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Europe Nationalism in Music and the United States

Musicology And Nationalism, Nationalism And Art, German Nationalism, Features Of Nationalist Music, The Legacy Of Nationalism And The Special Case Of The United States

Nationalism in music has traditionally been described as a late-nineteenth-century phenomenon associated with countries or regions aspiring to nationhood whose composers strove to wed a national (most often folk-based) musical idiom to existing "main-stream" genres. Some of these accounts begin with Frédéric Chopin (1810–1849), but he is more often understood as "cosmopolitan" or "universal," a Romantic composer of Polish and French parentage whose work was often based on Polish dance forms but was too early to count as nationalist. Most accounts of musical nationalism start with Russians in the next generation, especially the moguchaya kuchka—the "mighty little heap," or the "mighty five," including Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov (1844–1908), Modest Musorgsky (1839–1881), and Aleksandr Borodin (1833–1887)—and continue with the Czechs Bedrich Smetana (1824–1884) and Antonín Dvorák (1841–1904), the Norwegian Edvard Grieg (1843–1907), and the Finnish Jean Sibelius (1865–1957). Within this narrative line, the rise of a musical form of Impressionism in France and the genesis of a distinctively American music may be seen as late developments, somewhat out of step with general trends.

Yet nationalism has provided the principal cultural and political framework for musical expression within European-based traditions for most of the nineteenth century and has continued to do so up to the present. This tendency has not been widely noted for two main reasons: First, it remained overlooked because of the entrenched habit of considering European music history apart from history more generally, as encouraged by the doctrine of absolute music; and second, the genesis and development of musicology—the discipline entrusted to tell the history of music—were both intimately connected to nationalist ideologies.

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