From Representational Splendor to Cultural Edification: The Role of Music in Eighteenth-Century Prussian Politics
American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies. Vancouver, March 18, 2011
My paper discusses how the role of music as a political tool changed in Prussian politics from the times of Frederick the Great to the era of the Prussian reform movement at the end of the long eighteenth century. I argue that the changing conception of the public sphere in combination with the popularization of Berlin music culture promoted a slow transformation of music’s role within the system of state. At first, music was an integral component of the representational system of the state, glorifying the ruler’s power and status in opera performances, concerts at court and political festivities such as weddings of high members of the court, anniversaries of important battles as well as birthday celebrations for the members of the ruling family. Gradually this initial function was extended and transformed so that music’s foremost function within the state was now that of a tool for cultural policy. This shifted emphasis figured prominently in the newly emerging importance of public music education programs, state supported music societies as well as a general decline in representational culture at court. In examining these hitherto understudied trends, my paper provides new insight into the establishment of a modern conception of music’s political role and the cultural self-image of Prussian society at the beginning of the nineteenth century. My paper draws on rich documentary evidence from sources such as daily newspapers, government papers as well as polemic pamphlets discussing the state of music and the perception of music’s importance for politics and public life in the years around 1800.