University of Limerick

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Class, masculinities and sideways nostalgia:encounters with Irish traditional music in Germany

posted on 2022-11-03, 11:17 authored by FELIX MORGENSTERN
This dissertation examines manifestations and imaginaries, past and present, of Irish traditional music-making in Germany. From its outset, I posit that a focal shift towards the German performance context contributes important new understandings of the routes that Irish musical practices have taken globally, insights that extend the study of Irish traditional music as part of the ethnomusicological project beyond the previously interrogated, ethnic-national and diasporic terrains of musical identity construction and negotiation (Hall 1994; Dillane 2009; Moran 2012; Williams 2014). Employing a methodological toolkit of ethnographic fieldwork (Nettl 2005; Barz and Cooley 2008; Gilman and Fenn 2019), musicological analysis (Seeger 1958; Krüger 2009) and historical inquiry (McCollum and Herbert 2014), I seek to elucidate a recursive interplay between discourses and musical practices, and trace how this crucial intersection has informed the German engagement with Irish traditional music both historically and in the present. The project identifies agents that fashion, control and disrupt these narratives, and uncovers trajectories through which these processes unfold. Further, I locate the ethnographic responses of interlocutors in relation to larger bourgeois late-Enlightenment and Romantic discourses that have profoundly tethered folk music to the cultural nationalist enterprise in Ireland and Germany. The dissertation illustrates that power dynamics of class privilege, economic and ‘symbolic’ capital (Bourdieu 1984; 1986), and the socially sustained practice of hegemonic masculinity (Connell 2005) enable male key agents of the contemporary German Irish traditional music community to install, and tightly patrol, gatekeeping mechanisms of inclusivity in the scene’s primary performance settings of music sessions and workshops. While still adapting some regulations of belonging that have been shaped in the music’s place of origin, these arrangements ultimately serve to establish a musical community that, by and large, insists upon its decoupling from the Irish authenticating centre (Claviez 2020). However, it is also proposed that such instances of anxious control within a musical scene dominated by white, male, middle class practitioners unfold as part of a much larger cultural anxiety, tied to the traumatic misuses of German folk music for extreme nationalist and racist propaganda purposes during the Nazi era (1933–45). Firstly, by putting contemporary ethnographic voices in dialogue with those of former East German folk revivalists, I claim that different forms of nostalgia, in ‘restorative,’ ‘reflective,’ but especially ‘sideways’ guises (Boym 2001), have accomplished significant work in terms of transferring and sublimating (Gerrig et al. 2012) ‘culturally intimate’ (Herzfeld 1997) sentiments of German patriotism onto an attractive European musical sibling tradition. Secondly, I contend that crucial distinctions between historical registers of German and Irish musical exceptionalism (White 1998; Applegate 2017) – one expansive-imperial and the other anti-colonial – are key in terms of comprehending the alignment of former German post-war artists with Irish folk songs of rebellion against an oppressive ruler. Finally, I argue that such critical inquiry recalls the remarkable capacity of music to sound nationalism’s polyphonic trajectories (Bohlman 2004), and to do so at a time when the rise of enclosing fascist regimes appears imminent globally.



  • Doctoral

First supervisor

Dillane, Aileen





Department or School

  • Irish World Academy of Music & Dance

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