A ‘Musical League of Nations’?: Music Institutions and the Politics of Internationalism
‘What art is better adapted to form an international connecting-link, than music?—especially instrumental music, which is in a manner an international language, an expression of the most intimate, the profoundest emotions of man.’ – Guido Adler, 1925
The notion that instrumental music is either ‘universal’ or ‘international’ in any real sense has been discredited. Even as Adler’s comment draws upon an older notion of music as a ‘universal language’ and adapts it to the language of interwar political internationalism, he acknowledges the limitations of music to foster communication between nations, and writes that it should be the aim of research to discern the interaction between artistic phenomena that are ‘common property’ or the result of ‘nature’ on the one hand, and those that are the result of ‘culture’, and therefore localized, on the other.
The role of music and musicians in forging international links either between or beyond national boundaries can sometimes seem unproblematic or even emancipatory, under the assumption that music can be socially transformative. Yet just as the project of political internationalism between and after the World Wars was not without its challenges, so too did musical initiatives sometimes find themselves in positions of compromise, ethical conflict or co-option into unintended agendas.
This project focuses on music institutions and initiatives that were explicitly shaped by the project of internationalism during the twentieth century. Organisations such as the International Society for Contemporary Music (ISCM), the International Musicological Society (IMS), as well as a range of smaller musical meetings throughout Europe and America during the interwar and post-war periods, subscribed to a similar set of ideological precepts. These organisations and meetings did not only involve musical composition and performance, or academic discussion, but they also often included public congresses that prompted debate around issues that went far beyond the simple celebration of international cooperation, or of music as an expression of a common humanity. They grappled with the contradiction between the idea of a non-national music or music scholarship and the decidedly national inflections of musical autonomy itself, and they struggled to reconcile the fact that music’s putative detachment from the social realm was what gave it its ‘universal’ potential, yet the project of internationalism was a political one, struck through with ideas about social justice and ethical responsibility.
29-30 June 2018, Institute of Musical Research, Senate House, London
Keynote Speaker: Prof. Anne Shreffler (Harvard University)
– Institute of Musical Research, in association with the School of Advanced Study, University of London, Senate House (funding supplied by Nick Baker)
– Royal Musical Association
– British Academy/Leverhulme Small Grants Scheme
Sarah Collins (University of Western Australia)
Laura Tunbridge (Oxford University)
Barbara Kelly (Royal Northern College of Music)
Banner image above right: ‘The musicians Alfredo Casella (piano), Charles Koechlin, Adrian Boult, Alban Berg, Edward Joseph Dent, Grzegorz Fitelberg and Desire Defauw at Dent’s house in Cambridge, January 1931.’