Musikstädte as real and imaginary soundscapes: urban musical images as literary motifs in twentieth-century German modernism
This study examines German literary images of musical life as part of the wider sound identity of the modern German city at the turn of the twentieth century. Focussing on a forty-year period from 1890 to 1930, synonymous with the emergence of the modern German metropolis as an aesthetic object, the project assesses, compares and contrasts how musical life in the Musikstädte was perceived and portrayed by writers in an increasingly noisy urban environment. How does urban musical life influence and condition city writings? What are the differences and similarities between the writings on various musical cities? Can an urban textual sound identity be derived from these differences and similarities? The approach employed to answer these questions is a new, cross-disciplinary one to urban sound in literature, moving beyond reading the key sounds of the urban soundscape using urban musicology, sensorial anthropology and cultural poetics towards a literary contextualisation of the urban aural experience. The literary motifs of the symphony, the gramophone and urban noise are put under the spotlight through the analysis of a wide range of modernist works by authors who have a special relationship with music. At the centre of this analysis are the Kaffeehausliteratur authors Hermann Bahr, Alfred Polgar and Peter Altenberg, the then Munich-based author Thomas Mann and the lesser known René Schickele. The analysis of these particular works is framed in the music-geographical context of the Musikstadt and literary underpinnings of this topos, ranging from Ingeborg Bachmann to Hans Mayer and, once again, Thomas Mann. In analysing these texts, the methodological approach devised by Strohm, who identifies the blending of a range of urban sounds as a definition of urban space and identity, is applied. His ideas combine historical literary analysis, musical history and urban sociology. They are rarely used in the analysis of the auditory environment.
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