Bohlman, Philip V. Music, Nationalism and the Making of the New Europe,
2nd ed. New York and London: Routledge, 2011.
(appeared in Yearbook for Traditional Music, Vol. 43(2011), 224-226)
An article I read years ago about book reviewing remarks how scathing reviews, although perceived as cruel, nonetheless strike the readership as “more intelligent” than those merely expressing appreciation, or mild criticism (Amabile 1983). That is too bad, because in praising this book by Philip Bohlman, I will run the risk of appearing not especially bright. The book is both valuable and unique: an ethnomusicology of Europe rooted in history, focused on the oral-written nexus, developed from the viewpoint of “nationalism”– thereby isolating it as the crucial element. This matter is of immediate interest not only to music scholars at large, but also to cultural historians and – at least, it should be – to politicians. Musicologists and ethnomusicologists remember – politicians do not seem to – how Greek philosopher Plato believed that in order to measure the “moral climate” of a society (read “social cohesion” and “conflictuality”), one should “observe the music.” Not unlike Plato, we believe that all forms of music-making articulate values and attitudes of social groups, large or small, powerful or powerless; that every time people make music, somebody’s values and attitudes are celebrated, performed, exhibited, even flaunted.
The author's thesis is that nationalism is the key to understanding European music. Any attempt to understand music history in the Old Continent without taking nationalist issues (in their multifarious and contradictory forms) into consideration is sure to be flawed. In his words: “...it is impossible to listen to European Music without encountering nationalism. Nationalism contributes fundamentally to the ontology of European music, that is, to music's 'way of being' in Europe” (xxii). One way to gauge how strong a statement that is, and how novel, is to observe that not one textbook in music history exists which adopts this standpoint. They all deal with nationalism in the one chapter devoted to the nineteenth century (national schools and folksong scholarship). Bohlman goes further, articulating how “national” and “nationalistic” identities (not one and the same thing) are in a constant and accelerating state of flux, getting defined and re-defined by different people in different places; no matter if the music catalyzing the process is originally somebody else's. Bohlman also underscores how “Europe is a culture of cities and city culture is crucial to European identities” (xxiii). I am reminded here of an old book that took the interesting stand of telling music history precisely from the standpoint of cities and time-bordered spaces (Nestler 1988).
It is intriguing, and I leave it to the reader to consider why, that this book should not have been written by a European, but rather by an American author who has developed, over a lifetime, experience with many European countries and cultures, and gives us now the second, revised edition of a volume published years ago (Bohlman 2004). The first was already a challenging read, and the second is even more so, as the author shows how the issues dealt with in the earlier volume have become even more subtle and complex in the meantime. That is why a second, reworked edition with an entirely new chapter was the challenge to be met.
The confluence of ethnography and history realized in this book is in a way the full realization of what Evans-Pritchard once advocated in his famous Manchester lecture (Evans-Pritchard 1961). Both extend to the domain of popular music, as Bohlman argues that just as nationalism can be read in the folk music debate during the nineteenth century, it is in the popular domain that it manifests itself throughout the twentieth century. On a general level, “national” and “nationalist” elements in music are contrasted, highlighting their positive impact on society when coming from communities wishing to be recognized, while respecting the same desire of their neighbours; or, conversely, their negative impact when aggressive and prone to hate and crime. Some form of nationalism appears to be good for European cultural policy at large, and perilous wherever borders are fragile and disputed. I would put it this way: feelings of national identity are like cholesterol, there is a good one a bad one; it is easy to move from the former to the latter, and music mixes up very well with both kinds.
The gamut of interrelated topics and issues treated in this book is extraordinarily wide: the concept of “folk music” and that kind of monument that music collections have been; the idea of a “national music” (before and after the State is made); the process by which pieces, performances and repertoires may become “national”; and musicology itself, which is so often a national – if not nationalistic – enterprise (the connection between the rediscovery of Bach with the making of Germany as a nation is as good an example as any). There are also case studies of military marches and hymns or anthems like the Marseillaise, the International Hymn, the European Anthem (from Beethoven’s Choral Symphony), Haydn's Kaiserhymne, the Radetzky and the Rákóczy Marches, and others, as well as contemporary topics like the Eurovision Contest. So we learn how there is in the course of history no shortage of musical phenomena linked with nationalism, functioning to exhibit it in one form or another. A most fascinating chapter (No. 6) is devoted to “Europeans without Nations”; or those groups the Garland Encyclopedia of World Music (Volume 8: Europe) describes as transnational (Rice, Porter, Goertzen 2000). Chapter 7, the entirely new one in the book (“Europeans of Many Nations: Music beyond the borders of the Nation State”), is possibly one many Europeans will not enjoy. It is about the memory of violence in the past and the specter of it in the future; it is about “Those with multiple nationalities” who “force a reckoning with the holocaust, ...of colonial disgraces in places such as Algeria” and “are unpleasant symptoms of all that is wrong with Europe” (p. 202). Music is there all the time as “it concentrates the many cultural practices that constitute the zone of displacement: language, religion, historical narrative, collective and communal performance, ...” (p. 203). The sad, but realistic observation is that “New Europeanness by no means eliminates the specter of violence that so closely follows nationalism; it reveals that violence, and it attempts to repair the damage left in its path.” (p. 205)
In this volume, the author casts his net so wide, and the kind of fish he is after is so protean, that however much of it is brought to the shore, one could easily wish for more. For instance, one dimension still deserving attention is the economic. Nationalism through music and with music has a cost. Another one is its contagiousness, its transplantation to the non-Western world, and its reverberation onto Europe itself. But one cannot ask any single author to deliver the universe; especially when he comes very close to doing that. In fact, if according to several commentators Wagner's Tristan contains about fifty leitmotifs, just as many can be found in this book. The bibliography, complemented by a useful discography, filmography, and a CD with musical examples, reveals them all. The iconographic apparatus is a valuable complement to the narrative.
This is a book that is “on time” for our time, a fascinating read for Europeans – whether music scholars or not – as well as for non-Europeans who, like it or not, cannot help interacting with Europe and Europeanness. Hopefully it will be read by some of the politicians who are struggling to get the European Union on the right track.
Amabile, Teresa. 1983. “Brilliant but Cruel: Perception of Negative Evaluators.” Journal of
Experimental Social Psychology. XIX(1983), no. 2, 145-156.
Bohlman, Philip. 2004 The Music of European Nationalism: Cultural Identity and Modern History.
Santa Barbara: ABC-Clio.
---------. 2002. “The singing nation” and “National Anthems.” In Philip Bohlman, World Music: A
Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 92-96 and 99-104.
Evans-Pritchard, Edward E. 1961. Anthropology and History. Manchester: Manchester University
Nestler, Gerhard. 1988. Geschichte der Musik. Die grossen Zeiträume der Musik von den Anfängen
bis zur elektronischen Musik (1962). Mainz: B. Schott's Söhne.
Rice, Timothy with James Porter, and Chris Goertzen, eds. 2000. The Garland Encyclopedia of World
Music. Vol. 8, “Europe.” New York and London: Garland Publishing.