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British Academy publishes ‘Challenging the Modern: Conservative Revolution in German Music 1918-33’

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The British Academy has published a new book challenging commonplace conceptions of musical conservatism during Germany’s Weimar Republic (1918-1933).

Challenging the Modern: Conservative Revolution in German Music 1918-33, by Nicholas Attfield, offers scrutiny of the uncritical links often made by musicologists and historians between musical conservatism and political conservatism of the era.

The Weimar Republic is often seen as an era of progress for the arts but Attfield argues that strands of pessimism and conservatism also developed rapidly during this time. In this cultural atmosphere, he claims, music and musical scholarship provided forms of protest and resistance to modernity.

Attfield presents four contrasting studies, each focused on a particular ‘conservative’ musical figure or movement, and informed by readings of a complex discourse drawn together from contemporary journals, speeches, letters, scores, and archival sources.

The first two studies address Thomas Mann and his relationship with Hans Pfitzner in the aftermath of the First World War, and Alfred Heuss’s 1920s tenure as editor of Schumann’s Zeitschrift für Musik.

The second two studies turn to the so-called ‘Bruckner-Cult’ of the Weimar era and its representations of its central composer as medieval mystic, and the work of August Halm – another dedicated Brucknerian – within the German Youth Movement, as defined by the radical pedagogue Gustav Wyneken.

An extended epilogue considers advocacy for these Weimar-era ‘revolutionary conservatisms’ under the Nazi regime after 1933.

Nicholas Attfield holds a BMus from King's College, London and an MSt and DPhil from St. Catherine’s College, University of Oxford, the latter with a graduate year as Procter Visiting Fellow at Princeton University. In 2007 he was DAAD Michael Foster Fellow at Humboldt-Universität, Berlin, before taking up a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship at Oxford, with three months as Visiting Scholar at the Center for European Studies, Harvard University.

Former posts include Lectureships in Music at Worcester College and Christ Church, Oxford, and a Teaching Fellowship in Music at Edinburgh University.

Challenging the Modern: Conservative Revolution in German Music 1918-33 is part of the British Academy monograph series and is published in conjunction with Oxford University Press. 

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