For the past two summers, the Musical Geography Project (as part of St. Olaf College’s Collaborative Undergraduate Research and Inquiry program) has been mapping the sounds and music of 1920s Paris. My name is Anna Perkins, and I am excited to join this summer’s research team, building on previous summers’ work and striking out in new, exciting directions! This summer, the team will working together with Professor Epstein to map performances of works by the French composer Darius Milhaud in the 20s and 30s. The maps will supplement Professor Epstein’s previous research on Milhaud’s rise in popularity in France, and will help answer the question “to what extent was Milhaud’s increase in popularity in France due to the success of his works being performed in Germany?” Milhaud, his work, and his sociopolitical context raise all kinds of interesting historical questions about German-French relations in the interwar period, nationalism, the influence of economics on cultural production, and aesthetics.
Apart from working together on Milhaud, each student researcher will also undertake their own independent project! All of us are still in the brainstorming stage, but there are many interesting, mappable possibilities. As a musician, and as a Sociology/Anthropology and Russian major, I am excited for the chance to combine and explore my interests in music, cultural history, historical anthropology, and maps. I am fascinated with the ways broader theoretical frameworks of performance/performativity, space/time, and ritual/play can be applied to the analysis of music. I am interested in how ideas (musical and otherwise) travel across space, and how “culture” (as a system of symbols and meanings and shared understandings) is produced and reproduced and disseminated. The concept and construction of nationality and national myth is also fascinating, especially as it relates to cultural meanings and artistic production in interwar Europe. I hope that creative mapping can help us understand the movement of and relationship between phenomenon across space.
As a Russian major, I am also interested in the ways Russian culture and music relates and influences/is influenced by the “West.” Post-1917 Revolution, many Russian emigres (including musical luminaries such as Stravinsky and Koussevitzky) made their way to Paris, leaving their mark on the city’s cultural and social life. This raises questions about how the Russian emigre community influenced and was influenced by the cultural and musical life of Paris, as well as questions about how Russian music was received by French audiences. Were Russian-composed works perceived by French audiences as having a Russian “sound?” How did this fit into the French-German musical divide? Did Russian music fit in with a larger avant-garde movement, or was it seen as something more “exotic” or “other”? It would also be interesting to see how Russian musical nationalism was transformed by events and circumstances of the early 20th century, especially as Russia developed a new “Soviet” identity.
I hope to learn more about this fascinating time period, develop more sophisticated mapping skills, begin to answer some of these questions, and help the Musical Geography Project become an even more comprehensive and valuable resource for both scholars and the general public. It will be an exciting summer!