A favorite project of scholars in late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century France was to collect folk songs from various French provinces and to add new harmonic accompaniments before publishing them. This folk-song project, like so many others, has obvious nationalist undertones: gathering songs from every French province and celebrating an essential and enduring French spirit. Yet the nuances of this project and its broader context suggest a diverse set of concerns. An examination of the rhetoric around folk-song collection shows how French scholars of the period conflated history and geography: they made the provinces the place of history. Collecting songs from the provinces thus became a way of recovering France's past. Paired with contemporary discussions of musical progress and especially those related to harmony, the addition of piano accompaniments to monophonic songs now reads as a form of history writing. In this article, I argue that French music scholars of the fin de siècle acted out their preferred narratives of music history through folk-song harmonizations. What seemed like a unanimously motivated nationalist project actually reveals the development and contestation of the discipline of music history.
French Folk Songs and the Invention of History
Sindhumathi Revuluri is assistant dean for Faculty Affairs, and formerly associate professor of music, at Harvard University. She has taught on a wide range of topics including global pop music and music and empire. Her research considers music and empire in nineteenth- and twentieth-century France with special attention to the intertwining currents of modernism, exoticism, and nationalism. She also works on contemporary Indian music and film, focusing on south India's urban centers and has organized conferences on a wide range of topics, from postcolonial music studies (2009, Radcliffe Institute) to Proust and the Arts (2013, Harvard University). Her published work appears in the Journal of Musicological Research, Journal of Asian Studies, Current Musicology, and the Journal of the American Musicological Society.
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Sindhumathi Revuluri; French Folk Songs and the Invention of History. 19th-Century Music 1 March 2016; 39 (3): 248–271. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/ncm.2016.39.3.248
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