When I look back on this class, trying to figure out what exactly I have accomplished, I am always drawn back to one of the first assigned readings, Gumbrecht’s In 1926: Living at the Edge of Time. The book attempted to look at history as if through a microscope, taking in all of the details at a certain point and rejecting a more linear approach to time. To me, the entire course follows this model: we look into a single decade, in one city, and learn all the details we can about musical life: we listen to music, read reviews, watch reconstructed performances. All of these are puzzle pieces of a larger idea: what exactly was music in 1920’s Paris?
A traditional music history course would throw out the names of a few composers, their musical influences, and then move on the linear path of musical evolution, leaving the time period behind. But we stay here and absorb more, read more, and explore more.
The papers have been a good example of exploring such a specific period of history. Through first person writing assignments, we essentially create faux-primary sources, mimicking what we might find in our research. Our created sources must represent a persona from the place and time period, and creating such a life requires considerably more research than it would seem. To piece together an imagined experience means understanding more than one aspect of the time period: a broad scope of information in one point in time. Finding sources for this research proves very difficult, and the deeper I look, the more I realize that there really aren’t enough sources to give the full picture. At some point, I inevitably hit a wall. What was Parisian bass clarinetist Georges Pigassou really like? What was Rolf de Mare’s reaction to the Ballets Suedois performance being relocated to a different stage in a theater in New York? Is there any printed source or living person who could tell me?
This makes me realize that a specific point in history, 1920’s Paris or any other point in time, is immeasurably more complex than we can ever imagine in a traditional history course. There are so many elements of life that have been lost, yet of course existed. Through the papers I’ve written for this class, I’ve been reminded of this, and that any moment in history may be more similar to the present day than I realize or want to accept.