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Staging singing in the theater of war (Berlin, 1805).

Hambridge, Katherine (2015) 'Staging singing in the theater of war (Berlin, 1805).', Journal of the American Musicological Society., 68 (1). pp. 39-98.


Almost fifty years after the original event, Willibald Alexis’s historical novel Ruhe ist die erste Bürgerpflicht (1852) commemorated a musical performance that had taken place on October 16, 1805, at Berlin’s Nationaltheater. According to both Alexis’s reimagining and contemporary reports, after the closing “Reiterlied” of Schiller’s Wallensteins Lager a new war song was sung by audience and actors. The sensation this caused—in a city awaiting its troops’ departure for war against Napoleon—established Schiller’s play as a privileged site for political singing in Berlin and across German lands for the next decade. In this article, I account for this first occasion, its unusual press reception, and its influence by contextualizing it within a growing early nineteenth-century discourse on public communal singing, arguing that Berliners were self-consciously enacting French patriotic behaviors. As well as indicating longer-term continuities, I distinguish the political role attributed to war songs in this period from the more familiar Bildung-orientated discourse on choral singing and folk song. In contrast to established accounts that locate the emergence of popular political song in the volunteer movements of the Wars of Liberation and the national politics of the Burschenschaften and male-voice choirs, I suggest that these early performances show the official imposition of public political singing—as a kind of “defensive modernization”—in response to the Napoleonic threat. I thus revise our understanding of the establishment of singing as a modern political tool in German lands, and of the role of singing in the development of political agency and national sentiment more broadly.

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Publisher statement:Published as Hambridge, Katherine. Staging Singing in the Theater of War (Berlin, 1805). Journal of the American Musicological Society, Vol. 68, Number 1, pp. 39–97. © 2015 by the American Musicological Society. Copying and permissions notice: Authorization to copy this content beyond fair use (as specified in Sections 107 and 108 of the U. S. Copyright Law) for internal or personal use, or the internal or personal use of specific clients, is granted by the American Musicological Society for libraries and other users, provided that they are registered with and pay the specified fee via Rightslink® or directly with the Copyright Clearance Center.
Date accepted:19 August 2014
Date deposited:31 May 2016
Date of first online publication:01 April 2015
Date first made open access:No date available

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