Garratt on Fuchs, 'Musikfreunde: Träger der Musikkultur in der ersten Hälfe des 19. Jahrhunderts'

Ingrid Fuchs, ed.
James Garratt

Ingrid Fuchs, ed. Musikfreunde: Träger der Musikkultur in der ersten Hälfe des 19. Jahrhunderts. Kassel: Baerenreiter-Verlag, 2017. 523 pp. EUR 59.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-3-7618-2404-7.

Reviewed by James Garratt (University of Manchester) Published on H-Music (June, 2019) Commissioned by Lars Fischer (UCL Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies)

Printable Version:

A Commitment Both Artistic and Sociopolitical

To modern ears, the expression Musikfreunde (friends of music) perhaps sounds rather cozy and inward-looking, suggesting a kind of genial yet ultimately inconsequential form of artistic consumption. In the early nineteenth century, however, it served as a declaration of allegiance, almost a rallying cry, indicating an active role in one of the most vital aesthetic, social, and cultural currents of the age. Within the new German musical discourses and institutions that mushroomed during the Napoleonic era and beyond, the idea of friendship toward music signified a commitment that was at once both artistic and sociopolitical, designed to bolster its cultural prestige and elevate it as an emblem of bourgeois ideals. Rather than focusing on key texts that championed music (such as the articles gathered in Friedrich Rochlitz’s Für Freunde der Tonkunst [For Friends of Musical Art], 1824–32), Ingrid Fuchs’s volume investigates the role played by music societies—in particular, Vienna’s Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde (Society of Friends of Music)—in driving this transformation of musical life. While these kinds of organizations have been the object of a significant amount of research over recent decades, the book’s breadth of coverage and rich comparative dimension add substantially to the state of knowledge. In addition to being a valuable contribution to this topic area, it engages with concepts and issues of importance to the broader historiography of the period.
Crucial from the latter perspective is the question of how music societies reflected—and indeed, helped to propel—the wider embourgeoisement (Verbürgerlichung) of music and culture. The idea that musical life underwent a process of embourgeoisement in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries has been a staple of Marxist music historiography since at least the 1930s, and the use of the term Verbürgerlichung in this connection can be traced back to liberal commentators of the Vormärz, the period leading up to the revolutions of 1848.[1] In relation to music societies, the application of this concept is a more recent development, taking its lead from the historian Thomas Nipperdey’s work in the 1970s on the significance of such associations for social change. Building on Jürgen Habermas’s conception of the structural transformation of the public sphere, Nipperdey argued that music societies—alongside the other forms of association and union that flourished in the early nineteenth century—played a decisive role in the configuration of bourgeois civil society.[3] According to Nipperdey, these societies marked a decisive break with the older estates system and the forms of sociality peculiar to it, modeling a new, voluntary form of association in which individuals freely pursued common aims. For Nipperdey, the ideals and aspirations animating such societies, codified in intricate constitutions, gave them a “crypto-political” quality; indeed, for their participants, the very idea of society formation was seen “positively and emphatically as progress, as an achievement of the modern age, as a means of mastering the future.”[4]
As Hans-Joachim Hinrichsen observes in one of the standout essays in this volume, the enduring importance of Nipperdey’s contribution should not obscure the need to challenge, refine, and rethink his hypotheses (p. 208). Key imperatives involve moving beyond generalizations, whether by disentangling music societies from other forms of association (e.g., gymnastics societies and sharp-shooting clubs) or making more fine-grained distinctions within the musical sphere. The political dimension of these societies is a case in point. While all these organizations were invested to a greater or lesser degree with bourgeois values and aspirations, the idea that they uniformly functioned as “semi-political and crypto-political societies” is wide of the mark; with regard to music societies in the first half of the nineteenth century, this perspective only really applies to the Vormärz male-voice choral movement, whose oppositional character led to its suppression in Austria prior to 1843 (p. 26). More discrimination is also needed in relation to the social makeup of these societies, since the blanket terms “bourgeois” and “middle-class” tend to obscure as much as they reveal. One of the great strengths of Fuchs’s book is the detailed picture it gives of the social strata that instigated and participated in music societies. Scholars from Nipperdey onward have regularly stressed the distance between the enlightened ideals of social equality and universal accessibility animating these organizations, on the one hand, and their restriction in practice to “cultivated men and women of the educated and mercantile class,” on the other.[5] As Fuchs notes in her chapter on chamber music and the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, concert attendance was limited to those “who are capable of conducting themselves with propriety in a society of persons from the cultivated classes” (p. 48). Some music societies were more explicit in excluding individuals on grounds of religion or class; the selection procedures of the Amsterdam Felix Meritis society excluded Jews from membership (p. 347), while the London Philharmonic Society was off-limits to those who had “served behind a counter” and the petit bourgeoisie in general (p. 357).
In places, Fuchs’s volume challenges the idea that music societies were bound up with bourgeois interests and aspirations. This revisionist thrust is most apparent in the cover blurb and preface, where she argues that the foundation of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde was a “shared initiative” of the nobility and the bourgeoisie, pointing not merely to the ascent of the latter but also to the “bourgeoisification of the nobility” (p. 9). Although this perspective is floated at the start of the book, it receives little attention, let alone confirmation, in the subsequent chapters. One problem with this standpoint is that it replaces one form of generalization with another. If Nipperdey’s exclusive focus on the bourgeoisie lacks differentiation, historians have tended to recognize that the concept of the “bourgeoisification of the nobility” is an equally blunt tool.[6] For Rudolf Vierhaus, for example, the participation of aristocrats in bourgeois organizations such as music societies was not a symptom of a broader process of embourgeoisement, but merely a minor adjustment to shifting cultural norms.[7] Another question is that of whether Fuchs’s picture of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde as an “aristocratic-bourgeois co-initiative” applies to similar organizations elsewhere. In this regard, the Viennese society was more the exception than the norm, in part because the official status it enjoyed as a result of imperial patronage (pp. 22–23). While music societies elsewhere also had aristocratic members, their management tended to be firmly in the hands of the bourgeoisie. A case in point is the Berlin Singakademie (Singing Academy). While it included members of the Prussian royal family among its participants, its committee members throughout the nineteenth century were drawn almost exclusively from the middle class.[8]
In other respects too, the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde is something of an anomaly among the music societies originating in the Napoleonic era. As Fuchs notes, its claim to preeminence among European musical institutions stems not from its historical priority or influence but from the breadth of its activities (p. 11). Rather than propagating one form of music, as the Singakademie in Berlin or the Gewandhaus in Leipzig did, it combined a range of functions and was dedicated to the “elevation of music in all its aspects” (p. 156). While its activities centered on the performance of classical masterworks (mainly oratorios in the first instance), it sought to propagate and preserve music as an art form by establishing a conservatoire, an affiliated journal, and a music library. This range of activities enabled the society to carve out a dominant place for itself in Viennese musical life and helped it avoid the drift into one-sidedness or marginality that characterized some other music societies (including Berlin’s Singakademie after 1832).
These various activities form the focus of the first section of the book, while the second is dedicated to other Viennese musical societies. The third part shifts the focus to a range of similar organizations elsewhere in Europe and North America. Alongside Hinrichsen’s useful overview of research in this area, some of the other chapters, such as Ralf-Olivier Schwarz’s exploration of the place of music within the Frankfurter Museumsgesellschaft, introduce elements of comparative discussion. The final section of the book, perhaps surprisingly, shifts the focus to music festivals. If the inclusion of such festivals is unexpected, it is because the kind of festival concerts staged by the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde may seem to have little in common with the broader nineteenth-century German music festival movement. Joachim Reiber’s chapter tackles this issue head on, critiquing one of the most important publications in the field in recent years, Samuel Weibel’s 2006 monograph. Like most authors writing on this topic, Weibel differentiates the “standard” music festival (a three-day event typically featuring a monumental choral performance, an orchestral concert, and a virtuoso concert) from other kinds of event. As a result, he categorically excludes the festival concerts of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde from consideration, arguing that they differ starkly from the North German model in organization, execution, and programming.[9] In a passionate rebuttal, Reiber argues that this kind of categorization is dogmatic and anachronistic, since the term Musikfest was applied much more promiscuously in the nineteenth century (pp. 459–60). While this argument has its merits, Weibel is surely right to consider the Viennese festivals to be peripheral to the German music festival tradition, not least because they exercised little influence on its development.
Perhaps this scholarly dispute points to a broader problem with Fuchs’s volume, in that its premise, coverage, and organization seem designed to emphasize the Viennese contribution at the expense of developments elsewhere. In spite of the breadth of coverage, it is noticeable that the book studiously avoids comparing activities in Vienna with those in the city’s dominant musical rivals (Leipzig, Berlin, Dresden, Cologne, and so on). Notwithstanding this reservation, it substantially enriches our understanding of music societies in this period and will surely be much appreciated by musicologists and historians alike.
[1]. See, for example, Leo Balet with E. Gerhard [Eberhard Rebling], Die Verbürgerlichung der deutschen Kunst, Literatur und Musik im 18. Jahrhundert (Strasbourg, Leipzig, Zurich: Heitz, 1936); and Joseph Hillebrand, Die deutsche Nationalliteratur seit dem Anfange des achtzehnten Jahrhunderts, besonders seit Lessing bis auf die Gegenwart (Hamburg, Gotha: Perthes, 1846), vol. 3, 12.
[2]. Thomas Nipperdey, “Verein als soziale Struktur in Deutschland im späten 18. und frühen 19. Jahrhundert. Eine Fallstudie zur Modernisierung” (first published in 1972), in Gesellschaft, Kultur, Theorie: Gesammelte Aufsätze zur neueren Geschichte (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1976), 174–205.
[3]. Jürgen Habermas, Strukturwandel der Öffentlichkeit: Untersuchungen zu einer Kategorie der bürgerlichen Gesellschaft (Darmstadt, Neuwied: Hermann Luchterhand, 1962).
[4]. Nipperdey, “Verein als soziale Struktur,” 176.
[5]. Herbert Freudenthal, Vereine in Hamburg: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte und Volkskunde der Geselligkeit (Hamburg: Hamburger Museumsverein, 1968), 61, as quoted in Nipperdey, “Verein als soziale Struktur,” 185.
[6]. See Heinz Reif, Adel im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert (Munich: Oldenbourg, 22012), 57, 67.
[7]. Rudolf Vierhaus, “Vom aufgeklärten Absolutismus zum monarchischen Konstitutionalismus. Der deutsche Adel im Spannungsfeld von Revolution, Reform und Restauration (1789–1848),” in Deutschland im 18. Jahrhundert: Politische Verfassung, soziales Gefüge, geistige Bewegung (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1987), 235–48, here 247.
[8]. Martin Blumner, Geschichte der Sing-Akademie zu Berlin: Eine Festgabe zur Säcularfeier am 24. Mai 1891 (Berlin: Horn & Raasch, 1891), 243–45.
[9]. Samuel Weibel, Die deutschen Musikfeste des 19. Jahrhunderts im Spiegel der zeitgenössischen musikalischen Fachpresse (Kassel: Merseburger, 2006), 46.

Citation: James Garratt. Review of Fuchs, Ingrid, ed., Musikfreunde: Träger der Musikkultur in der ersten Hälfe des 19. Jahrhunderts. H-Music, H-Net Reviews. June, 2019. URL:

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