Thursday, August 30, 2018

Laura Tunbridge's "Singing in the Age of Anxiety"

Laura Tunbridge is Professor of Music and Henfrey Fellow and Tutor in Music at St Catherine’s College, University of Oxford. She is the author of Schumann’s Late Style and The Song Cycle.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Singing in the Age of Anxiety: Lieder Performances in New York and London between the World Wars, and reported the following:
“Who was excluded, inevitably, was as significant as who was included.” (p. 99) The archives of New York music clubs in the interwar period provided some crucial evidence for the argument of Singing in the Age of Anxiety. It is always difficult to find out who made up the bulk of concert audiences, but examining membership lists provided a more nuanced idea of who attended and where they came from. It became apparent although the First World War reduced the influence of “Old New York” and of the German community over musical life in New York City, it had certainly not disappeared. There may well have been new audiences for classical song in the 1920s and 30s, but there were also still prized by exclusive societies, membership of which was determined by ethnicity, race, religion, wealth and social connections rather than artistic interests (though that’s not to say the art was of no consequence). In other words, while societies such as the Bohemians or clubs such as the Knickerbocker were devoted to nurturing communities, those groups were selective. The city was partisan and divided as well as a “melting-pot.”

Singing in the Age of Anxiety compares interwar musical life in New York to London, discussing transatlantic connections and changing attitudes towards the performance of lieder or German art song. It is a complex story, starting from the prohibition of Schubert during the First World War and ending with British and American support of musicians fleeing Nazi Germany in the 1930s. This was also an era of profound technological changes in musical life: gramophone recordings, radio broadcasts and sound film all transformed the ways in which music was performed, sold and heard. These new media opened up possibilities for a greater democratization of musical appreciation but it is important to remember that they did not supplant live music-making but rather complemented and influenced it – and vice versa. The clubs and societies explored on page 99 were replicated, with slightly different constituencies, around gramophone societies, for example. Determining what represented nineteenth-century practices and what belonged to the twentieth century, then, becomes much more difficult to ascertain.
Learn more about Singing in the Age of Anxiety at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue