Reviewed Elsewhere: Clinton D. Young, Music Theater and Popular Nationalism in Spain, 1880–1930.

Lars Fischer's picture
Clinton D. Young. Music Theater and Popular Nationalism in Spain, 1880–1930. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2016. xvi + 238 pp. $45.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-807-16102-9.
After decades of academic work on Catalan and Basque nationalism, the twenty-first century has witnessed an important focus shift toward the analysis of the generation and propagation of Spanish national identities. Scholars based in the United States and Canada have been at the forefront of this renovated research. ... Clinton D. Young’s Music Theater and Popular Nationalism in Spain, 1880–1930 is a very welcome addition to this trend. As the title indicates, the book explores how music theater generated a sense of popular national identity in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Spain. More specifically, Young examines one musical form that was widely performed in Spain: zarzuela. This theater genre was characterized by an alternation of music and dialogue and, from the early 1850s, was regarded as particularly Spanish.
The author is at his best when analyzing the music and lyrics of the zarzuelas. Young demonstrates a profound knowledge of the subject and carefully relates the plays to the Spanish sociopolitical context in which they were created. European musical developments and their influence on the zarzuelas are also incorporated into the analysis. ...
Especially good is the author’s use of Theodor Adorno’s understanding of popular music as a politically demobilizing force to explain how zarzuela went from speaking truth to power before World War I to domestication in the 1920s. The authoritarian context created by the dictatorship of General Miguel Primo de Rivera (1923–30) and the retreat of zarzuelas into historical romanticism and adaptations of works from the seventeenth-century Spanish Golden Age transformed a critical, subversive genre into a distraction from political action.
The author is perhaps less convincing when analyzing the effect that Spanish popular nationalism eventually had in the 1930s. ...
Nevertheless, Music Theater and Popular Nationalism in Spain, 1880–1930 is a well-written and competently researched book that sheds light on nation building from below. This is an important and original contribution and should be on the reading list of courses on modern Spain and nationalism alike.