Composing a Nation: French Nationalism, A Cultural Perspective
Posted: 29 Mar 2010
For many, France is a paradigmatic case of how a nation is forged. This process has been seen primarily as determined by historical and institutional (e.g., linguistic, religious, and state-building bureaucratic) forces. Some have noted that French appreciation of the arts has influenced their conception of national identity and that the construction of the French nation influenced what was appreciated art. Yet the works that mention culture do not intensively investigate how culture influences and is influenced by nationalism. More importantly, this literature does not look at culture through art, especially music, which unites the masses through the construction of a national identity due to its ability to cross other social cleavages. I systematically analyze reviews, commissioned works, awards, biographies, and lithographs to show how composers and premier educational institutions influenced, and were influenced by, the nation-building process and the formation of a French national identity. My examination includes the French Revolution (the foundation of the French nationalist movement), the Napoleonic era and the 1830 Revolution (the foundation of many composers' political understanding), and 1870-1914 (the culmination of the French nationalist movement). The paper demonstrates that, while the construction of culture is influenced by state-building, it also plays a more significant role in the development of a nationalist identity than has been previously understood.
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