Friday, January 20, 2012

Music, Military and Festivals - Part 3 of Requested Article

IV.             Music, the Military and Festivals: The Importance of the Band in Banal Nationalism
Because institutions play a large role in the development of a national identity, much of the social-science research on institutions has focused on the role of the military and its ability to unite a nation in times of war, the state’s ability to mobilize the energies of its soldiers, and the connection between nationalism and war (Posen, 1993; Stern, 1995; Evera, 1994).  Research has considered the standard operating procedures of the institution (SOPs) – both the obvious and more subtle – and how the military is viewed by the people of the state.  When considering the role of the military band, most researchers look to the traditional role of the band to announce the army’s presence on the battlefield and music’s ability to help soldiers “ward of fatigue, inspire[e] heroism, mak[e] their enemies tremble, and ultimately decide[e] the outcomes of battle” (Kastner, 1855:45, 47), as seen in case of the French National Anthem Marseillaise.  Logically, the primary focus of the research centers on how the military band interplays with specific military functions; but, this narrow review fails to consider how the band affects other social aspects such as state sponsored festivals, funerals and celebrations.    
As Billig argues, banal nationalism plays an essential role in the development of a national identity.  Banal nationalism is the flag hanging from the bakery, the politicians “God bless the (fill in the nation)” in his inaugural speech, and the national anthem played at sporting events.  This form of nationalism plays an essential role in the minds of citizens giving them “pleasure-saturated reminders” of the possibility to serve (Billig, 1995:175).  This form of nationalism was crucial to the French military throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth century, in times of piece and war.  Yet, as Hobsbawm argues, tradition is invented, the practice and rituals of the military all were invented to create certain values and norms of behavior through a justification of the past (Hobsbawm, 2003).  Just as these norms were crucial for the solider, the same traditions (and many different ones for the musician) were instilled in the bandsman as well. 
A nation’s military success or failure is a critical element in the examination of a nation’s nationalism.  For France, the military was committed to the battlefield quasi-continuously throughout the nineteenth century.  France had fought in the Franco-Prussian War, had multiple revolutions, and was continually at war with Europe under Napoleon.  This made the military and its band an essential institution in the minds of the French.  Wielding a French horn became inseparable from wielding a mitrailleuse.  The band grew to symbolize national strength, grandeur and glory.  Gradually the German musicians that first populated the military band were replaced with musicians “locally trained” at the Conservatoire (J.B., 1890).  This step removed the perceived foreign dross from an institution that needed to be seen as distinctively French in nature.  At the same time these musicians were becoming uniquely French, the state began to use the band in less militaristic roles such as funerals, festivals and celebrations.  By expanding the exposure of the band to the civilian populace the state gained audience for a state sponsored message.
In times of peace, the military band was used by the state to encourage its people and to infuse citizens with pride in the nation which was best accomplished through the use of festivals.  Attendance of these festivals could often be vast with as many as 300,000 representatives from eighty-three departments present at any one festival (Pasler, 2009:109-10).  No matter the purpose of the festival, music was always the focal point of ceremonies.  Music would structure the procession and once the procession ceased, the people would join in singing as a form of ratifying “the ideal of the common will in harmony with the will of the organizers” (Pasler, 2009:110-11).  Music created an imagined community through the act of participation giving the people a way in which they could identify with current events. 
The military band through festivals created a three-prong legacy.  First, the band made the populace aware of its presence and identity through participation in song.  Much like Anderson’s argument that newspapers allowed citizens to imagine every other citizen doing the same thing at the same time, musical pieces at festivals allowed citizens to participate in the same activity at the same time thereby contributing to a unified national mindset.  Second, the band legitimized the government at festivals.  Each festival allowed for the government to use its bands, the musicians from the Conservatoire, and often stars of the Opéra.  The state was able to commission works and composers which focused on its success.  Finally, the music involved at the festival was seen as useful to the state to create an emotive feeling toward the nation and durable because the pieces would be played long after the festival had ended (Pasler, 2009:232-3).   The state would often commission composers to create works to be played outdoors for the nation to hear – this began a transition in music toward bugles and drums because of their ability to carry sound.
The state used the emotive power of the military band to unify the citizenry under one flag (Pasler, 2009).  As with any well planned battle strategy, the state would seek out composers sharing the same views as the state and commission those composers to create centerpiece compositions selling the position of the government.  For the state the primary focus of these pieces was the political ideology.  For the composer it was expression of the art.  One of France’s most highly admired composers to be used by the state was Hector Berlioz.  Berlioz (composer, critic, and teacher) once wrote in an essay entitled On limitation in Music that “it was never his intention to paint pictures or tell stories in music, but rather to explore emotions” (Langford, 2000:54).  Additionally, due to his critiques of other composers who did not follow the French model the state wanted to use his work (Langford, 2000). The state understood this emotive connection and utilized it to its fullest.
Festivals were particularly important to the French government because they created a sense of community; the state saw the band as fulfilling a ceremonial purpose of creating unity (Langford, 2000:65).  One of the most important festivals was the one held in remembrance of the three-day revolution of July 1830.  The Minister of Interior, Charles de Rémusat commissioned Berlioz to provide music for the procession and conclusion of the festival at which the remains of the victims of the revolution were exhumed and transported for reburial beneath the monument at the Place de le Bastille.  Berlioz found inspiration for the works in patriotic music written for outdoor celebrations during the Revolution and the Napoleonic Empire (Langford, 2000:66).  Berlioz wrote a seven movement symphony for the occasion entitled Grande Symphonie funèbre et triomphale.  Critics, audiences, and Berlioz’s usual detractors all thought this was the best piece he had ever composed, though musicologists believe this was due to the work’s “basis of immediate accessibility and overall simplicity of style – all hallmarks of traditional French patriotic music” (Langford, 2000:66).  The state was able to use music and the military band to capitalize on the patriotism of the French people thereby increasing state prestige in the minds of the citizenry. 
Musicologists have shown the military band also played a role in the construction and maintenance of French identity throughout the French colonies.  Music performed by the bands in new theatres especially helped the Algerians to assimilate into the French culture (Pasler, 2009:401).  In the Algerian colony, the band provided entertainment through French music, but also used the Moorish sounds to blend the two cultures and aid in assimilation.  A clear example is Saint-Saëns’s Rhapsodie mauresque, set in a Moorish café amid dancing while still suggesting the French military presence in Algiers through the traditional French use of horns and drums.  The opening prelude, as well as the closing, used the bugle horn; the second piece used a pompous and lively French military march.  The structure of the piece was designed to deliver the French message while highlighting the colonial musicology by blending the two concepts the state and its political song in a musical language understood by its colonists.  The military band aided in the construction of the French imagined community by strengthening the notion of “French-ness” in the minds of the colonists as well as at home.  The use of the band at national festivals and celebrations allowed the state to have a strong presence in the minds of the people. 
Although these observations of the military band are useful in the examination of music and French nationalism, the examination falls short in a number of areas.  Once again, musicologists largely limit their research to Paris with only a passing consideration of outlying areas such as the colonies.  This is an addictive trail to follow as the band was supplied by the Conservatoire and most large festivals were held in Paris.  Because the examination is so limited it does call into question musicologists’ claims that the band was a national tool.  Additionally, this approach does not focus on the way the military was used in general in conjunction with the band (Buruma, 2004; Anderson, 2006; Hobswbawm, 1968, 1990).  Again, a thorough investigation of institutions is missing from this narrative.  Social scientists have shown that the military itself is an institution that is used to create uniformity and emotive connections to the state and its members (Anderson, 2006; Stern, 1995) through such SOPs as chanting war songs and military drills that create brotherhood on the field - most of which the citizen does not see.  The musicologist’s approach does not show how music fulfills this role within the military institution itself, nor within the state of France
Moreover, this approach does not consider how the military was viewed in general.  France was in constant turnover in nineteenth century going through numerous republics, monarchs, empires, and revolutions – all violent.  The state always used military backing in hopes of keeping their place of power.  Therefore, depending on which side of the battle one was on, the view of the military could be drastically affected.  If one did not support the state, they very well may not have supported the military and may have seen the band as only an extension of the institution they did not support.  This has been seen in the many revolutions during the nineteenth century, the desertions of the Napoleonic army that continuously plagued the French state.  With such instances as the peasant self-mutilation of the first two fingers to prevent being able to fight (Cobb, 1970:96-7) to flight and desertion (Scott, 1985:30-40) it is not such a far stretch of the imagination to think the view of the state influences the view of the military and its band. 
Additionally, the view of the peasantry toward the military has not been considered in the musicologists’ approach.  Many peasants saw the military as a way to provide for themselves and to climb the social ladder, not as a unifying institution (Scott, 1976; Weber, 1976).  Peasants could have fallen on one side of the state politically and joined the military only for its ability to provide, creating a conflict within the citizen for which the band could not provide an antidote.  The use of the band in overcoming these views is not considered, and therefore, musicologists fall short once again. 
The military as an institution plays a role in the development and continuation of the nation.  Musicologists have shown that music used by the band in the military, especially at festivals, plays an important role in the development of the nation (both within the band and in the public that hears its music). However, their focus centrally on Paris and lack of indepth understanding of SOP’s makes their contribution to nationalism limited at best.  However, the exclusion of music within the military band by social scientists limits their understanding of the role of the military in nation formation, creation, and why people would go to war to die for their nation (as recent research tries to answer).  It is only by uniting these disciplines that the role of the military in nation formation can truly be understood.  

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