Call for papers – University of Copenhagen

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Call for papers

The deadline for the call for papers was 7 April 2015.

Neue Sachlichkeit, Political Music, or Vernacular Avant-garde? Hanns Eisler and his Contemporaries.

Copenhagen, 17-19 September 2015

International conference organized by the Internationale Hanns Eisler Gesellschaft, the Department of Arts and Cultural Studies, University of Copenhagen and The Royal Library, Copenhagen.

The idea that modern art should be useful in society instead of being confined to small circles of connoisseurs and that artists, composers, and musicians should act as highly skilled artisans instead of considering themselves bohemians or geniuses had a powerful renaissance throughout Europe in the decades following the First World War. Hanns Eisler (1898-1962) and German contemporaries such as Kurt Weill and Paul Hindemith as well as Danish composers such as Jørgen Bentzon, Otto Mortensen and Bernhard Christensen embodied this trend. They had all experienced what Eisler called ‘the terrible isolation of modern music’, by which he meant the institutionalized seclusion of modernist music from a wider audience. In order to have social relevance music should appeal to an audience with a need for music that serves a specific purpose. This meant breaking down barriers between ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture, ‘serious’ and ‘light’ music, and between genres considered as ‘art’ and those merely as ‘craft’. Strategies involved composing music for amateurs, children and for music education, for films, plays and operas, as well as songs for political rallies, demonstrations, cabarets and choirs.

No doubt a political agenda was at stake in the attempt to provide socially relevant, useful and progressive music. The desire to have an impact on social reality made it essential to communicate with a specific audience. Even so, labelling these efforts ‘political’ music limits the focus to openly political genres or only to certain aspects of the works in mind. On the other hand, terms such as Gebrauchsmusik or applied music (angewandte Musik) remain embroiled in earlier disputes. In order to rethink these issues the conference aims to consider the mind-set of these composers and artists as an embodiment of a large-scale attempt to reformulate basic assumptions concerning the relationship between art and its audience, between notions of artistic value and function, and between modernity and accessibility. A specific purpose of the conference will be to discuss similarities as well as the diversity of manifestations of this trend – in discourses and in works of art – in different European countries and contexts. Broader concepts such as Neue Sachlichkeit (in the Nordic countries also referred to as kulturradikalisme [cultural radicalism]) or vernacular avant-garde may be more adequate to the task, if one wishes to grasp the depth of attempts to transform hierarchies of value and genre perceptions and, at the same time, the diverse ways in which these efforts manifest themselves in stylistic terms.

Papers considering any of these questions are most welcome. Topics might include but are not restricted to: music that relates to the concept of Neue Sachlichkeit; the question of modernity and avant-garde versus specific audiences; questions of vernacular vs. high art; specific trends within a European context; the social impact of modern or avant-garde forms of art; other art forms that include or relate to music; the music of Eisler and/or his contemporaries, whether those mentioned above or not, and which are related to the same complex of issues. Topics may relate to the interwar years or to the decades immediately after World War II or to later attempts to continue the tradition of creating art with a social impact.

Key note speakers: Prof. Stephen Hinton (Stanford University), Univ.-Prof. Dr. Nils Grosch (Universität Salzburg). Stephen Hinton is a distinguished scholar within the field since his seminal monograph The Idea of Gebrauchsmusik (1989) and has published extensively on Kurt Weill and his contemporaries. Nils Grosch has contributed significantly to the core of the matter with his book Die Musik der Neuen Sachlichkeit (1999) and a number of publications on popular music theatre.

Proposals are invited for 25-minute presentations on any of the above themes. Abstracts should be no longer than 250 words and should summarise succinctly the content of the proposed paper and its contribution to existing research. The deadline for the call for papers has been prolonged to 7 April 2015, and the programme will be announced in mid-April. The conference language will be English (preferred) and German.

For more information, contact Prof. Michael Fjeldsøe, at

Programme Committee:
Prof. Dr. Michael Fjeldsøe, University of Copenhagen
Prof. emer. Niels Krabbe, The Royal Library, Copenhagen
Dr. Peter Schweinhardt, Berlin
Peter Deeg, Berlin

Main venue: Karen Blixen Hall at The Royal Library, Søren Kierkegaards Plads 1, Copenhagen