Musical Romanticism and Cultural Pessimism: the Impact of the Revolutions of 1848 on German Musical Life


Charles A. Ryskamp Research Fellowships




This project addresses the impact of the revolutions of 1848-49 on German musical life. German historiography emphasizes the pivotal nature of the revolution by dividing the period into Vormärz and Nachmärz—before and after March 1848, when the first uprisings occurred in Germany. My account also falls into two parts of before and after, focusing on how wildly optimistic ideas about progress in music changed to resignation, melancholy, and pessimism. Although Richard Wagner emerged as the leading composer of the "music of the future," his rise to fame was contested by those who advocated a retreat into the music of the past. With overtones ranging from nostalgia to nihilism, this debate as to whether art music had a future reverberated well into the twentieth century.