Issues of national identity in French music during the second half of the nineteenth century
The French musical life and creation of the second half of the nineteenth century reflect most vividly the radical contemporaneous historical and socio-political developments that took place in the country. The study of the political, ideological, and social dimensions of French music history has become a significant area of enquiry among musicologists over the last thirty years. Issues of French national identity, which were voiced, either explicitly or implicitly, through various aspects of French musical life, have naturally been central to such studies.
This article analyses issues of national identity in French music of that period, bringing to the fore their complexity on both the ideological and the aesthetic level. Significantly, it highlights such complexities with reference to diverse approaches to questions of national identity put forward by intellectuals and scholars, but also by state politics. As regards music, the situation was further complicated by the fact that French musical life was under the hegemony of German and Italian music. Taking into consideration these dense ideological and aesthetical issues, some critical questions are raised about the ways in which national identity was defined and constructed, its multifaceted expressions in and through music, as well as the usefulness of providing historical narrative(s) of French music of that era in “national” terms.