Place, Polity, and Identity in Swedish Music and Art, 1890-1910
Scholars have recognized the 1890s as a significant period of cultural change in the history of Sweden. The rise of the Social Democratic Party coincided with the development of a new national style in both the visual arts and literature. Yet our music histories either neglect the Swedish composers of this period entirely, or address their involvement with a national style only in terms of their use of folk material, a trait that was not a substantial part of Swedish national identity in other creative fields. Furthermore, the most influential cultural figures of the period together founded the intellectual society Utile Dulci in 1897, whose membership roster included composer Wilhelm Stenhammar. The way this society facilitated close relationships among musicians and other creative artists invites us to consider how issues of identity present in one creative field may surface in other fields as well.
Through an examination of discourse, I will show that the formation of a Swedish identity in music and art during this period was based on values drawn from political ideology and a conception of beauty as both useful and pleasing. In addition, nature was emphasized as a source of cultural identity and authenticity. Artistic depictions of nature were imbued with a sense of longing meant to evoke common memories and feelings among Sweden's inhabitants. These abstract qualities are illustrated in discussions of the central artistic and musical works from the period. They are further exhibited in the context of chamber music, a revitalized genre in which these qualities apply in non-programmatic ways.
Only in studying the values expressed by artists and composers can we understand what the Swedish national identity in the arts consists of. The more integrated understanding afforded by this interdisciplinary approach in turn demands a reexamination of how we have defined nationalism in music in general, by calling for a widening of those features that we expect to signify national identity. Such a radical reexamination may result in new delineations of nationalism, leading to a definition with greater descriptive value in terms of style and less reliance on the perceived exoticism of the primitive.