Believe it or not (I don’t), the first week of this summer’s CURI project has come and gone, leaving me tired, excited, and a little hungry. We spent the week reading, writing, typing, thinking, plotting points on maps, and getting to know each other; it’s been busier than my typical first week of summer. As quickly as this week went, however, I already feel like I have a handle on our project. I’ve learned that Paris in the 1920s was complex, eclectic, and constantly evolving, and that music was just one thread in the tapestry. I’ve learned that my favorite composers ate lunch together, shared ideas, fought, and dedicated their works to one another, and that the halls in which these works were premiered caught fire much too often for comfort. Music in 1920s Paris was shaped by a context of conflict, pride, loyalty, tourism, fashion, and constant change; basically, it existed in the real world. Maybe that’s obvious — where else would it have been? — but it’s hard not to imagine Ravel and Milhaud living in their own separate universes, floating around in the same music-history-space, but never actually meeting.
With the first few background readings behind me, I’m hoping to explore two topics in more depth. The first is the French chanson. As a singer who loves French vocal music, I’m always interested to know more about where the music I sing comes from. Beyond knowing what the text means, or what Fauré may have been thinking when he wrote “En sourdine,” I want to know who else heard the song, what they thought, why he wrote in a particular style, who he learned from, and what other music he heard that may have informed his compositions. A common theme among a few of our first readings is that there’s a difference between knowing and understanding. This summer, I hope to gain the tools to understand 1920s French vocal music as fully as possible.
I’m also hoping to learn more about the relationship between France and Russia during this time period. I’ve never been particularly interested in international politics, but the prevalence of Russian music in 1920s Paris has reappeared constantly throughout our research this week. I’ve always considered France and Russia to be very different countries, so it surprised me to discover how much they had in common. Why Koussevitsky? Why Stravinsky? Why the Ballets Russe? These are questions that will quickly become more specific.
How to succeed in research without cranial frying? I’m not sure yet, but I’m going to start by going to bed.