Public Event

The Globalization of Music: Craft, Science and Commerce since the Late Nineteenth Century

Harry Liebersohn
CAS Associate 2013-14

The Globalization of Music: Craft, Science and Commerce since the Late Nineteenth Century

Professor Liebersohn’s research into music and globalization continues his explorations since the late 1980s into the history of cultural encounters, investigating the transfer of art, ideas and information through face-to-face and indirect meetings. His work analyzes many different aspects of these encounters, including their presuppositions, intermediaries, and rituals. The circulation of musical life in the half-century before 1914 provides a dramatic example of the accelerating pace of global cultural encounters, which was unprecedented in human history.

The symposium presentation sketches three different dimensions of pre-1914 musical globalization: its emergence from the modern research university, the Arts and Crafts movement, and the global phonograph industry.   Each dimension is introduced through recollections of a visit to an archive.

The first site is the Phonogram Archive (Ethnological Museum, Berlin). Founded in 1900 and directed by Erich von Hornbostel, it collected thousands of wax cylinder recordings from around the world before 1914, which it continues to house today along with extensive documentation of the history of many of its recordings. The researchers at the Phonogram Archive breathed the exacting scientific spirit of the University of Berlin. They specialized in the quantitative analysis of scales and pitch, but were also cosmopolitans who disputed the exclusive value of Western music. Next comes the British Library and the papers of a key contributor to nineteenth-century musical globalization, Alfred J. Hipkins (1826-1903).   Unpublished letters there reveal surprising connections between Hipkins and makers of the Arts and Crafts movement.   Hipkins’ craft sensibility led him from harpsichords and polyphony to an appreciation of non-European instruments and music.   Finally, readers are introduced to the EMI Archive on the outskirts of London. Its vast holdings demonstrate how the building of a global music industry between 1900 and 1910 depended on the personal qualities of its makers, who could not turn a profit without intercultural insight. In conclusion the talk argues for continuities in musical globalization from the nineteenth century to our own day.