The Musical Fabric of Globalization: Hegemony, Creativity and Change in Transcultural Settings, 1880s to 1930s

Claudius Torp, Universität Kassel
27.06.2019 - 29.06.2019
Alexandre Bischofberger, Fachbereich Geschichte und Soziologie, Universität Konstanz

In recent years, the globalization of music has become an important research topic for both musicologists and historians. On the one hand, scholars have followed the traces of music on its journey around the world and studied how musical genres have developed in a world shaped by coerced and deliberate migration. On the other hand, they have dealt with the conditions for the global dissemination of music and examined the influence of music on societies across the globe. From June 27 to 29 2019, historians and musicologists met at the Bauhaus University of Weimar to elaborate on these approaches by discussing questions concerning the cultural condition of music in the ‘age of empire’. The conference, funded by the German Research Foundation and convened by Claudius Torp (Kassel), evolved around three main concepts that were crucial throughout the period spanned by the conference: hegemony, creativity, and change. All panels and contributions covered – each in its own way and with its own emphasis – at least one of these three aspects.

The first concept examined by the conference – hegemony – revealed the significance of political and social power relations for the musical world of the late 19th century. The question of hegemony was thus addressed in FRIEDEMANN PESTEL’s (Freiburg) talk on German-speaking conductors and the influence of their Latin America tours in the 1920s on their careers. Concentrating on Richard Strauss, Arthur Nikisch, and Felix von Weingartner he not only illustrated the institutionalization of a transatlantic music business, but also portrayed musicians as figures who were always integrated in political contexts and were bound by power relations. DEREK B. SCOTT (Leeds) focused on the city as analytical category when investigating transcultural musical exchange, and explored the scope of concepts such as transcreation, hybridity and globalization. He finally reminded the conference participants that the processes of cultural sharing and borrowing are always wrapped up in power relations.

In a presentation rich in historical examples, JANN PASLER (San Diego, California) addressed the question of hegemony by exploring the connection between music and French colonial identity. While acknowledging that colonial relationships between metropolis and colony and between colonizers and colonized have always been shaped by cultural hegemony, she underscored the opportunities offered to historical actors in the colonies to undermine traditional power relations in the field of music. Women, for example, had the chance to become theater directors in Algiers, which would have been impossible in Paris at the same time.

In his examination of the piano boom in South Africa at the turn of the 20th century, CLAUDIUS TORP (Kassel) offered a striking case study on the importance of power relations in the musical world. He depicted the piano as an instrument of the British settler community in the Cape Colony. Soirées and piano concerts were an essential part of colonial elite culture as they not only offered the British settlers a mental bridge to their European home country, but served also as a means of distinction from non-middle class and non-white members of the colonial society. And yet, in this case, too, there was the prospect of using the piano to subvert existing power constellations, since a kind of ‘uncivilized’ piano developed, one played by black musicians as a part of a black cosmopolitanism.

HARRY LIEBERSOHN (Urbana-Champaign, IL) presented a different perspective on the role that hegemony played in the musical world of the late 19th century. With the cases of A. J. Hipkins and Alexander Ellis he drew attention to two ethnomusicologists “avant la lettre”. Both were interested in musical instruments from all over the world. They found them in the early instruments holding of the Victoria and Albert Museum, which consisted largely of the private collection of the Anglo-German musicologist Carl Engel. All three protagonists of Liebersohn’s talk rejected the presumption of Western superiority. Their large-scale comparative programs overcame Victorian evolutionary thinking, connected the local and the global scale, and thus readjusted the relationship between metropolis and periphery.

The connection between the local and the global seems to be just as ubiquitous when it comes to the second key concept of the conference: creativity. Four talks must be especially mentioned in the context of this concept. Firstly, LARS CHRISTIAN KOCH’s (Berlin) presentation on Kolkata and the influence of the city’s habitus on its musical culture. Perceiving it as a cultural melting pot and a place for culture vultures, Koch highlighted a distinctive Kolkatan music culture developing from the time of the Bengali Renaissance and Indian nationalism up to the present day. The music specific to Kolkata was and is shaped by the influence of various global musical styles and different overlaps of sound structures. A contemporary example of this creative process is Bengali Rock, which combines global musical influences with local music traditions and the Bengali language.

Secondly, OLAVO ALÉN RODRÍGUEZ (Havana) focused on Cuba and accentuated that the musical life of the island and of the United States was interconnected by a process of creative interaction and by economic ties. On the one hand, the global dissemination of Cuban music started from the soil of the USA. On the other hand, Cuban music influenced the American soundscape and music industry. The development of Cubop or the emergence of the Mambo craze can be regarded as results of these transfer processes. Alén Rodríguez further explained that Salsa had emerged in the middle of the 20th century in New York City from the recording industry’s interest in appealing particularly to Latinos in the USA.

TIAGO DE OLIVEIRA PINTO (Weimar), thirdly, drew attention to the role played by rhythm patterns in transcultural musicological research. The score itself, he stated, is not the only evidence of the emergence of musical styles. Therefore, a closer look at the rhythm patterns that lie behind the analyzed music is necessary. Oliveira Pinto argued that Brazilian samba had been based on the structure of the South-West African Kachacha rhythm. In this way, he substantiated the musical relations between Africa and Brazil that had emerged from the transatlantic slave trade.

CHRISTIAN UTZ (Graz) finally addressed the issue of creativity by focussing on the work of two avant-garde composers from early 20th century France and United States, Maurice Delage and Henry Cowell. Both were inspired by traditional Asian music and thus placed non-western music at the heart of their work. In so doing, their conception of art overcame prevalent aesthetics. Utz also compared their work with the compositional ideas implemented by Japanese composers at the same time. He therefore suggested an entangled music history to analyze the extent to which such creative concepts were influenced by each other and how they were conceived.

Change took place in various spheres during the period under investigation. The first wave of globalization from 1860 onwards was driven by increasing mobility and marked by the emergence of a global market for both music and musicians. CRISTINA MAGALDI (Towson, Maryland) presented the case study of “Yvonne’s cabaret”, a Brazilian nightclub in 1890s Rio de Janeiro. Magaldi conceptualized it as a local institution that was at the same time shaped by the social-political conditions of Rio de Janeiro, but also as globally interconnected. Visitors and artists from all over the world established relations from Yvonne’s enterprise to the cabaret scenes in other metropolitan cultures, based on a new urban mind-set that blurred geographical and cultural differences.

Globalization and the social upheavals it engendered played a central part in TOBIAS JANZ’s (Bonn) search for a global bourgeoisie. He argued that this term should not be used to describe a homogeneous social class. Instead, there existed many different national and regional movements toward a distinct bourgeois class. An examination of these individual cases, as suggested by Janz, points to the importance of 19th century musical globalization for the formation of these middle-class groups. A global, overarching perspective could reveal where similarities and differences can be found in this process.

TAKENAKA TORU (Tokyo) analyzed the performance practice of Western music in Meiji-Restoration Japan. In contrast to Western musicians, Japanese musicians completely avoided displaying emotions. This attitude, based on a traditional moral code, was subject to public criticism. In response, Japanese musicians began to mimic the gestures of their Western colleagues in an exaggerated way. Thus they provided the Japanese public with an access to Western music and a way to cope with the country’s ongoing Westernization.

Based on the biography of the German missionary Bruno Gutmann ANNA MARIA BUSSE BERGER (Davis, California) discussed how the German missionaries had influenced and changed the musical culture of the Chaga people in East Africa. The missionaries had done so by introducing Lutheran chorals and western tuning. In the 1920s, however, their engagement at the colonial periphery spilled over on musical conceptions in the metropole. Gutmann, who was involved in the “Jugendmusik- und Singbewegung”, returned from Africa talking about “Gemeinschaft” and the need to accommodate Lutheran chorales to local languages and customs. The missionary experience thus sheds light on German cultural history and shows how interwar notions of “Gemeinschaft” were shaped by African culture.

In contrast to these contributions, PHILIP V. BOHLMAN (Chicago), in his Evening Lecture, emphasized a specific kind of continuity that accompanied social and musical change in the age of empire. War and violent encounters provided a recurring condition for the production and performance of music. Adopting a “longue durée” and global perspective, he made it clear that music is not only related to violent historical encounters and vice versa, but should also be understood as a response to violence and war as well as a way to express total destruction.

The final roundtable discussion brought all these strands together. In their statements FANNY GRIBENSKI (Berlin), MARKUS BÖGGEMANN (Kassel), and MARTIN REMPE (Konstanz/Munich) each focussed on one of the three guiding notions. Gribenski stressed that politics and power relations had been constitutive for every single musical encounter. Böggemann stated that creativity was about making decisions, a process charged with social, historical, and contextual requirements. He criticized the persisting idea that the essence of composing lies in a process taking place in the head that is only put down on paper afterwards. In contrast to such an understanding, Böggemann tried to explore creativity through the lens of labor. In this way, he elaborated, creativity was a moving factor, but one that always travelled with things or people. Rempe concentrated on globalization as the central process of change during the period in question and asked what contribution the given talks could make to the study of globalization processes. Three aspects seemed particularly noteworthy to him: the changing role of historical actors, extra-musical factors and cosmopolitanism. While new groups of actors gained in importance and the materiality of music reached a new level due to the emerging recording industry, the question of whether globalization fostered cosmopolitanism and whether the actors themselves had been aware of this development would have to be examined on a case-by-case basis.

The connection between globalization and music is becoming more and more diversified as a field of research. One striking outcome of the conference was the necessity to focus more on the musical actors of globalization than on the mere existence of connections. It cannot be stressed enough that it were the musical actors who constituted and maintained these networks. It seems equally important to take into account that globalization has created not only creative moments, but also discontents and tensions. And one may add that cultural globalization must not only be understood as an increasingly dense network, but also as a process that could overturn spatial hierarchies or lead to loss of globality. Globalization processes in the musical world are thus a complex subject that requires a multifaceted approach. The conference provided a useful starting point for systematizing the driving forces of these processes and finally to analyze them by dint of concrete examples. Altogether the symposium turned out to be a highly productive occasion to bring together the perspectives of musicology and history and to intensify the exchange between the two disciplines.

Conference overview:

Welcome Address and Introduction
Claudius Torp (Kassel)

Musical Prelude: “Transcultural Dialogues”
Mukasa Wafula (Weimar/Kenya) and Mariano González (Weimar/Brazil)

Panel I: Global Circuits of Music Consumption

Friedemann Pestel (Freiburg): Rising Demand(s) and Global Careers: German-speaking Musicians in Latin-American Migrant Societies in the 1920s

Derek B. Scott (Leeds): Cosmopolitanism and the Global Circuits of Popular Music

Panel II: The Cosmopolitan City

Harry Liebersohn (Urbana-Champaign, IL): Collecting the World: Scholars, Exhibitions, and Global Instruments in Kensington, London, 1869-1910

Cristina Magaldi (Towson, MD): The Cabaret and the City

Panel III: The Musical Life of Settler Colonialism

Jann Pasler (San Diego, CA): The Musical Fields of Practice and Identity under French Colonialism: A New Paradigm

Claudius Torp (Kassel): Examinations and Eisteddfodau: The Piano in White South African Musical Culture

Panel IV: The Rise of a Global Bourgeoisie

Tobias Janz (Bonn): Bourgeois Society and Music: Transnational Perspectives

Takenaka Toru (Tokyo): Primacy of Gesture: How Did Modern Japanese Assimilate Western Musical Emotions?

Panel V: Folk Revivalism: Political, Intellectual, Commercial

Anna Maria Busse Berger (Davis, CA): Bruno Gutmann, the Chagga, and Jugendbewegung

Lars Christian Koch (Berlin): Adhunik Gan – Neo-traditional Songs and Bengali Identity: “Folk invention” in a Late Colonial Urban Setting

Olavo Alén Rodríguez (Havana): Cuban son Music in a Global Age: Birth of a Transcultural Aesthetic Behaviour

Evening Lecture
Philip V. Bohlman (Chicago): Musica in tempore belli – Musical Topographies of Global Encounter

Panel VI: The Emergence of a Transcultural Avantgarde

Tiago de Oliveira Pinto (Weimar): Transculturation in the Music History of Latin America: The Case of Brazilian Samba

Christian Utz (Graz): “… des sonorities Hindoues qui me donnent froid dans le dos”: Modernist Readings of Japanese and Indian traditional Music between 1910 and 1935

Roundtable discussion
Markus Böggemann (Kassel), Fanny Gribenski (Berlin), and Martin Rempe (Konstanz/Munich)

Tagungsbericht: The Musical Fabric of Globalization: Hegemony, Creativity and Change in Transcultural Settings, 1880s to 1930s, 27.06.2019 – 29.06.2019 Weimar, in: H-Soz-Kult, 25.09.2019, <>.
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