Session 2

Friday, 10th July, 5.15 – 6.20pm

Dr Jon Banks, Brahms’s Hungarian Dances and the Earliest Csárdás Recordings

The first of Brahms’s famous Hungarian Dances were published in 1869 and he claimed to have taken the melodies directly from live performance. ’Hungarian’ and ‘Gypsy’ cultures were the great cultural ‘other’ of his time and spawned a hyperbolic romantic discourse that stressed an exotic performance style of wildness and improvised excess, elements that are not immediately apparent in Brahms’s classical piano arrangements. However, between 1905 and 1914, hundreds of recordings were issued of ‘Gypsy’ bands playing traditional csárdás dances that are substantially the same repertory. This paper discusses the issues of comparing these later recordings with compositions from several decades earlier and examines the light that they shed on his claims to authenticity, the extent to which they represent the reality behind some of the rhetoric, and the way a ‘classical’ music adapts traditional oral practices. It also attempts to reconstruct a tradition of urban popular music that was a major part of the rich context for the Viennese classical tradition, but that was swept away by the 1914-18 war and then deliberately ignored by the next generation of musicologists such as Bartók. The paper considers the repertory and musicianship that the recordings preserve, but also issues about how accurately the medium of the 78rpm record can preserve an expansive and largely improvised tradition. It also examines way that categorisations such as ‘Hungarian’, ‘Romanian’ and ‘Jewish’ in these recordings have well-defined generic distinctions even though the musicians themselves were often from mixed backgrounds.

Bio: Dr. Jon Banks is a Senior Lecturer at Anglia Ruskin University, with a particular interest in performing Middle Eastern music and recent publications including a book on renaissance consort music, chapters for the Cambridge History of Musical Performance, and Early Music articles on itinerant dulcimer players, and Turkish music preserved in historic English clocks. Other recent conferences include Brahms on the Pacific in 2019 and his current research on Brahms and mechanical music stems from his professional performing work as accordionist with the group Zum Roten Igel, who specialise in reimagining the Viennese musical classics in the context of the popular traditions that inspired them and have toured widely throughout the UK and Europe.

Prof. William Brooks, Entangled relations between recording, performance, and publication in the United States during World War I: a case study

In the second decade of the nineteenth century, three American industries—sheet music, piano rolls, and acoustic recordings—competed for market share and control of popular music, broadly conceived. From present-day perspectives, it is easy to assume that primary agency rested with sheet music, but that was not always the case. The song “America, I Love You” provides an illuminating illustration. It was issued in 1915, when Americans still regarded the Great War as very much a European affair; but in 1916, with Wilson’s “preparedness” campaign tilting the country toward engagement, it took on new, patriotic hues. These were greatly enhanced by performed and recorded versions—both acoustic and piano-roll—that interpolated national songs between the verses. The nature of these interpolations shifted from version to version, and both media borrowed from each other, with later, published arrangements also participating in the mix. What the song became, then, was a composite product constituted by competition, imitation, and re-creation among three industries, and the song’s changing identities—sometimes performative, sometimes recorded, sometimes published—reveal not only shifts in America’s cultural consciousness but reconfigurations of the industries themselves. Tracing the exact chronology of these changes is difficult, and sometimes impossible, but the attempt itself is illuminating. To understand the cultural place and evolution of popular music in the first quarter of the twentieth century requires that exactly such attempts be made.

Bio: William Brooks is Professor of Music at the University of York, Emeritus Professor at the University of Illinois, Scholar in Residence at the Newberry Library, and Senior Research Fellow at the Orpheus Research Centre in Music, Belgium. Brooks is active as both composer and musicologist, with the two disciplines meeting in work in the American experimental tradition and in early popular music. His recent work includes an LP album, Footnotes(Innova 361) and an eponymous chapter in Voices, Bodies, Practices (Leuven University Press, 2019). He is the co-editor of Over Here, Over There (Illinois Press, 2019), a collection of essays on the music of World War I, and the curator of two interlinked digital archives of World War I sheet music.

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