Music Across the Ocean: Processes of Cultural Exchange in a Transatlantic Space, 1800–1950
"As it is already known, artists (except mechanical) are among the people [in the USA] who are least in demand, and in recent times have even been cautioned against immigration." That is how critical a journalist of the German Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung in 1820 still viewed career opportunities for European musicians in the "New World", the United States of America. The author, who was positioned in the European music culture system, which was sponsored by courtly, bourgeois, and sacred institutions, could hardly imagine that European artists would be able to find a place in society and financial subsistence in this young nation. A glance at the development of North American music institutions, of which the starting point was predominantly situated in the second half of the nineteenth century, would seem to vindicate this assertion in the German periodical. The establishment of North American music culture did not take place at Carnegie Hall nor at New England Conservatory, but rather in pre- institutional spaces that were previously granted little consideration, whereby immigration from as well as cultural exchange with the “old world”, played a prominent role. If one changes the spatial focus, then even at the beginning of the nineteenth century, an awakening music culture, where musicians could indeed gain economic success, comes to light.
For many years the exploration of cultural exchange has experienced an upsurge in the fields of the humanities and cultural studies. With transatlantic spaces, the research project will forge paths into previously unexplored territory in terms of geopolitical space, and thereby turn the focus on pre-institutional spaces and the agents of music-cultural practices. In particular, two pre-institutional spaces, which had particular relevance as hubs of communication, exchange, and cultural transfers, come to the fore: music stores (with regard to the period 1800-1850) and music salons (with regard to the period 1880-1950). The project proceeds under the assumption that the two selected spaces virtually represent prototypical spaces of music- related cultural transfer in the periods under consideration. Both the music trade and socializing in salons provided impetus for the musical culture of North American cities, and they were central points of contact for incoming musicians. Here, music-related knowledge was informally exchanged, as were concrete artifacts (e.g. sheet music, instruments, etc.), and networks were also established. These focal points close gaps in the history of music: although it can be regarded as one of the most important prerequisites for the musical life there, the music trade in the US as a space of cultural transfer has not been considered in a research setting until now, and the North American music salon, despite active research of European salon culture in general, has so far not been a subject of academic examination.