Myths and Monuments of the Nation. 'Early Music' in Italy between Unità and fascismo

Dr. Carolin Krahn

Musica Antica Italiana, title page of a printed edition published by Breitkopf & Härtel, 1895 (© Breitkopf & Härtel).

To what extent was the concept of 'early Italian music' shaped as some form of national reference point in the period between the political unification of Italy and the end of the fascist regime? How did this affect the repertories and representations of Italian musical traditions? Using these questions as starting point, the research project focuses on the idea of 'early music' and its practical usage in the period from 1861 to 1943.
The hypothesis of the research project is that what is hidden within the term 'early music' (or musica antica) is a complex of meanings – to which the idea of the Italian nation has been linked – which shifted in different contexts over time. Accordingly, 'early music' in Italy during the period in question will not be treated as a given, immutably defined category, but rather as a phenomenon to be viewed from varied perspectives. Not least because it went hand-in-hand with the process of national identity-building in Italy and could therefore be consciously shaped in different contexts and, in addition, be used for cultural-political purposes. Against this background, 'early music' will be considered as a myth that has been reinterpreted again and again – suffused with musical content from Palestrina and Marenzio to Tartini, Boccherini and beyond, and presented historiographically so as to underline the monumentality and continuity of the Italian musical tradition.
The practical expressions of musica antica within Italy will be analyzed on four levels which complement each other in terms of material and method: older monographs on music history; editions of 'early music'; composing with 'early music'; and journalistic discourses on 'early music' during fascism. On the basis of the evaluated source material from various archives, these approaches combine research on cultural memory with theories of tradition and canon formation and at the same time enter into dialogue with scholarly work on individual aspects of the described topic within the field of musicology (cf. Nicolodi 1991, Garratt 2002, Ellis 2005, Celestini 2007, Vitzthum 2007, Bertola 2014).
The benefits of adopting a consistently dynamic perspective on 'early music' include a desire to understand more comprehensively the complexity of its interrelated practices specifically within the political borders of Italy. Accordingly, the project locates music and its forms of representation in the space between historicism, musical modernity and national cultural politics. On this basis, select case-studies from different repertories which have been subsumed under the title of 'early music' and are related to the question of nation will be subjected to a differentiated analysis and reflection. Thus, the project is intended to fulfil the desiderata of recent cultural and music historical research concerning both nationalism in the 19th century and the role of music in the age of fascism.

Dr. Carolin Krahn
Researcher Music History
+39 06 66049234