Reviewed Elsewhere: Celia Applegate, The Necessity of Music. Variations on a German Theme.

Michael Berkowitz's picture

Celia Applegate. The Necessity of Music: Variations on a German Theme. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2017. xii + 402 pp. $90.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-4875-0068-9; $39.95 (paperback), ISBN 978-1-487-52048-9.

This collection of essays offers a compelling argument for the vital importance of music for understanding German history, society, and national identity from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries. Written in a graceful and sensible style, Celia Applegate’s The Necessity of Music gives voice to the peculiarities of German music and of musical Germanness, demonstrating through sheer example how deeply music was embedded in the history of the German-speaking lands.
 
Applegate lays out her work in three parts: “Places,” “People,” and “Public and Private.” Her consideration of place includes how music could travel widely, in terms of compositions and players, yet draw people together. ... The section begins with an essay framed as a question: “How German Is It?” Originally addressed primarily to specialists in nineteenth-century music, it remains broadly relevant because of the way the essay acknowledges the centrality of music by composers from the German lands for the development of Western music in the nineteenth century, yet complicates that picture by showing how what we now perceive as a unitary nationalist project in music is better understood as a fragmented response to multiple factors affecting musicians and their livelihoods. Location, Applegate avers, is the “hidden dimension” (50) of musical culture: it was one of the mechanisms that drove the formation of the nineteenth-century canon so dominated by composers from the German-speaking lands. ...
 
The section titled “People” looks at three composers and one music critic. “Mendelssohn on the Road” continues the theme of itineracy from the previous section, making the point that the composer’s travels and the cultural exchange they enabled can tell us much about how a national community took shape in an international context. Applegate concentrates on Felix Mendelssohn’s travels as part of a developing Anglo-German cultural network that built on the groundwork laid by Georg Friedrich Handel and Franz Josef Haydn. ...
 
Robert Schumann and Brahms are the last two composers considered in this section. ... In her view, Schumann should be understood as a liberal nationalist, though one who cultivated that sense of nation via one locale: Leipzig, a center of not only political liberal nationalism but also music publishing. Schumann saw in this provincial and thoroughly bourgeois city a place of musical universality. Brahms was also a local patriot, pointing throughout his life to his Hamburg origins. ...
 
Bringing us into the twentieth century, the final six essays cast a wider net by addressing matters both public and private: military bands, female Wagnerites, amateur chamber music (Hausmusik), and, of course, Nazis. ...
 
The book’s subtitle, Variations on a German Theme, is apt: this is history structured to be variations on a theme showing how music and the lived experience of Germans have harmonized in the modern era. In the musical form, variations highlight the inventiveness of the composer and offer multiple means of hearing the original theme anew. The Necessity of Music works beautifully in this way: it showcases the considerable scholarly accomplishments of its author and convinces the reader to “hear” all the ways in which music, its players, and its listeners have all been entwined at the core of German culture and history in the past and present.