Objects and Concepts of Musical Nationalism in 19th Century Greece

  • Abstract:

    The turn of the 20th century found Greece speeding towards a European future. Far from a general observation on political and economic ties between Greece and other European states (notably England, Germany, and France), the move from East – to – West had been solidified in a series of educational, cultural, and economic policies that ensured that the citizens of Greece would eventually come to regard themselves an indispensible part of the Western world, with a strong awareness of their Hellenic cultural heritage, and leaving their Balkan/Ottoman past behind. Among the many examples of this gradual move from Empire to independent Nation State, and East to West stands the case study of the spread of western European art-music (commonly referred to as ‘classical music’) to the expanding 19th century Greek state. Mainly through cultural institutions (notably the Theatre of Athens with its strong policy favouring the Italian Melodrama), a dominant ideology supporting western entertainment, and later on educational institutions like the Conservatory of Athens (inaugurated in 1873), European art-music music disseminated visions and versions of Europe in a multicultural Balkan country with very intimate ties to the traditional musical reality of the East. Furthermore, the close musical ties of the traditional Byzantine chant to Eastern musical tradition, created an interesting clash between two dominant ideologies; the political conviction of a Hellenic Greece belonging with Europe, and a Greek- Orthodox Greece proud of its eastern heritage. The present paper will demonstrate the importance of these conflicting dominant ideologies in the construction of Greek-European identity during the last decades of the 19th century, through the illustration of the symbolic function of a Collection of National Songs, notated in Byzantine notation and published in Athens in 1880, while contextualizing it within the cultural and political environment of the turn of the century.