Singing in the Age of Anxiety: Lieder Performances in New York and London between the World Wars.
On the surface, Laura Tunbridge's monograph is a reception history: "a narrative about canon formation" (p. 2). It examines the response to lieder--mainly that of Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms, Hugo Wolf, and Richard Strauss-between the world wars, when such older repertoire and its myriad cultural, artistic, and national associations had become increasingly old fashioned and unpopular. But this is not essentially a book about repertoire but rather about changes in the performance and reception of lieder at a time when many of its renowned participants were in flux-both literally, as they crossed seas in search of success and often political freedom, and figuratively, as they swore allegiances to newly adopted countries. Fittingly, the focus is on New York and London-two "important nodes on the transatlantic musical network" (p. 6) that had complicated relationships with the national home of the genre because of large German immigrant populations (in the case of New York and the United States in general) or close geographical proximity and royal crown ties (in the case of London and Great Britain). Tunbridge ultimately argues that "this small-scale, primarily romantic form ... akin to a musical refugee" (p. 1) was (somewhat surprisingly) resurrected in the 1940s; in fact, during interwar years "the performance culture surrounding lieder with which we are now familiar came into being" (p. 2). But to describe this book as a study about the transformation of lieder is not to do it justice either, for it includes so much more. It touches on many aspects of Anglo-American musical cultures-and tangentially German ones-in the politically and socially complex, newly born modern era that W. H. Auden deemed "the age of anxiety."
As Tunbridge clarifies in the introduction, "An Anxious Age," her book is a "use-history"; it examines how this "older technolog[y]" of (mainly) nineteenth-century lieder "was learned, sung, and listened to in regular concerts" in New York and London and how the genre intersected with new technologies and mass media, mainly through sound recording, radio, and film (p. 2). Tunbridge also considers audience members-their social classes and how and why thev listened. She interrogates lieder's use in helping to solidify, and then erase, German enemy lines in the context and aftermath of one world war and its role in the later war in preserving "civilization."
To show this transformation in the "use" of lieder over time, the book moves somewhat chronologically, beginning and ending with the transnational and cosmopolitan space of ocean liners. Chapter 1, "Transatlantic Arrivals," focuses on musicians, mainly singers, embarking on and disembarking from journeys between Europe and the US. Tunbridge begins with concerts on board the ships-"striking for their wide-ranging programs" that included art music, Hawaiian guitar music, cabaret artists, and banjo playing-arguing that "while liners may have reinforced social boundaries according to the different classes of passengers, they were ideal spaces for chance meetings between nations and cultures" (p. 14). The entertainments on board were "also intended to introduce passengers to their destinations" (p. 14), but overall "despite or even because of their class associations-[they] were an integral part of this imaginary civilized cosmopolitanism" (p. 15).
Three sections follow that focus on the "disembarkation of musicians in New York or London as a means of illustrating the ways in which the First World War impacted musical life on both sides of the Atlantic" (p. 15). She begins by discussing American wartime attitudes toward Cerman music and musicians. These attitudes were complicated, on the one hand, by widespread anti-German sentiment, and, on the other hand, by the presence of large German immigrant communities and German professional musicians. Tunbridge elucidates this context particularly well through the example of the German-American contralto Ernestine Schumann-Heink. In flaunting her newfound American citizenship-by literally draping herself in the American flag, performing for US troops, and cutting ties with her homeland connections and organizations despite having sons fighting in the German army-Schumann-Heink was particularly "adept at devising a multi-faceted performing identity, forged through an assumed nationality, and by musical genre" (p. 26).
The chapter then moves on to the time spent in London just after the war by African-American singer Roland Hayes, mainly focusing on his favorable reception there, his recital programming, and his transition to singing lieder in German in the 1920s when resistance to German music had subsided. As in the previous section, Turnbridge gives much attention to other repertoire (such as spirituals) and the favorable reception of the singer as to lieder specifically. Both Hayes and Irish tenor John McCormack successfully adopted lieder into their recital repertoires, which helped them to be taken more seriously than if had they just stuck to spirituals and Irish ballads, respectively. As Tunbridge astutely points out, "the classical vocal recital ... became a performative nexus for identifying as belonging to a certain race or nation while simultaneously demonstrating one's command over a number of different languages and styles" (p. 35). The chapter then concludes with the trips to New York bv Richard Strauss and Elisabeth Schumann in the early 1920s, which reinstated and redefined a transatlantic relationship that had been on hold during the war.
The next two chapters focus on how various genres of art song were understood and listened to in the interwar years, with chapter 2 focused mainly on the impact of technology and recording and chapter 3 on live performances. Chapter 2, "Languages of Listening," touches on concerns about whether lieder should be sung in translation. Tunbridge's discussion of the recording industry specifically addresses the transition from acoustical to electrical recording and the impact of the gramophone in the home on domestic music making and listening. Such frequent accessibility to professional performances, through gramophones and the cultivation of quiet, serious but selective listening in the home, widened the divide between the amateur and professional. She considers the 1928 Schubert centenary in this context and also addresses radio and early sound films. All of this technology, Tunbridge emphasizes, worked to broaden the audience of classical music and therefore lieder.
In contrast, chapter 3, "Lieder Society," returns to live performances in New York and London clubs, societies, and hotels. Though these institutions reified existing old-world associations of art music with the social elite, they ironically were instrumental in the creation and promotion of song recordings and the formation of political alliances (for example, a network for high-society women sympathetic to the suffragette cause). Of particular interest in this chapter is the discussion of hotels; like ocean liners, they were "self-contained world[s] ... transient, restless spaces, filled with people waiting; either to move on somewhere else or to be entertained" (p. 108).
Chapter 4, "Saving Music," focuses on the move by many singers from continental Europe to New York and London during the 1930s and the social work of art-song performance during World War II. Rather than being banned, as in the previous war, German music and singers continued to perform in New York and London, partly because they were already embedded in an international, cosmopolitan classical music scene established in the previous decade. Lieder "was now treated with some reverence as a means to lift morale and uphold democratic ideals, even civilization" (pp. 132-33). Tunbridge cites Marian Anderson's performance at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., in 1939, Myra Hess's lunchtime concerts at the National Gallery in London, and Kirsten Flagstad's recitals during the war as extended examples in which lieder (alongside other art and popular song) were included (but not central).
The scope of Tunbridge's chapters at times reaches far deeper than the originally implied focus, leading the reader to question how central lieder is to the overall culture that Tunbridge describes. The music societies and concerts she elucidates so vividly in chapter 3 and the wartime concerts described in chapter 4 promoted a mix of songs of both the art-music and popular types, not just lieder, as did the oceanliner musical entertainments described in chapter 1. Furthermore, the book is just as much about singers as it is about lieder or song repertoire in general. For example, in chapter 3, lieder seems lost in the discussion of hotels and music societies, and in chapter 1, Turnbridge focuses on the career moves, immigration, and self-refashioning of singers, most of whom were not German or even particularly known for singing lieder. She uses lieder as a lens (sometimes) to look at broader changes in musical culture, national and international politics, movement of musicians through wartime displacement/emigration, race, and technology; but in many instances, these other topics unexpectedly emerge center stage for entire sections of chapters. This broader focus will appeal to many readers and is certainly a strength of the book. But perhaps the justification of "why lieder" and the centrality of "lieder" in the book's title are less clear than they should be. The notion of Auden's "age of anxiety," which Tunbridge explains nicely in the introduction, could have been revisited throughout the book more explicitly to perhaps help tie together some of the diffuse topics and chapters.
The illustrations in the book are helpful, but more images, such as gramophone recording covers and advertisements as well as photos of performances-particularly to help the reader visualize the lesser-known performance spaces of ocean liners and hotels-would have been welcome. The selection of a photograph from 1951 for the dust jacket is also questionable; an image from the timeframe of the book would have been more appropriate.
Despite these criticisms regarding focus and tangents in individual chapters, the book has many strengths. It exhibits meticulous and thorough research drawn from a diverse array of primary sources and an impressive range of secondary sources related to early sound recording, mass communication, modernism, cosmopolitanism, and internationalism, in addition to the appropriate musicological ones. This highly engaging book, artfully organized and written, is particularly valuable for its juxtaposition of the anecdotal with the general and the personal with larger cultural trends. It begins and ends with Elisabeth Schumann's accounts of being on ocean liners in 1921 and 1945, at opposite ends of her career, which capture beautifully not only the sense of relief and joy that the wars are over, but also the transformation the singers of this generation witnessed as they mourned and recovered, moved about the globe, and reinvented careers in the wake of changing listening, political, and technological landscapes. The realities and particulars of this "age of anxiety" for these singers Turbridge illuminates exceptionally well.
Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2019|
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