The Composer As Intellectual: Music and Ideology in France, 1914-1940

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In The Composer as Intellectual, musicologist Jane Fulcher reveals the extent to which leading French composers between the World Wars were not only aware of but also engaged intellectually and creatively with the central political and ideological issues of the period. Employing recent sociological and historical insights, she demonstrates the extent to which composers, particularly those in Paris since the Dreyfus Affair, considered themselves and were considered to be intellectuals, and interacted closely with intellectuals in other fields. Their consciousness raised by the First World War and the xenophobic nationalism of official culture, some joined parties or movements, allying themselves with and propagating different sets of cultural and political-social goals.
Fulcher shows how these composers furthered their ideals through the specific language and means of their art, rejecting the dominant cultural exclusions or constraints of conservative postwar institutions and creatively translating their cultural values into terms of form and style. This was not only the case with Debussy in wartime, but with Ravel in the twenties, when he became a socialist and unequivocally refused to espouse a narrow, exclusionary nationalism. It was also the case with the group called "Les Six," who responded culturally in the twenties and then politically in the thirties, when most of them supported the programs of the Popular Front. Others could not be enthusiastic about the latter and, largely excluded from official culture, sought out more compatible movements or returned to the Catholic Church. Like many French Catholics, they faced the crisis of Catholicism in the thirties when the church not only supported Franco, but Mussolini's imperialistic aggression in Ethiopia. While Poulenc embraced traditional Catholicism, Messiaen turned to more progressive Catholic movements that embraced modern art and insisted that religion must cross national and racial boundaries.
Fulcher demonstrates how closely music had become a field of clashing ideologies in this period. She shows also how certain French composers responded, and how their responses influenced specific aspects of their professional and stylistic development. She thus argues that, from this perspective, we can not only better understand specific aspects of the stylistic evolution of these composers, but also perceive the role that their art played in the ideological battles and in heightening cultural-political awareness of their time.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Fulcher succeeds brilliantly in her stated (but not 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 discrusive sense) models an archeological method with which to unearth layers of significance. Fulcher's study in essential reading."—Stephen Schloesser, Journal of Interdisciplinary History

"This remarkable study illustrates the heuristic value of Bourdieu's theory of fields, which has successfully been applied in recent research about literature in the same period. Without reducing musical practices to the simple reflect of external constraints, this research is exemplary in demonstrating that processes of hierarchization always involve ideological stakes."—American Historical Review

"Continuing her previous story of French cultural politics from the Dreyfus Affair to the beginning of World War I, Fulcher now extends her penetrating examination of music and ideology to the beginning of World War II. In so doing she has given us a rarity in the world of musicology: a genuine intellectual history that integrates reactions to official politics and culture with musical, stylistic developments." —Glenn Watkins, Earl V. Moore Professor Emeritus of Musicology, University of Michigan

"The completion of Jane Fulcher's pioneering study of music and politics in Third Republic France, The Composer as Intellectual is welcome and essential scholarship. From Debussy and Ravel to Poulenc and Messiaen, Fulcher shows that the questions 'what kind of music?' and 'what kind of nation?' were consistently posed together. Always attentive to musical form, political and cultural history, as well as the sociology of intellectuals, Fulcher never loses track of the power, mutuality, and subtlety of aesthetic and ideological investments."—Michael P. Steinberg, Director of the Cogut Humanities Center and Professor of History and Music, Brown University

"Jane F. Fulcher's fascinating, and impressively substantial, book of nearly 500 pages presents a wealth of information.... This is assuredly an important book with an innovative stance."—Deborah Mawer, Music and Letters

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195174731
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 3/1/2004
  • Pages: 488
  • Product dimensions: 9.40 (w) x 6.40 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Jane Fulcher is Professor of Musicology at Indiana University. She is the author of The Nation's Image: French Grand Opera as Politics and Politicized Art (1987), French Cultural Politics and Music: From the Dreyfus Affair to the First World War (OUP, 1999), and editor of and contributor to Debussy and His World (2000). She served as Visiting Professor at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris in 1985 and again in 1995. She has received research awards from the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (Paris), the Wissenshufts Kolleg (Institute for Advanced Study; Berlin), the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Humanities Center, and the Institute for Advanced Studies (Princeton, NJ) where she was the Edward T. Cone Member in Music Studies for 2003-04.

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Table of Contents

1 Wartime nationalism, classicism, and their limits
Pt. 1 State hegemony and musical culture : institutions and propaganda
Pt. 2 Intellectual and creative responses
2 The national or universal in the twenties
Pt. 1 Conservative hegemony and political-cultural conflict
Pt. 2 French composers as intellectuals and the issues
3 The "defense" of French culture in the thirties
Pt. 1 The popular front : culture as politics
Pt. 2 Political and symbolic challenges to the government
4 The return to spirit
Pt. 1 Redefinitions of symbolic legitimacy
Pt. 2 The search for "oppositionality"
Pt. 3 Seeds of the vichy and resistance aesthetics
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