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4 - Bleu-horizon Politics and Music for Radio Listeners: L'Initiation à la musique (1935)

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 July 2019

Jann Pasler
Affiliation:
Distinguished Professor of Music, UC San Diego, is the author of the award-winning La République, la musique et le citoyen, 1871–1914 (Gallimard, 2015).
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Summary

This essay is about memory and amnesia between the two world wars. What does one choose to remember and why? What does one forget in presenting ‘what an honest man must know’ about music to radio listeners, many with little previous exposure to art music? Is history really just the story of the winners?

The collective volume L'Initiation à la musique à l'usage des amateurs de musique et de radio (1935) illustrates how authority is claimed, how writing constructs reality and how canons are made and unmade according to some underlying purpose. My attention was drawn to this book when I found it in a friend's library in Paris, the only music book my friend had in his otherwise extensive library. It belonged to his father, born in 1872. Forty thousand copies were printed, twelve hundred in a luxury edition, each with ten full-page illustrations (six in colour) and elegant medieval/renaissance lithographs. I marvelled that some of the country's finest music historians and critics, representing a wide variety of political orientations, had agreed to collaborate, and on something so clearly intended for the mass public. Yet, when I dipped into it, I was taken aback by what I read. Not only do the contributors here come together in unpredictable ways, given some diametrically opposed opinions and judgements expressed elsewhere, but they manipulate history to bolster national pride. Above all, they use the book to denigrate some reputations and elevate others, although not in ways or for reasons that scholars have heretofore recognised or understood. The result, defying popular resistance, is a new canon of French music – the musical trinity of Fauré/Debussy/Ravel.

Bleu-horizon Ideology

The book's cover prepares the reader for the political implications underlying the story inside. Its colour, bleu horizon [horizon blue], harks back to the colour to which French military uniforms changed during the First World War. During the first years of the war, these still resembled the bright and showy uniforms of Napoleon's army, which made sitting targets of French soldiers. With bleu horizon as a kind of camouflage, it was hoped that the enemy would confuse French soldiers with the sky-blue horizon.

Type
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Information
Music Criticism in France, 1918–1939
Authority, Advocacy, Legacy
, pp. 91 - 120
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2018

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