University of Limerick
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Folk music in the German Democratic Republic: exploring lived musical experience and post-war German folk music discourses

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posted on 2022-09-22, 13:35 authored by FELIX MORGENSTERN
Following the drastic co-option of German folk music in the ideological service of the Nazi regime during the Third Reich (1933-1945), the genre’s performative practice was left highly marginalised. Confronted with this fragility, revival activists in both German post-war states initially recast German folk music in a nostalgic recourse to the soundscape and song themes of Irish and Scottish music, before reconnecting with a 19th century oppositional German-language folk song repertoire. In the GDR, songs of the 1848 Revolution were curated as part of the state’s ‘democratic’ cultural heritage and could not be readily censored. This complexity allowed artists to perform folk songs of the past to metaphorically pass comment on social, cultural and political circumstances existing in the present. Employing Rice’s (2003) model of subject-centred musical ethnography and drawing on fieldwork conducted among former members of the Leipzig-based GDR folk music scene, this thesis examines the lived musical experience of folk musicians in East Germany, nuancing their encounters in comparison to established post-war German folk music discourses. Based on archival research and musicological analysis, I further identify, how these individuals conceptualised their musicking and how this translates into concrete textual and sonic form. I conclude, that existing discursive portrayals of the relationship between folk musicians and state authorities, based on the oversimplification that GDR artists unconditionally sacrificed their creative expression to state censorship, require further nuancing. Crucially, interviewees characterise the politically-oppositional potential of their songs in multifaceted ways, ranging from critique to intermittent conformity, as they had to uncover pathways for communicating their oppositional attitudes to listeners, while availing of state sponsorship to maintain a performance platform. On a musical level, affective capacities of sonic references and symbolic lyrics amplify subversive messages in the listening experience of audiences, while allowing artists to creatively and intellectually articulate their being-in-the-world of socialism.



  • Master (Research)

First supervisor

Quigley, Colin





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