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Nations and Nationalism 10 (4), 2004, 579–597. r ASEN 2004

Musical constructions of nationalism: a comparative study of Barto´k and Stravinsky


Institute of Sociology, University of Copenhagen, Linne´sgade 22, 1361

Copenhagen, Denmark


Institute of Musicology, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

ABSTRACT. This article argues that music, and in particular the history of music, can make a considerable contribution to the study of nations and nationalism and illustrates it by analysing Be´la Barto´k and Igor Stravinsky, relating these analyses to significant debates within theories of nations and nationalism. Within studies of nations and nationalism the article concentrates on the different interpretations of the term ‘construction’ expressed in the works of Eric Hobsbawm and Anthony D. Smith.

National music is bad.

Good music is national.


The study of nations and nationalism is characterised by a variety of disciplines such as history, sociology and political science. This multiplicity of disciplines is expressed both in the relatively interdisciplinary approach of many of the theories in the field and in the use of sources which stretch from historical sources to architecture and art history. History of music has also been employed as a source in the study of nations and nationalism; however, not to the same extent as, for example, architecture and art history (White and Murphy 2001). This is a shame as music, and in particular the history of music, can make a considerable contribution to the study of nations and nationalism, both as a source and a perspective on, and possible problema-tisation of, existing theoretical debates within the field. The purpose of this

n The authors would like to thank John Hutchinson and the anonymous referees for their excellent comments and suggestions. The translations are the authors’ with the originals appearing in the notes.

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article is to illustrate this by analysing Be´la Barto´k (1881–1945) and Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971), and relating these analyses to significant debates within theories of nations and nationalism.

Just as the study of nations and nationalism has only rarely dealt with music, traditionally musicology has been reluctant to consider the possible role and importance of nationalism. While there are several historical accounts of the music in a country, a region or a locality, scientific musicology has, to a large extent, adopted the first half of the above apocryphal sentence and has treated musical nationalism under the category ‘national schools’ as a divergence from a universal norm. The national has been considered the particular and has been associated with less prestigious genres such as symphonic poems, rhapsodies or suites of dances and character pieces of Hungarian, Norwegian or similar peripheral origins from the light end of the concert repertory and the salon music.

The reason for this is more than mere snobbery. The early twentieth century Adler School’s emphasis on musicology as a science took its point of departure from Eduard Hanslick’s ideas about the absolute musical composi-tion and developed a concept of style which was considered universal, i.e. ‘classical’, and beyond national differences. The Palestrina style was not considered Italian, but as classical vocal polyphony, the Bach style was considered the culmination of the linear counterpoint, and the Vienna classical style was seen as marking the peak of the symphonic style.

This could not be sustained in the post-war era influenced by de-colonisa-tion, the Cold War, and a youth movement with its very own ideals about musical genres and forms of expression. First and foremost, American musicology began to consider the ‘universal’ music as a national and, more precisely, a German phenomenon. This was stated explicitly in the 1951 edition of the Harvard Dictionary of Music: ‘The National movement started, and must be understood, as a reaction against the supremacy of German music . . . Nationalism, therefore, was actually an affair of the ‘‘peripheral’’ nation, for which it proved, in most cases, the first opportunity to advance into the centre of the musical scene.’ (Harvard Dictionary of Music, 1951: 479). It took a bit longer for musicology in Europe to catch on to the trend. Thus, it is quite telling that both Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart (1961) and

New Grove (1980) include national hymns, but without dealing with nation-alism. Finally, in 1974, Carl Dahlhaus recommended that musical nationalism should be studied in the context of political nationalism and in relation to structural history. However, he emphasised that the national element in nineteenth century music arose, above all, from the political and sociological function of music rather than music itself. ‘Only in the twentieth century with Barto´k and Stravinsky did the mediation based in rhythm and melody begin between folklore on the one hand and an artificial music exploring the novel on the other hand’ (Dahlhaus, 1974: 86; for the original see note 1)1. The national element was considered to represent the particular as opposed to the general regardless of whether this was seen as universal or conceived of as the

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centre in a concentric musical picture of the world – regardless of whether it was conceived of as classical style or stylistic ‘modern’.2

However, in the late twentieth century this changed and nationalism emerged as a core topic in musicological literature, which was studied independently of the ‘universal’ or ‘centre’ from which it was considered to differ. This is clearly expressed in American musicology, which seems at times to have adopted the last part of the above apocryphal sentence and has sought to uncover national elements in music, which used to be considered universal by virtue of its aesthetic qualities. Richard Taruskin’s monumental biography of Stravinsky (Taruskin, 1996) and the Russian tradition and, moreover, his lengthy article on ‘nationalism’ in the 2001 edition of New Grove are striking examples of this tendency.

The latter demonstrates some of the problems which musicologists face when engaging in the study of nationalism. First and foremost, the problem of definitions arises. Taruskin writes: ‘Definitions of nationalism depend, of course, on definitions of the nation. It is not likely that consensus will ever be reached on their precise meaning, since different definitions serve different interests’ (Taruskin 2001: 689). Different definitions emphasise linguistic, ethnic, religious, cultural or historical communities, which are considered to constitute the foundations of the nation. This enables the researcher to find the ‘origins and earliest manifestations’ of musical nationalism in the sixteenth century’s prints and their spread of the (French) Pariserchanson, the (Italian) frottola and the (German) Hofweise or tenorlied (ibid: 689). It appears that musical nationalism has its roots in cultural communities that precede the modern nation – a point to which we shall return.

Implicitly, Taruskin’s article on nationalism in New Grove raises the question of whether nationalism in music is a category of reception aesthetics or of techniques of composition. This is clearly expressed in his reference to a letter to the editor concerning Ha¨ndel’s Israel in Egypt printed in the London Daily Post immediately after the first performance in 1739. The letter is considered to be a piece of evidence of the nationalistic reception of Israel in Egypt and is thus seen as an example of early musical nationalism. In contrast, Vaughan Williams is only mentioned briefly in relation to a British pastor-alism. This hardly does justice to Williams’ and Gustav Holst’s lifelong work collecting English folk songs and, furthermore, Williams’ attempt to integrate this material into his symphonic style. Similarly, the article mentions Barto´k only twice, stating that Stravinsky inspired Barto´k and that he was a victim of political conflicts during the Cold War. Composers such as Grieg (whose harmony was strongly inspired by Norwegian folk music) and Janacek (whose motifs and intonation built upon the intonation of the Czech language) go completely unmentioned. Finally, Kodaly and other composers are also left out albeit they deliberately engaged in integrating national styles into their works.

Jim Samson’s outstanding analysis of nationalism in The Cambridge History of Nineteenth Century Music (2001) also addresses the problems of

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defining nationalism. In the introduction, Samson argues that: ‘It was from the same cluster of ideas [i.e. the ideological foundation of liberalism and the revolutions in England] that nationalism took much of its impetus’ (Samson, 2001: 568). Later on in the text he emphasises that:

The ideology of nationalism was forged largely in the German-speaking world. There were pre-echoes in the circumbaltic and northern Slavonic lands, but it was above all in the writings of post-Kantian German philosophers such as Herder and Fichte that the translation of Enlightenment political thought into cultural nationalism was most clearly effected and articulated (Samson 2001: 570–1).

Apparently, Samson works with several forms of nationalism: a predomi-nantly political type with roots in Western European and American liberalism and a predominantly cultural type with roots in German philosophy3.

It follows that the above-mentioned problems, which this article seeks to explore through two texts which may be considered representative of modern musicological articles about nationalism, are more related to nationalism as a concept than the national qualities that characterise music from various areas. Therefore, this article takes its starting point in the concept of nationalism and the theories that seek to clarify it. In this context, the notion of ‘construction’ is vital both as a constitutive part of a theoretical explanatory model, and as a political model which serves the ideological purposes of a ruling elite (White and Murphy 2001).

Theoretical approaches

The term construction is used extensively in the study of nations and nationalism. However, it is given a variety of meanings. A quite significant number of scholars within the field of nationalism consider the nation as a construction. This is particularly the case with modernist writers who are the most numerous in the field. However, within the modernist paradigm there are various degrees and interpretations of construction, ranging from Ernest Gellner’s view of nations and nationalism as products of the demands of industrial society to the so-called ‘strong’ forms of social constructionism which are often associated with Benedict Anderson and Eric Hobsbawm (Smith, 2001). The modernist writers are criticised by, for instance, ethno-symbolists such as Anthony D. Smith who argue that the nation should not be considered as a construction but rather a reconstruction that builds on existing cultural material (Smith, 2001).

In order to cover the different interpretations of the term construction, this article builds on the works of Hobsbawm and Smith. In so doing, the focus is not only on two scholars in the field of nationalism but also on two representatives of quite different approaches to nations and nationalism. Hobsbawm takes his starting point in the Marxist tradition. In this perspec-tive, nations and nationalism are closely linked to bourgeois society. They are products of the bourgeois ideology. This has two important implications for

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the study of nations and nationalism. First, according to Hobsbawm the nation is a purely modern phenomenon because it is considered a particular kind of organisation which is attached to a specific form of production. Second, Hobsbawm views the nation as a construction which has no ‘essence’ (Hobsbawm, 1990). Since Hobsbawm regards the nation as limited to and contingent upon the modern period, he is very sceptical of the idea that the nation has roots in pre-modern communities which extend into the modern nation. From his perspective, the nation should rather be considered as a product of a construction – understood as fabrication – carried out by the ruling elite which involves, among other things, the invention of traditions (Hobsbawm and Ranger 1983).

According to Hobsbawm, the invention of traditions is particularly prominent in the period from 1870 to 1914. The invention of traditions takes several forms. However, every form represents a case where elites are eager to assert their powerful position in the face of rapid political, social and economic change. The instruments employed are, among others, invented traditions which indicate continuity between the present and an appropriate past. It follows that if the nation is deconstructed it will wither away because it relies on the assumption of continuity. Thus, Hobsbawm concludes: ‘Finally, I cannot but add that no serious historian of nations and nationalism can be a committed nationalist . . . Nationalism requires too much belief in what is patently not so’ (Hobsbawm 1990: 10). This conclusion has repercussions for the study of musicology. It raises the question of whether Hobsbawm’s thesis of invented traditions can be applied to music. If so, may ‘national music’ be considered as the type of construction, which, according to Hobsbawm, is characteristic of many national institutions? This question is particularly relevant when considering the place of folk music in modern national compositions. May one regard this phenomenon as an attempt to establish continuity between the present and an appropriate past? And is such a musical construction a symptom of one or many elites’ attempts to assert their powerful positions?

However, Hobsbawm’s thesis of invented traditions and his tendency to equate the term construction with fabrication has to be compared to Smith’s interpretation of the term construction. In contrast to Hobsbawm, Smith does not consider the nation to be a purely modern phenomenon. Instead, nations build on ethnic communities which have roots in the pre-modern period. Against this background, Smith underlines the importance of taking a wider historical perspective on nations and nationalism which extends beyond the modern period. In this wider historical perspective, myths and symbols are of vital importance. They constitute a substantial link between pre-modern ethnic communities and modern nations. It follows that according to Smith the nation has some kind of core, albeit he does not consider it to be static and unchangeable.

Smith concedes that a certain amount of construction takes place in the development of the modern nation. However, this is not construction under-

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stood as fabrication. Instead, symbols and myths constitute the context within which the modern nation is constructed. Thus, the modern nation is not an entirely new creation. It is constructed – or rather reconstructed – on the basis of existing material, which conditions the modern nation (Smith, 1995). This leads to a quite different perspective on the role of folk music in modern national compositions. Whereas in Hobsbawm’s perspective, the use of folk music indicates the assertion of continuity between the present and an appropriate past, in the perspective of Smith, it is an example of the influence of pre-modern ethnic communities on the composition of modern national music.

Finally, the view of the nation as constructed raises the question: Who constructs? In Hobsbawm’s view, political and social elites play a vital role. They formulate and propagate nationalism considered as an ideology with the purpose of nationalising the masses (Hobsbawm and Ranger 1983). Smith is inclined to ascribe a larger role to intellectuals and artists. However, the question, Who constructs the nation? gives rise to further queries. First and foremost, the question arises as to whether it is contemporaries or rather posterity that ascribes particular importance to a group or an individual in the national process. In other words, were these groups and individuals nation-alists in the eyes of themselves and contemporary society? Or is it rather a role they have been assigned retrospectively? In so far as posterity is considered significant, the role of the scholar becomes crucial. In extremis, the scholar risks (in his or her effort to uncover nationalistic elements in history) contributing to the construction of nations and nationalism. This problem is important to bear in mind when analysing musical constructions of nationalism.

Barto´k and Hungarian nationalism

‘I consider myself a Hungarian composer’ (Barto´k in Szabolsci 1972: 261; for the original see note 4)4. This quotation derives from a letter which Barto´k wrote on 10 January 1931 to the Romanian ethnographer Octavian Beu. It is one of many statements which has contributed to an image of Barto´k as a distinctively national composer. Apparently, this is in line with the national confession which Barto´k wrote about 28 years earlier in a letter to his mother, in which he criticised her for speaking German rather than Hungarian. Here he stated his own position on the national question: ‘For my own part, I will in all my doings and in every way serve only one purpose: the completion of the Hungarian nation and the Hungarian fatherland’ (Barto´k in Szabolsci 1972: 226; for the original see note 5)5. Thus, after Barto´k’s death, Hungarian musicology, and most notably Bence Szabolsci and his colleagues Erno¨ Lendvai and Jozsef Ujfalussy, considered nationalism as a constant factor in his life. The view of Barto´k as a nationalist was in line with the official Hungarian ideology which dominated the years prior to the collapse of the

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Soviet Union. It was considered far more appropriate than the parts of Barto´k’s music which the Hungarian regime rejected because they did not fit the image of Barto´k as a folklorist and could lead young composers to make dangerous ‘formalistic’ mistakes (Taruskin 2001: Vol. 17).

Therein lies a possible contradiction between Barto´k’s music and the view of him as a nationalist, and this contradiction is, in fact, quite pronounced in the further reading of Barto´k’s letter to Octavian Beu. It appears that Barto´k’s statement about being a ‘Hungarian nationalist’ is not an absolute claim. Instead, it is a reaction against Beu’s wish to regard him as a Romanian composer with reference to the many Romanian folk songs which Barto´k used in his works. Barto´k replies that if this is the case he is also a Slovak composer and thus a composer of three nationalities. Barto´k draws a remarkable conclusion from the above:

Actually, you can consider my work as a composer as an embodiment of the vision of integration so clearly expressed in present day Hungary because it springs from three sources (Hungarian, Romanian, Slovak) . . . However, my own vision, which I have pursued ever since I found myself as a composer is the brotherhood of peoples; a brotherhood despite war and hatred. I seek to the best of my efforts to serve this idea in my music. Following my – let’s call it geographical – situation, the Hungarian source is the closest and consequently the Hungarian influence the strongest. However, the question as to whether my style has a particular Hungarian character (and this is the question) despite its different sources that is for other people to decide, not me (Bartok in Szabolcsi, 1972: 262–3; for the original see note 6).6

In 1931, Barto´k argues that ‘the brotherhood of peoples’ (die Verbru¨derung der Vo¨lker) is the general, ideal and ethical aim of his music rather than the Hungarian nation and the Hungarian fatherland which appear to be the purpose of his efforts in 1903. Barto´k’s Hungarian nationalism thus seems to have developed into a conviction which cannot be described as universal in the sense that it considers nations to be particular in relation to a higher universal community. However, it may be labelled inter-national because it takes its starting point in the national and emphasises the unification of nations as a desirable aim. In the early 1930s, this must have appeared utopian and Barto´k warns Beu against publishing it: ‘Such things are not for the Romanian press’ (ibid.: 262–3; for the original see note 7).7

This ideal developed as Barto´k evolved as a composer. It thus appears to have its roots in aesthetic considerations. Barto´k’s development from a youthful and chauvinistic to a mature and modern composer is well docu-mented. Barto´k’s youthful Hungarian nationalism implied that he chose to study at the newly established Liszt Conservatory in Budapest rather than the relatively more prestigious academy in Vienna, which had offered him a scholarship. It permeates his earliest compositions, which were inspired both by Franz Liszt and by the pele-mele of czardas, verbunkos and Magyar nota which was called ‘gypsy music’ and was recognised as an authentic expression of the Hungarian national identity. Additionally, in 1902 Barto´k found inspiration in Richard Strauss and he composed his first major piece for

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orchestra, the symphonic poem Kossuth, which glorifies the Hungarian national hero Lajos Kossuth’s battle against Austrian dominance in 1849. In contrast, the older Barto´k explored on a scientific basis the original peasant music from the Balkans and North Africa. In the words of Dahlhaus, he used the melody forms and rhythms he discovered there as a basis for: ‘an artificial music exploring the novel’ (Dahlhaus 1974: 86).8 In particular, American musicology has documented that Barto´k’s nationalism changed with his stylistic development and ultimately brought him into conflict with official Hungarian nationalism.

This process did not proceed smoothly. Instead, it was characterised by crises and ‘holes’ in Barto´k’s work as a composer. There were periods during which he did not compose at all. Instead, he relied on his work as a piano teacher and concert pianist or on his work as an ethnomusicologist. Barto´k’s encounter with the original Hungarian peasant music and his collaboration with Zolta´n Koda´ly concerning its investigation and, furthermore, the inspiration from Western European modern music – first Claude Debussy and later Arnold Scho¨nberg – are important elements in this development. It led Barto´k to believe that the official and generally acknowledged view of gypsy music as the Hungarian national music was a construction of the Magyar elite, which served its political purposes (Frigyesi 1994). Against the background of the above discussion of Hobsbawm, one may argue that Barto´k deconstructed the musical expression of Hungarian nationalism and reached the conclusion that no (serious) composer can be a nationalist. This begs the question: What can a serious composer then be? Barto´k did not choose the obvious answer and argued in favour of international (French-German) modernism. Instead, he sought an at once new and authentic musical expression for the Hungarian identity, which he combined with composition techniques that he developed inspired by modern colleagues and most notably Debussy, Scho¨nberg and Stravinsky.

In the letter to Beu from 1931, Barto´k described his sources as Hungarian, Romanian and Slovak. In other words, he referred to a variety of folk music or peasant music, as he preferred to call it, from different parts of the Hungarian kingdom. This kingdom existed from the Hungarian wars of independence in 1848–49 and the Ausgleich compromise in 1867 (where part of the Romanian Transsylvania became part of Hungary) to the First World War and the Trianon Treaty in which Hungary lost seventy per cent of its territory and population (Cooper 2001: 16–7). In this kingdom, where the ethnic Magyars constituted less than fifty per cent of the population, Romanians, Germans, Slovaks, Croats, Serbs and numerous other ethnic groups lost practically all of their civil rights. This was due to the fact that only people with the Hungarian mother tongue were recognised as citizens. Hungarian became the only language spoken in the state administration, the judicial system and in education. It is in this historical context that Barto´k criticises his mother for speaking German rather than Hungarian in the letter from 1903. Furthermore, it is in reaction to the narrow and chauvinistic

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Hungarian nationalism after 1920 and as an expression of the ideal of ‘the brotherhood of peoples’ (die Verbru¨derung der Vo¨lker) and ‘a brotherhood despite war and hatred’ (eine Verbru¨derung trotz allem Krieg und Hader) that he composed the Dance Suite in 1923 in which:

The thematic material of all the movements is an imitation of peasant music. The aim of the whole work was to put together an idealised peasant music – you could say an invented peasant music – in such a way that the individual movements of the work should introduce particular types of music. Peasant music of all nationalities served as a model: Magyar [Hungarian], Wallachian [Romanian], Slovak, and even Arabic. In fact, here and there is even a hybrid from these species. Thus, for example, the melody of the first subject of the first movement is reminiscent of primitive Arabic peasant music, whereas its rhythm is of East European folk music (Somfai 1996: 17–8).

Here we are once again witnessing a construction, however, with quite a different purpose and on another basis. The purpose was an international community of nations which Barto´k saw realised in the League of Nations where he worked together with, among others, Thomas Mann and Karel Kapek in the permanent committee for literature and art. This brought him into conflict with Admiral Horthy’s right-wing nationalistic regime in Hun-gary which gradually came to resemble the Third Reich with the end of the Bethlens’ government in 1931, and the creation of the Hitler-inspired National Socialistic Hungarian Workers’ Party and its demands for the removal of all non-‘Turanian-Aryan’ elements from important positions. Ultimately, in 1938, it adopted the racial laws of the Third Reich (Cooper 2001: 17–8). This made Barto´k a respected but isolated character in Hungary in the years prior to his emigration to the USA in 1940.

The basis for Barto´k’s construction of a musical expression was funda-mentally different from the gypsy idiom which constituted the accepted Hungarian national tone, and which Barto´k considered to be false:

That this Hungarian popular art music, incorrectly called gypsy music, has more value than [similar] foreign trash is perhaps a matter of pride for us, but when it is held up as something superior to so-called ‘light music’ . . . we must raise our voices in solemn protest (Barto´k quoted in Frigyesi, 1994: 271).

In the case of Barto´k, we are confronted with a type of construction which seeks an authentic foundation in a scientifically investigated peasant music derived from various ethnic communities with roots in the pre-modern period. Through the stylisation of these sources and their elaboration by contempor-ary composition techniques, Barto´k sought to establish an original and organically coherent musical form. This can be seen in the perspective of Smith’s ethno-symbolic approach to nationalism.

The nation which Barto´k had in mind was not Admiral Horthy’s racially pure Turanian-Arian nation. It was the multi-ethnic Hungary which disap-peared with the Trianon Treaty in 1920 and which, in the eyes of Barto´k, was a union of people straddling Eastern and Western Europe. Barto´k was aware of the fact that he was isolated with his ideas. However, he was able to find similar ideas among composers, above all, in the works of his friend and

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colleague in ethnomusicology, Zolta´n Koda´ly and, furthermore, in Stravins-ky’s ‘Russian’ pieces from the years prior to 1920. Most notably Stravinsky’s Pribaoutki contributed to Barto´k’s view of Stravinsky as one of his greatest colleagues (Somfai 1996: 14 and 23). Barto´k copied the score and he discussed it in his article about the influence of folk music on contemporary art music, published in the German journal Melos in 1920 (Barto´k 1920). Therefore, it is intriguing to discuss Stravinsky’s ‘Russian’ pieces in relation to Barto´k and theories of nationalism.

Stravinsky and Turanian nationalism

‘Dear Stravinsky, You are a great artist! Try with all your might to be a great Russian Artist!’ (Letter from Debussy to Stravinsky, 24 October 1915, quoted in Taruskin 1996: 846). Seen in the perspective of Stravinsky’s life and his triple Russian-French-US citizenship, this advice appears to have had very little impact on Stravinsky. There are obvious reasons for this. The nation-ality, which Debussy suggested Stravinsky hold on to in 1915, vanished two years later with the revolution in 1917. It was replaced by a Soviet loyalty in which the aristocrat Stravinsky had only little interest. Almost half a century passed from the First World War to 1962 before Stravinsky saw his fatherland again.

However, it was not only external political factors which separated Stravinsky from his Russian roots. In his writings and in his compositions after 1920, he made an effort to downplay his Russian nationality and appear as an international or universal artist. This constitutes a theme throughout his writings, for instance, the early French biography published in 1935–36, the Harvard lectures published as Musical Poetry in 1946, and the many conversations with Robert Craft in Stravinsky’s later years (Stravinsky 1969; Stravinsky and Craft 1962). Furthermore, it influences his music, which after 1920 either takes its starting point in a Western European classical tradition (the two major exceptions are the Tchaikovsky-inspired The Fairy’s Kiss and The Symphony of Psalms) or incorporates a Scho¨nberg-inspired serialism.

It is only in recent and, in particular, in American musicological research that this impression of Stravinsky has been challenged. In 1963, Arthur Berger pointed out that the octatonic scale, which is characteristic of Stravinsky’s teacher Nikolay Rimskij-Korsakov, is the tonal foundation of the ballet The Wedding. Later, Richard Taruskin (1996) revealed that Russian forms of scales (octatonic and diatonic) and pieces of melodies are constitutive of the style that characterises Stravinsky’s ‘Russian’ pieces prior to 1920 and the neo-classical era reference media. This has accentuated the question of Stravinsky’s nationalism in the first almost forty years of his life when some of his most performed and most influential pieces, such as the three early ballets The Firebird, Petrushka and The Rite of Spring and some later pieces

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such as The Soldier’s Tale, The Wedding and The Symphonies for Wind Instruments, were written.

Stravinsky grew up in a national romantic atmosphere, which was influenced by the particular Russian nationalism that characterised the ‘mighty five’ among others, Mily Balakirev, Modest Mussorgsky, Alexander Borodin and Stravinsky’s teacher Rimskij-Korsakov. The ‘mighty five’ constituted a contrast to the style of the Russian conservatory which was relatively more oriented towards the West and which was represented by the brothers Rubinstein and Pyotr Tchaikovsky. After the years with Rimskij-Korsakov, Stravinsky was inspired by the group of people that were involved in Serge Diaghilev’s journal Mir iskusstva, i.e. Diaghilev, the writer Alexandr Benois and the painter Nikolai Roerich and, furthermore, French music, most notably Debussy. They triggered Stravinsky’s originality expressed in the three ballets composed for Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes: The Firebird, Petrushka and The Rite of Spring. It led to the ‘Russian’ pieces and culminated in The Wedding. Thereafter, Stravinsky turned towards a Western European inspired neo-classicism. How did Stravinsky move from the Russian national school where he studied under Rimskij-Korsakov to the Western European-Amer-ican internationalism which he claimed the last half of his life?

Taruskin analyses this problem in Stravinsky and the Russian Traditions: a Biography of the Works through Marva (1996) and makes it a main theme in the chapter ‘Stravinsky and the Subhuman’ in his book Defining Russia Musically: Historical and Hermeneutical Essays (1997). According to him, the road of Stravinsky from a Russian national tradition based on Rimskij-Korsakov and the ‘mighty five’ to internationalism or rather a postulated universalism runs through a particular ‘Eurasian’ or ‘Turanian’ nationalism. This nationalism had its roots in Russian migrant communities in the years succeeding the revolution. Taruskin argues that it influenced Stravinsky’s political and philosophical ideas greatly and, furthermore, his music in the period when he was in exile in Switzerland during the First World War. There is reason to dwell on the latter of these two terms because it also occurred in Barto´k’s protest against the National Socialist Hungarian Workers’ Party’s demand for the exclusion of all non-‘Turanian-Aryan’ elements from im-portant positions in the 1930s. Turan, which is ‘a lowland plain landscape in Central Asia east of the Caspian sea’ was considered by Russian migrants the cradle of Russian culture and the Russian nation (The Great Danish Encyclopedia, Vol. 19, 1994–2001: 322). It was surrounded by notions of nationalism with racist aspects which both contributed to anti-Semitism (thus the Turanian-Aryan alliance in the programme of the Hungarian Nazi party) and opposed the Western Roman-Germanic influence, which since the time of Tsar Peter the Great was considered to be a main reason for the decline culminating in the Marxist revolution in Russia in 1917.

According to Taruskin’s sources (first and foremost, Prince Nikolai Sergeyevich Trobetskoy and the scholar of religion Lev Platonovich Karsa-vin), the qualities that signify the Turanian mentality or ‘race’ are constituted

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by a particular collective consciousness. This collective consciousness is characterised by a one-dimensional way of thinking and a culture in which the private, the public and the religious are integrated to the extent that both the actions of the state and the behaviour of the individual are believed to derive from and are reflected in a general Orthodox Christian attitude towards life which secures a harmonious – and in the words of Karsavin ‘symphonic’ – society. Taruskin argues that this collective consciousness is expressed in the human sacrifice in The Rite of Spring where the death dance of the chosen girl is accepted as the culmination of a ritual without consideration of or pity for her suffering and destiny as an individual. Furthermore, Taruskin regards Stravinsky’s choice and use of Russian wedding rituals in The Wedding as the peak of the composer’s ‘Turanian’ style. Finally, he sees the assembling of contrasting form elements with carefully considered tempo relations in the Symphonies for Wind Instruments as the musical realisation of Karsavin’s utopia of a ‘symphonic’ society.

It is not a particularly edifying company in which Taruskin places Stravinsky, and the conclusions that Taruskin reaches challenge both the composer and his works. Thus, Taruskin relates it to Stravinsky’s manifest – although in the autobiographical literature suppressed – anti-Semitism, his early excitement with Mussolini’s fascist regime, and the documented attempts he made at having his music recognised as Aryan rather than entartet in Nazi Germany. However, in the present context it is important to bear in mind that Taruskin does not set out to discuss Stravinsky’s alleged Turanian nationalism and its consequences for his opinions. Instead, Taru-skin uses Turanian nationalism as part of an argument against the view of Stravinsky’s music as ‘absolute’, i.e. independent of extra-musical influences and thus immune to reactionary or racist ideas. This view is in line with the fact that Stravinsky, throughout the Western European and American parts of his life, claimed the autonomy of music to the extent that at times he required an objective, ‘mechanical’ and expressionless performance of his pieces. In contrast, Taruskin argues that as a result of Turanian nationalism, Stravinsky is, in fact, a significant case against the tendency and desire in musicology to deal exclusively with music and to disregard non-musical influences and intentions of the composer. In so doing, musicology renders the musical pieces hygienic and without danger and robs them of an important dimension.

There are no fundamental disagreements between Taruskin’s and the present authors’ view of the obligations of musicology. But, our concern is nationalism and in this context Taruskin’s thesis of Turanian nationalism in Stravinsky’s ‘Russian’ pieces may be seen as an example of the construction of nationalism which Hobsbawm debates. This is already indicated by the fact that the notion of a Turanian nationalism is derived from linguistic studies of a presumed Turkish ancient language, which, in turn, leads to an idea about a particular Turkish national character which extends to all ‘Turanians’ and is thus elevated to an ancient Russian character:

Musical constructions of nationalism


The typical Turk does not like to become enmeshed in subtleties or intricate details. He prefers to operate with basic, clearly perceptible forms, and to group these forms in clear and simple patterns. . . . The Turk loves symmetry, clarity, and stable equilibrium. But he loves it as a given, not as a requirement . . . Once having come to believe in a certain worldview, having turned it into a subconscious law defining his behaviour, or into a universal system, and having achieved in this way a condition of stable equilibrium on a clear foundation, the Turk rests content and holds fast to his beliefs.

. . . Consciousness of belonging not only to the Aryan, but to the Turanian psychological type is indispensable for every Russian, who aspires to personal and national self-realization (Prince N.S. Trubetskoy quoted by Taruskin 1997: 397 and 399).

This Turanian character is allegedly expressed in a folk music with certain melodic and metric characteristics. There is no scientific evidence for this and no folklore can document these claims. Taruskin concludes his discussion of Prince Trubetskoy’s ethnomusicological views by stating that: ‘Any ethno-musicologist reading [of Trubetskoy’s account of the Turanian folk music] would surely point out, between the giggles, that they are pure folklore in their own right, the work of an amateur with a pressing agenda’ (Taruskin 1997: 407). It appears that there is no original Turanian music or musical style. The question is, therefore, whether Stravinsky constructs such a style. Taruskin argues: ‘He, and he alone, composed genuine ‘‘Turanian’’ music, for among composers he, and he alone, shared Prince Trubetskoy’s, and Suvchinsky’s and Karsavin’s cultural agenda’ (Taruskin 1997: 409).

Taruskin’s argument for Stravinsky’s Turanian nationalism is twofold. First, on the basis of biographical data he argues in favour of the likelihood that Stravinsky was familiar with and influenced by the theories which circulated in Russian migrant communities. Second, against the background of a stylistic evaluation of Stravinsky’s The Wedding he seeks to uncover composition technical elements which point in the direction of or may be interpreted as expressions of a Turanian nationalism. The biographical part of the argument is far from simple since Stravinsky did not mention the Turanian nationalism in his biographical writings or letters. Taruskin bases his argument on two elements. First, it is based on Stravinsky’s use of a kind of Cyrillic calligraphy in a dedicated copy of one of the songs of Berceuses du chat (1915). Second, Taruskin discovers a missing link between the Turanian nationalism and Stravinsky in his family, which connects the previously mentioned Lev Platonovich Karsavin to the circle around Stravinsky and Diaghilev. This is Karsavin’s sister Tamara Platonova Karsavina who took over the part of the firebird after Anna Pavlona at the premiere of The Firebird and who danced the main part in Petrushka (Walsh 1999: 141 and 161).

Stravinsky does not mention Tamara Karsavina or her brother and his Turanian ideas in his memoirs or in his conversations with Craft (Stravinsky 1969; Stravinsky and Craft 1962). Thus, it appears that the biographical connection between Stravinsky and the spokesmen of a Turanian nation-alism rests on a fragile foundation. Furthermore, it seems that the stylistic relation that Taruskin establishes between Stravinsky’s music and Turanian

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nationalism is problematic. The starting point is the introductory song of mourning from The Wedding which consists of an ornamented three-tone motif. Taruskin extracts the motif from one of Stravinsky’s most used phrases, namely, a symmetrical constellation of tones based on four tones which can be regarded as constituting both a motif and a fragment of a diatonic scale or a falling octatonic scale.

Taruskin argues very convincingly that all melodious and harmonic elements in The Wedding can be related to these scales. In this network of scales, Taruskin sees an:

. . . all-encompassing hierarchically structured musical universe. All Russian (or Turanian) folk songs have a potential place on its diatonic surface, as all Russians have a potential place in Eurasian [i.e: Turanian] society. That surface, in turn, encompasses all possible diatonic scales, hence not just Russian, but all oral musical cultures, and gives them all an ideal potential ordering, that in its symmetrical apportionment of an octatonic background, is fundamentally opposed to the asymme-trical, fifth-related pan-romanogermanic norm. Never before had a musical utopia been so expressly modelled on a social utopia (Taruskin 1997: 448).

Taruskin argues that the octatonic structure, constituting the background which harmonises and controls the melodic events in the foreground, is a metaphor for the collective consciousness which integrates the private, the public and the religious and thus guarantees a ‘symphonic’ society. In so doing, he interprets Stravinsky’s piece as: ‘symbols of ideally harmonized existence [which] lend [The Wedding] both its incomparably compelling aesthetic integrity and its ominously compelling political allure’ (Taruskin 1997: 448).

Comparison and conclusion

There is no doubt that the ideal harmonious existence, which Taruskin considers to have an ‘ominously compelling political allure’, is an example of the type of construction which was associated with Hobsbawm’s theories of nationalism in the above. However, it is far from clear who constructs. Is it Stravinsky, who by virtue of his tonal disposition of the material of The Wedding and in his alleged inspiration from semi-fascist migrant circles constructs a musical expression of a political utopia and thus contributes to the realisation of this utopia aesthetically and emotionally, i.e. is it a category of techniques of composition? Or is it rather Taruskin who turns an explanatory thesis, i.e. the Turanian connection, into a musicological reality in his writings through his interpretation of Stravinsky’s tonality and composition-technique, i.e. is it a category of reception aes-thetics?

The answer depends on the strength with which Taruskin’s interpretation excludes other possible interpretations of Stravinsky’s composition technique. Is Taruskin’s interpretation as definitive as it appears in his books? Or are

Musical constructions of nationalism


alternative, competing and just as convincing, interpretations possible? The answer should be sought not in Stravinsky’s music but in Barto´k’s. The musical elements which Taruskin considers constitutive of Stravinsky’s Turanian style are, in fact, also the main ingredient in Barto´k’s mature compositions. This has been pointed out, for instance, in Elliott Antokoletz’s analysis of Barto´k’s tonality, which takes its starting point in Barto´k’s discovery and use of the diatonic scales or modi in the peasant music and combines it with the octatonic scale (Antokoletz 1984).9

This does not imply that Barto´k’s and Stravinsky’s music sounds the same. This is certainly not the case. However, there are some fundamental structural similarities in the conclusions which Barto´k and Stravinsky reached from the breakdown of the major-minor harmony in the early twentieth century and the challenge which Scho¨nberg’s atonality constituted to all contemporary composers. They both chose to maintain the tonality (in contrast to Scho¨n-berg and his school). Furthermore, they both managed to establish a tonal foundation which enabled them to use all twelve tones of the chromatic scale in their compositions. Thus, Barto´k and Stravinsky (in his ‘Russian’ pieces prior to 1920) shared the wish on the one hand to develop a new musical style which employed the possibilities of expression embedded in the emancipation of dissonance, and on the other hand was rooted in folk or peasant songs which secured a melodious expression as well as an immediate reception.10 This is most likely the reason why Barto´k acknowledged Stravinsky as a kindred spirit. In the article ‘Barto´k and Stravinsky: Respect, Competition, Influence and the Hungarian Reaction to Modernism in the 1920s’ (1995), David Schneider explores the impact of Stravinsky’s early pieces for orches-tra, ranging from Firebird (1911) to the concert for piano and wind instru-ments (1924) on Barto´k’s compositions from The Wooden Prince to his first two piano concertos. The latter even use citations from Stravinsky’s The Firebird and Petrushka (Schneide 1995). However, it was not only Stravins-ky’s remarkable orchestral technique, his rhythm, and his use of folk music or themes resembling folk music which inspired Barto´k. In the article about the influence of folk music on contemporary art music, Barto´k highlights Stravinsky’s use of folk music:

This should be noted: it is not a question here of the mere use of folk melodies or the transplantation of single phrases therefrom: a deep comprehension of the spirit of the respective folk music, difficult to put into words, manifests itself in these works (Barto´k 1976: 318).

The quotation is illustrated by examples from Stravinsky’s Pribaoutki. In fact, Barto´k studied Stravinsky’s technique in the classical way, i.e. by copying the score of Pribaoutki (Barto´k quoted in Somfai, 1996: 206, note 9) – the piece that Taruskin describes as ‘Turanian through and through’ (Taruskin 1996: 1170). However, it is hardly the ‘Turanian qualities’, let alone its political implications, which fascinated Barto´k. Instead, it was the structure of tone and harmony which enabled ‘the mediation . . . between folklore on the one

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hand and an artificial music exploring the novel on the other hand’ (Dahlhaus 1974: 86). It supported him in his efforts to find an artistic expression of the idea of: ‘the brotherhood of peoples; a brotherhood despite war and hatred. I seek to the best of my efforts to serve this idea in my music. . .’ (Bartok quoted by Szabolcsi 1972: 262–3).

Nevertheless, it is difficult to draw parallels between the nationalism in Barto´k’s and Stravinsky’s works. Certainly, in both cases we are confronted with ideological and aesthetic constructions. However, Barto´k’s construction rests on a musical folklore which he adopted through lengthy and thorough scientific ethnomusicological studies. He thus built his construction on the basis of an existing cultural foundation, the symbolism of which he had become familiar with through studies of the peasant song and its place in the peasant culture. Hence, the idea of the unity of peoples was not the point of departure for Barto´k’s musical aspirations. Instead, it was a result of the experiences he had studying peasant culture and music. In the context of theories of nationalism, this may be considered a case which exemplifies Smith’s view of nationalism.

According to Taruskin, in contrast Stravinsky’s construction rests on a Turanian mythology which is itself a construction invented by Russian migrants as a reaction against the Soviet regime and as an attempt to create a Russian identity in exile. We are confronted with a dual construction: an aesthetic construction which takes its starting point in an ideological con-struction, which supports retaliatory purposes. This may be considered along the lines of Hobsbawm’s view of nationalism in which construction implies invention and fabrication. However, this begs the question whether Taruskin uncovers the political intentions of Stravinsky through the analysis of his composition technique, or whether the political conclusions which Taruskin reaches constitute yet another layer of construction, i.e. Taruskin assigns nationalistic intentions to Stravinsky which he claims to be able to substanti-ate analytically.

Taruskin’s argument is problematic not necessarily because he accuses Stravinsky of being reactionary and finds reactionary elements in his music. After all, Theodor Adorno did the same half a century earlier although on an analytically less elaborate basis, and many people have made similar state-ments (Adorno 1958). Rather, his argument is problematic because it builds on a tonal structure which is so abstract that it may serve as a basis for different and even contradictory expressions or statements of Barto´k and Stravinsky. In basing his interpretation on a fundamental structure consti-tuted by a combination of diatonic and octatonic scales and, furthermore, assigning a concrete expression to them, it seems that Taruskin rather than Stravinsky constructs the Turanian nationalism in Stravinsky’s music.

This highlights the difficulties associated with the term construction in analyses of musical constructions of nationalism and, furthermore, the potentially problematic role of the scholar therein. In the above, two alternative and at times competing views of the term construction in relation

Musical constructions of nationalism


to nations and nationalism have been employed. Hobsbawm’s use of the term indicates invention and falsification. We are witnessing a construction which avails itself freely of cultural material embedded in the past. In contrast, Smith considers the construction to be conditional. He concedes that a certain amount of construction takes place in the development of the nation. However, it is contingent on existing cultural material. It is highly relevant to apply these two views of construction to the use of folk music in modern compositions. They draw attention to the question of whether the use of folk music in modern national compositions constitutes an attempt to indicate continuity between the present and an appropriate past – bearing in mind that this continuity is an illusion which is based on ideological considerations and serves political purposes. Alternatively, they beg the question as to whether the presence of aspects of folk music in modern national compositions supports the fact that cultural material embedded in the past influences and possibly even conditions the composer.

Against the background of the above comparative analysis of Barto´k and Stravinsky, it seems that both interpretations are valid. Taruskin argues that Stravinsky used a Turanian musical style in his ‘Russian’ pieces prior to 1920, but that this style was, in fact, an invention by Stravinsky. Barto´k, in turn, developed a musical style, which on the one hand used the emancipatory aspects of modern composition associated with Scho¨nberg, and on the other hand drew on authentic folk or peasant songs. In so doing, Barto´k abandoned one allegedly authentic musical expression of the Hungarian national identity, i.e. gypsy music, in favour of the peasant and folk songs, which based in ethnomusicological research he used to express his vision of ‘the brotherhood of people’. He replaced one nationalism, which he considered to be a fabrication, with another, which he considered to be authentic.

The question remains if Barto´k and Stravinsky made musical constructions of nationalism. In the case of Barto´k, there is no doubt that in his early years he engaged in a musical construction of nationalism, drawing on gypsy music. This was in line with the official Hungarian nationalism at the time. However, the older Barto´k abandoned this musical expression, considering it to be unauthentic. Instead, based in ethnomusicological studies he developed a musical style which involved peasant songs from a variety of ethnic commu-nities, which he placed in an international context. Returning to the above discussion of Hobsbawm’s and Smith’s theories of nationalism, it seems that whereas Hobsbawm’s theory casts light upon the young Bartok, Smith’s theory is more appropriate to illuminate the older Barto´k. Stravinsky, in turn, pleaded an internationalism or universalism. However, Taruskin claims to uncover a Turanian nationalism in his music which is captured by Hobs-bawm’s theory of nationalism. The question remains whether it is Stravinsky or rather Taruskin who constructs the Turanian nationalism in Stravinsky’s music. This article has argued that Taruskin carries out the construction. This emphasises the difficult role of the scholar in an analysis of musical constructions of nationalism, and most notably the need to investigate the

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area without constructing it. In so doing, theories of nations and nationalism are useful because they can provide the theoretical grounds for a critical examination of the composer as an artist and a social and political actor.


1 Erst im 20. Jahrhundert, bei Barto´k und Stravinsky, ging die Vermittlung zwischen Folklore einerseits und einer nach Neuheit suchende artifizielle Musik anderseits von der Rhythmik und von der Melodik aus (Dahlhaus 1974: 86).

2 The opposition between the national and the modern has strongly influenced Be´la Barto´k’s view of music and it provides the foundation of his article ‘The Influence of Folk Music on the Art Music of Today’ (1920). It is also discussed by David Schneider (1995 and 1997).

3 The distinction between a Western and an Eastern form of nationalism is developed by Hans Kohn and is further examined and elaborated upon by several scholars in studies of nationalism; see Kohn 1945; Smith 1991; Hutchinson 1987.

4I halte mich fu¨r ungarischen Komponisten (Barto´k in Szabolsci 1972: 261).

5 Ich meinerseits werde auf allen Gebieten meines Lebens immer und in jeder Weise nur einem Zwecke dienen: den Wohle der ungarischen Nation und des ungarischen Vaterlandes (Barto´k in Szabolsci 1972: 226).

6 Eigentlich kann man mein kompositorisches Schaffen, eben weil es aus dieser 3-fachen (ungar., ruma¨n, slowak.) Quelle entspringt, als eine Verko¨rperung jener Integrita¨ts-Idee betrachten, die heute in Ungarn so sehr betont wird . . . Meine eigentliche Idee aber, deren ich mir – seitdem ich mich als Komponist gefunden habe – vollkommen bewusst bin, ist – die Verbru¨derung der Vo¨lker, eine Verbru¨derung trotz allem Krieg und Hader. Diese Idee versuche ich – soweit es meine Kra¨fte gestatten – in meiner Musik zu dienen . . . Infolge meiner – sagen wir geographischen – Lage ist mir die ungarische Quelle am na¨chsten, daher der ungarische Einfluss am sta¨rksten. Ob nun mein Stil – ungeachtet der verschiedenen Quellen – einen ungarischen Charakter hat (und daraus kommt es ja an), mu¨ssen andere beurteilen, nicht ich. (Bartok quoted in Szabolcsi 1972: 262–3).

7Sowas its ja nichts fu¨r die ruma¨nische Presse (ibid: 262–3.)

8See note 1. See also Frigyesi (1994 and 1998) as well as Cooper (2001).

9 Taruskin is, of course, familiar with Antokoletz’s analysis and refers to it twice (Taruskin 1996: 940 and 1419). In both cases, he seeks to distance his own analysis from the one by Antokoletz and thus to the link to Barto´k.

10 In Stravinsky’s case this is obviously not ‘Turanian’ folk music. Instead, it is melodies from various – often Russian but also French and Austrian – origins which are used in, for instance, Petrushka; see Taruskin (1996).


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