiety: Lieder Performances in New York and London between the World Wars. By Laura Tunbridge. Pp. vii + 239. (University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London, 2018. £41. ISBN 978-0-226-56357-2)

Laura Tunbridge's study of lieder performance between the World Wars is many things: a social history of musical life in New York and London; a consideration of the relationship between recorded media and live performance; an exploration of the ways that canons are formed; and a rich portrayal of the singers, accompanists, broadcasters, concert organizers, and critics who devoted themselves to the genre. At the heart of the book there is an intriguing question: how did the German lied—a small-scale, intimate genre intricately bound up in the German language of its poetry—become a mainstay, even a cornerstone, of British and American song recitals?

To answer this, Tunbridge argues, we must look to the interwar years, the time during which lieder performance as we now often encounter it took shape (pp. 9–10). Yet wary of [End Page 744] providing a simple answer to a complex question, Tunbridge presents an account that is deliberately 'decentered': she looks at London and New York not as self-contained musical worlds, but rather as 'important nodes on a transatlantic network' (p. 6) of singers and institutions, both cities also defined by complicated relationships to German culture. Similarly, she examines a fascinating array of performance venues (concert halls, opera houses, private residences, ocean liners, luxury hotels, military training grounds, art galleries, public monuments), media (gramophone recordings, radio broadcasts, film, vitaphone recordings, in addition to live performance), and critical voices. Particularly impressive is the diversity of archival sources that she brings to bear on the topic, from diaries, letters, and memoirs to historical recordings and films, society membership registers to concert programmes and reviews. All of this allows for a highly textured account of musical life during a period that has so often been studied in the context of modernism, popular music, or institutional histories (p. 2), all of which tend to overlook the vast range of musical experience documented here.

As befits Tunbridge's decentred approach, the book's four chapters (ordered roughly chronologically) each contain several case studies placed side by side in order to illuminate an issue or set of issues. Her first chapter examines lieder performance during the First World War and its immediate aftermath. Despite the centrality of New York's German community to the city's cultural, and especially musical life, during the First World War it became inexpedient to present songs in the enemy's vernacular language (p. 22). In the first part of the chapter, Tunbridge documents how successful lieder singers like the German-American contralto Ernestine Schumann-Heink were forced to rebrand themselves—in Schumann-Heink's case as a patriotic American figure, singing for the troops and abandoning lieder for American songs and spirituals—in order to dissociate themselves from a now highly politicized repertory.

The next two examples, though, are set as attitudes towards German music began to thaw in the 1920s. These show an important theme in the book: the ability of lieder to be cast both as examples of German Kultur and as part of a shared international 'civilization'. Tunbridge recounts how the African-American tenor Roland Hayes moved from the United States to London in 1920 and soon became one of the city's most successful recitalists. While he was initially praised primarily as an interpreter of spirituals—his race determining the 'authenticity' of his rendition in the minds of many critics—Hayes gradually incorporated more 'highbrow' music such as German lieder into his recitals as he ascended London's social and cultural ladders (p. 34). As critics at the time recognized, to give a successful rendering of the songs in German required impressive linguistic abilities, and for Hayes and other singers hailing from marginal positions (Tunbridge gives the Irish tenor John McCormack as another example), they served as 'a means to prove their intellect...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1477-4631
Print ISSN
0027-4224
Pages
pp. 744-747
Launched on MUSE
2020-05-14
Open Access
No
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