Urban Nostalgia. The Musical City in the 19th and 20th Centuries (5-7/07/20)

5-7 juillet 2020

Urban Nostalgia.
The Musical City in the 19th and 20th Centuries

directed and organized by Lola San Martín Arbide (CRAL/EHESS)

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« The aim of this workshop is to explore space through music, approaching the history of the city via the notion of nostalgia. Often described as a form of homesickness, nostalgia is, by definition, the feeling that makes us wish to repossess or reoccupy a space. Such spaces appear to us as both near and distant, tangible and remote, and it seems that attempts at reclaiming them are frequently musical in nature. We know, for instance, that particular compositions have played important roles in helping people to navigate or mitigate a sense of displacement. In these circumstances, affective experiences may be bound up with trauma or joy, as is the case of song during wartime or musical imaginaries among migrants. Under other conditions, we might identify a ‘second-hand nostalgia’ in the guise of a musically-inflected tourism that seeks to reactivate (for pleasure and/or profit) the historical aura of an urban site. What are we to make of the abundance of personal, inter-personal, and propositional episodes that posit music as some kind of a bridge to the urban past? »

Lola San Martín Arbide
‘Urban Nostalgia. The Musical City in the 19th and 20th Centuries’
( 16' 18")

Lola San Martín Arbide is a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow at the CRAL (EHESS/CNRS) where she is writing a monograph tentatively entitled ‘City of Sound, Village of Song: Listening to Paris in Literature, Film and Music, 1870-1939’. Her most recent publications include book chapters on Debussy, Bizet’s Carmen, opera and feminism, and she is currently working on other projects exploring nostalgic musicscapes and music and middlebrow culture in France. She is working on a special issue for Nineteenth-Century Music Review as an output of the ‘Urban Nostalgia’ conference. Prior to arriving in Paris she was a Junior Research Fellow at the University of Oxford and obtained her PhD from the University of Salamanca.

Diana Abbani
(Freie Universität Berlin)
‘Beirut in the Early Musical Discourse (1900s-1930s): a Cultural Centre and an Entertainment Hub’
( 27' 57")

At the turn of the twentieth century, the Ottoman city of Beirut (in Lebanon today) became more and more considered as the reflection of Ottoman and Arab modernity. It was also the place where this modernity would be constantly threatened, by the ‘uneducated’ masses and confessional conflicts, as well by the extreme westernisation (tafarnuj). To counter the dangers of imitation, the local intellectual elite searched for ‘alternative modernities’ (Japan and especially Egypt). Throughout the Beiruti journal Lisan al-Hal, journalists discussed questions of modernity while criticising or commenting on the musical scene, using concepts of civilisation (tammadun), taste (dhawq) and culture (tathqif, tahdhib). Under the French mandate (1920-1943), this discourse became more recurrent. On the one hand, the denunciation of tafarnuj (the consumption of alcohol, excess of freedom, easy pleasures) was accentuated: it was a golden subject for many singers like ‘Umar al-Z‘enni or Laure Daccache. On the other hand, several journalists, like Karam Bustani and Kamil Chehab, argued that local musicians should distinguish their music from the Egyptian one and find modern musical forms more adapted to Beirut’s modern life. This paper focuses on the construction, through music production and musical criticism, of an image of Beirut in the first three decades of the twentieth century. It follows how Beirut became gradually perceived and presented in the musical discourse, as a cultural centre and an entertainment hub, competing with Cairo or Alexandria and eclipsing other Levantine cities, like Damascus or Aleppo.

Raffaella Carluccio
(Università degli Studi di Parma, Italy)
‘In memory of Rome. Topographical and musical proofs in Il piacere by Gabriele D'Annunzio’
( 28' 13")

‘That Gabriele D’Annunzio raised from nature a prodigious musical sensibility is a fact so obvious that one cannot think that there is a reader who does not admit it and does not recognize it as such’: with these declamatory words, Mario Giannantoni introduces in the pages of the Italian Musical Review of 1939 his bibliographical study of D'Annunzio’s relationship with music. Since the first narrative works, the poet has constantly sought a presence and a sound reason that parallel the elaboration of a new aesthetic of the novel; he is the spokesperson of a synesthetic musical imagination of extreme semantics. It is in particular in Il piacere, the first Dannunzio’s novel entirely written in 1888, that D'Annunzio makes the musical language functional not only to the state of mind of the characters but also to the landscape that surrounds them: Rome. From an examination, through unpublished letters written by the poet to some musician friends, on the reception in the main musicological magazines born between the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century (from the Rivista Musicale Italiana to La Rassegna Musicale) of the link between D'Annunzio and music, the present contribution will analyse the topographical mapping of the end of century of Rome in Il piacere. These are precisely the sets of Rome to which Andrea Sperelli, the refined protagonist of the D’Annunzio’s novel, addresses a melancholic veneration. A city that remains in the eyes of the aesthete ‘of great beaut’ because his memories of place grow in his soul as vehicles of an inexpressible sense of loneliness, emptiness, and nostalgia.

Ali Jaber
(Lebanese University of Fine Arts, Lebanon)
‘Beirut the Ancient City of the Future: On Hauntology, Vaporwave, and the Sounds of Nostalgia for Lost Futures’
( 28' 20")

Lebanon is intrinsically ‘hauntological;’ a country haunted by ghosts that are absent/present, dead/alive. Derrida’s hauntology finds its currency in cultures not only haunted by unquiet pasts, but also by ghost-futures– the no longer and the not yet: the capitalist-utopia that never arrived, and the progress promised by the post-war consensus that never materialized. Unable to manufacture new memories, what prevails is out-of-synch political imaginary, cultural-aporia, and futile nostalgia for dead artifacts- that remain the only future signifiers- and as such, signs that the anticipated future never arrived, and perhaps never was. The emergence of Vaporwave signifies that Lebanon can no longer escape temporal disjunctions constituting its present. Vaporwave is quintessentially postmodern, relying on VHS-glitch, retro-art, visual-and-sonic fragmentation, and simulation, it is based on repetition, and loss of affect. Vaporwave is the symptom that we've abandoned history-production beyond the relics of our past. We exist in a ‘perpetual’ dream haunted by what is absent, the unachieved past-utopias and their politico-ideological ghosts that refer to nothing but themselves. Analyzing the music and visual-art of the nostalgic internet-based Vaporwave alongside Jameson’s postmodernism and Derrida’s hauntology, this paper argues that Vaporwave attempts to aestheticize and map the affective and nostalgic climate clutching to the Lebanese present, like a ghost, indexing it in a perpetual loop. Moreover, through its hyper-saturation with retro-futuristic aesthetics from the Lebanese 1960’s and present-day, Vaporwave spectrally superimposes the past onto the present, suggesting a different relationship between cultural representation and the historical Real; of presence and absence, while enacting a nostalgia for alternative futurity ‘outside the imprisonment of the past.’

Anita Drexler
(independent scholar, Austria)
‘From Rustic Hometowns to Dazzling Skylines:
Nostalgia, Healing and the Negotiation of Identity in the Urban Cityscapes of
Japanese New Music (nyu _myujikku)’
( 28' 20")

In recent years netizens around the world became mesmerised by the bubbly sound of Japanese city pop (shitī poppu), a genre that gained a broader following via platforms such as YouTube and Spotify. City pop unapologetically celebrated the affluence of the urban lifestyle in the 1970s and 1980s, thus providing a projection screen for an audience —in and outside of Japan— that continues to nostalgically long for the bygone days of stability and economic growth. However, city pop is part of a bigger phenomenon that remains largely unknown: new music, a movement that from the late 1960s on sought to reform the Japanese music industry by incorporating innovations in content, production and performance. Central to new music was the motif of the cityscape that would either be glamorised or vilified by a highly diverse set of actors and thus served as a device for the negotiation of national identity in a country that after its defeat in WWII had been forced to undergo dramatic social and cultural adaptions. In my talk I would like to elaborate on different approaches towards the cityscape in new music. By framing it within discourses on healing, nostalgia and national identity, I hope to give a fuller picture of a global phenomenon and its cultural implications.

Ondřej Daniel (Charles University Prague) and
Jakub Machek 
(Metropolitan University Prague, Czech Republic)
‘Heimatsmusik in Prague: Rural nostalgia in the capital?’
( 32' 29")

A performance of traditional folk-style music in a pub in the heart of Prague’s “cool“ Letná neighbourhood? It may come as a surprise to some but this is a regular event. Better known for its popularity with older audiences in predominantly rural areas, the genre is typically performed at family or village parties, reinforcing its homely associations. Drawing on ethnographic and historical research, our work explores the history of šlágr (Schlager) and lidovka (folk-style music) performances. These genres are rooted in folklore and imbued with a highly sentimental nationalism. During the first half of the 20th century, brass bands specialising in šlágr and lidovka produced music that at once expressed nostalgia for a mythical rural life and mixed local traditional forms with global music trends from tango to jazz. As a result, šlágr and lidovka remained the two most popular genres among Czech audiences while breaking through on the world scene. The advent of rock and pop in the 1960s reduced the appeal of brass orchestras to urban audiences and these genres became symbols of rural life. Highlighting the different roles that music performance has played in the city of Prague, this article addresses issues around symbolic capital. We examine a niche of urban music performers and fans whose values seem to oppose dominant ideologies of liberalism, progressive politics, globalism and rapid capitalist development.

Cecília Pires
‘The transposition of the musical landscape of the Brazilian sertão to the urban environment through Armorial music’
( 30' 49")

For this communication we propose to show the transposition of a rural music for the creation of an urban musical aesthetic, in this case, the Armorial Music, in the northeast of Brazil. In 1970 the writer Ariano Suassuna launched a cultural movement whose main proposal was the idea of creating a Brazilian artistic and classical identity, taking elements of the folklore of the northeast of the country as raw material. Among the arts that make up the movement, music is the most representative. Suassuna writes that in the most populated urban centers of the coast it is difficult to find traces of the primitive music that he intended to use as a starting point for the creation of a classical music of the Northeast. Armorial music is, in this sense, a classical music of rural inspiration that developed in the city of Recife, the capital of Pernambuco. The motivation to go to the sertão, a rural environment in the northeast, for a musical source is, according to the writer, because of the tradition that would be much more preserved. Almost all the music of this area is the result of the fusion of Iberian music with the melodies of the autochthonous people. From his point of view, it was necessary to highlight this tradition. We are going to present how Suassuna used elements of a rural culture, one of the oldest in Brazil, to build this new aesthetic created in an urban center.

Manuel Bocquier
(EHESS / Mondes Américains / Centre d’Études Nord-Américaines, France)
‘Those Old Melodies Touch Home’: Nostalgia and Rurality in Old-Time Music’s Urban Audience (United-States, 1920-1945)’
( 29' 02")

This presentation focuses on the experience of rural music in American cities in the Interwar period. It compares letters sent by listeners to different radio programs broadcasting ‘old-time music’ (a musical category evolving into ‘country music’ in the 1940s) and promoting it as the authentic expression of Southern rurality, strictly distinguished from the urban way of life. This study shows that ‘old-time music’ was listened in cities and not exclusively by Southern rural men and women migrating to urban areas in the Twenties and Thirties. Focusing on the broadcasters’ claim of southern distinctiveness, recent scholarship describes the function of ‘old-time music’ as a vehicle for southern migrants’ nostalgia for the region they had left behind. However, these works do not consider the audience’s heterogeneity and the diversity of appropriations the listeners could make of ‘old-time music’ on the air. Instead, I argue for the necessity of shifting the focus to the audience’s perspective and to non-southern-born and urban listeners. Through a cartographic method and a qualitative analysis of listeners’ writings, I articulate the distribution of the audience in the US, the regional identification of music and the personal narratives associated with ‘old-time music’. Indeed, urban listeners, both new comers and long-time city residents, had an active role in the development of nostalgia for this rural and regional space in a national context. The analysis of the audience’s correspondence shows that nostalgia for the Southern countryside helped transform the social and cultural relationship between migrants and their native region, but also between urban audiences and stereotypes of American rural way of life.

Jack Blaszkiewicz
(Wayne State University, USA)
‘Nineteenth-Century Popular Song and the Invention of Le nouveau Paris’
( 32' 49")

Baron Haussmann’s infamous urbanization of Paris (1853-69) left two profound imprints on the city’s historiography. The first was physical: the new boulevards created monumental vistas that dwarfed the city’s remaining medieval infrastructure. The second was ideological: authorities attributed “Haussmannization” to a new, conservative moral order and to economic prosperity, adopting le nouveau Paris as a slogan of Second- Empire monumentality. Although historians have long viewed popular culture of the period as symptomatic of modernity, musicologists have yet to fully explore popular music’s role in forging a Second-Empire urban identity. My paper deploys theories of mythmaking and nostalgia (e.g. Boym 2001) to reveal what I call the “city myths” of nineteenth-century Paris: narratives linking urban reform to moral order. I argue that chanson populaire mediated the new social norms of le nouveau Paris, indicating how to walk, gaze, and interact across socioeconomic lines—in short, how be both modern and individual. Songs such as Léo Delibes’s “Le Flâneur” and Antoine Elwart’s “Paris” reached both middle- and lowbrow markets thanks to instructional lyrics and approachable accompaniments. At the same time, the ballooning popularity of nostalgic songs about working-class street life was deemed a moral plague by Bonapartist commentators. These diverse songs raise a key question about urban modernity: to what extent is urbanization an attempt to overhaul the aesthetics of a city? Chanson populaire, I conclude, offered what Guy Debord would call a “drift” away from a singular, imperial urbanism, resulting in an alternative nouveau Paris open to multiple perspectives, temporalities, and subjectivities.

Tristan Paré-Morin
(University of Pennsylvania, USA)
‘Mal de Paris: Singing and dancing nostalgia in the late nineteenth-century city’
( 31' 20")

Nostalgia’s origins as a longing for a geographical sense of home were initially bound by nature, either in its early association with the Swiss Alps and the ranz-des-vaches, or to nineteenth-century sensibilities toward the pastoral and the picturesque. In the late nineteenth century, when nostalgia gained in popularity as a topic in musical compositions, Parisians shifted its meaning in a new form of longing for the urban city, its institutions and what it represented. The dynamic friction of nostalgia between here and there was reformulated as the tension between Paris and the exterior world, be it regional or national. This development is closely tied to the rapid proliferation of the term nostalgia across various media, at a time when the mediatization of public and cultural life increased. In this presentation, I will trace the gradual shift in this understanding of Paris as a locus of nostalgia in music and media from the 1850s to the turn of the twentieth century. I will examine how musicians portrayed Paris in their music, paying close attention to the recurrence in their works of poetic, visual, and musical tropes associated with nature and urbanity. Rather than forming a unified depiction of the city, this group of compositions, comprising songs and light instrumental dances titled “nostalgia” (or deliberately referred to as such in their own time) offer a range of sonorous and thematic ideas that provide a more comprehensive understanding of the place Paris played in the imagination of a population increasingly conscious of the value and impact of nostalgia.

Jonathan Cross
(University of Oxford, UK)
‘Paris, art déco, and the spirit of Apollo’
( 33' 19")

When Igor Stravinsky made his first visit to Paris in 1910, it was to the Palais Garnier that he headed – grand symbol of the belle époque. There the Ballets russes company gave the premiere of Firebird. Impresario Diaghilev had judged the enthusiastic mood of Paris perfectly. With hindsight, however, it is clear that Firebird marked a colourful culmination to the 19th century, the end of a golden age. It was fitting, therefore, that it was presented at the Opéra. But Paris was already changing: it was modernising rapidly. The first métro line had opened in 1900 and the network expanded quickly, inevitably altering not only individuals’ perceptions of urban space but also their attitudes towards modernity. And at just the same time, a new kind of opera house was under construction on Avenue Montaigne, the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, embodying modernity with its framework of reinforced concrete, and anticipating the more austere style dépouillé that was to spring up across Paris in the inter-war years. It was, of course, also in this space that Stravinsky announced a new kind of musical modernism with The Rite of Spring (received by certain critics as representing a new kind of classicism). After the War, many buildings appeared in the resolutely modern “art déco” style to serve and shape modern life: métro stations, stores, cinemas, and entertainment venues such as the Salle Pleyel. The “classical purity” of this urban language was echoed in Stravinsky’s new post-War neoclassical style. There is thus a striking kinship between the formal modernism of Stravinsky’s music, exemplified by Apollon musagète, and the new built environment of Paris in which he moved. In reconfiguring the classical past for a new age, Stravinsky’s “art déco” music is a poignant expression of the spirit of 1920s Paris.

Daniel Morat
(Freie Universität Berlin, Germany)
“Deine alten Melodien von der schönen Stadt Berlin’.
Popular Song and Urban Nostalgia in Berlin, 1880-1930”
( 32' 46")

When Berlin grew into a metropolis in the last decades of the 19th century, a particular genre of popular song, the so-called Gassenhauer, functioned as a medium for negotiating urban identity. Songs dealing with Alt- und Neu-Berlin thematized the rapid urban change and helped to foster an idea of what it meant to be a Berliner and to live a big city life. Already before the First World War, these songs often romanticized ‘old Berlin’ in contrast to the modern metropolis. This tendency to produce a sentimentalized image of Berlin increased in the 1920s, after the war had been lost. By drawing on examples of songs by popular singers such as Claire Waldoff and Otto Reutter, this paper will analyze the role these songs played for the mental adaptation to the urban living conditions in Berlin. It will particularly focus on the compensatory function of the nostalgic picture these songs painted of Berlin in the 1920s. At the same time, it will address the ways of dissemination and circulation these songs took on their way through the city, from revue stage to record disc to barrel organ. Thus, the urban nostalgia expressed in these songs does not only reveal itself to be a reaction to and compensation for urban change, but also to media change.

Asier Odriozola Otamendi
(Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Spain)
‘Longing for a Disappearing City: Urban Transformation and Nostalgia in Costumbrista Music Theatre in Late Nineteenth Century San Sebastian’
( 31' 12")

During the second half of the nineteenth century, the Basque city of San Sebastian, in Northern Spain, experienced a dramatic transformation of its urban landscape that affected the way locals felt and represented themselves. The demolition of the defensive walls and the subsequent construction of the elegant Ensanche, as well as the settlement of railway connection with both Madrid and the French border, were cornerstones of a profound modernizing transition towards an urban model that privileged touristic exploitation; a transformation that provoked the gradual but relentless disappearance of the old San Sebastian lifestyle. It is thus necessary to see the city as a multi-layered urban framework. Under the glimmering cosmopolitan and aristocratic surface, a more traditional and popular art was being cultivated, rooted to local cultural tropes that achieved considerable success. The refined staging of quotidian life (often, in a comic manner) combined with a soundtrack that included well-known tunes contributed to the making of a so-called ‘traditional’ image of an ‘authentic’ cityscape and collective identity of San Sebastian. Understanding costumbrista music theatre as an iridescent mirror that reflects, reproduces and recreates the city’s social, ideological and cultural reactions towards urban transformation, I propose an analysis of a case-study, Marcelino Soroa’s (1848-1902) Iriyarena (1876), that will focus on how nostalgia operates to produce images of the past according to present anxieties and aspirations. It will also highlight the way local music theatre was a repository of ideological concerns regarding the loss of an emotional urban geography that, henceforth, could exist only within the boundaries of imagination.

Daniel Richter
(University of Maryland, USA)
‘The Production of Urban Nostalgias: Montevideo and Buenos Aires's Shared Histories of Tango’
( 31' 56")


In 2017, the municipal government of Montevideo, Uruguay, organized various public events to mark the "centennial" of the tango "La Cumpersita" written by Uruguayan Gerardo Matos Rodríguez and performed by the orchestra of Argentine Roberto Firpo at the Montevideo cafe La Giralda in April 1917. The celebrations were part of Uruguayan efforts to reinforce Montevideo's foundational place in tango's history which had been long overshadowed by neighboring Buenos Aires. Uruguay's national government supported these efforts to promote public memory and tourism along with the opening of its Museo del Tango in early 2017 in the city's iconic Palacio Salvo skyscraper at the former site of La Giralda. In this paper, I explore the intertwined histories of tango in Montevideo and Buenos Aires through various snapshots about the productions of meaning around tango during its history. I begin in the early 20th century by examining Uruguayan and Argentine periodicals from the era as well as memoirs and subsequent histories. Subsequently, I analyze various Uruguayan efforts in the late 20th and early 21st century to frame Montevideo's place in tango's global history as part of a shared cultural history with Buenos Aires. I also examine how state-backed initiatives have constructed nostalgic histories of tango in both Uruguay and Argentina over several decades to coincide with democratization and democratic policies. The paper's final aim is to explain how Montevideo and Buenos Aires's intertwined histories of tango have helped to reflect national political contexts and local and global urban imaginaries throughout the 20th and early 21st centuries.

Richard Elliott
(Newcastle University, UK)
‘Revisiting Old Haunts in a Time of Lockdown: Holiday Records, Virtuality and the Nostalgia Gap’ + ‘Urban Nostalgia’ concluding thoughts and roundtable.
( 1h 46' )


In an article published in 2014, I argued that the representation of remembered or imagined spaces through the genre I call ‘holiday records’ provided useful ways of reflecting on the ‘nostalgia gap’ that exists between present and past, between here and elsewhere, and between representations and what they represent. These records (mostly dating from the 1950s to the 1970s but never quite extinct as a genre) promised to reduce temporal and spatial gaps for their listeners by providing them with virtual trips to faraway places. In 2020, with so much of the world currently experiencing a forced turn to virtual connections, this topic resonates in new ways. In this talk I will use my reflections on holiday records and the nostalgia gap as a starting point for considering broader questions of nostalgia, distance and the virtual. Thinking of music as a form of virtuality, I want to ask questions about the virtual as the dream of the future (and the past) as well as a forced reality of the present. As we long for a return to the ‘real’, does music’s virtual conjuring offer a promise of escape or a reminder of our restrictions? How do we understand music’s summoning and destruction of presence and absence? How do we manage, lose or waste time (and other resources) through music?


Scientific committee: Esteban Buch (CRAL — EHESS), Jonathan Hicks (University of Aberdeen), Gascia Ouzounian (University of Oxford), Lola San Martín Arbide (CRAL – EHESS), Christabel Sterling (University of Westminster), Justinien Tribillon (Theatrum Mundi).

Graphic design and video editing by Lola San Martín Arbide.

Full programme:


96, bd Raspail - 75006 Paris
Tél. : +33 (0)1 53 63 56 23
Fax : +33 (0)1 53 63 56 21

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