Project Details


The project explored the reception of nineteenth-century music in the GDR, charting the role the canon played in the process of nation-building in the early years of the state, and the extent to which it became a vehicle for expressing individual discontent in the late GDR. It examined the role that the past played in the construction of new art works in the state and reconsidered the legacy of East German music in the context of 1989.

Key findings

1) That the reception of the canon in the GDR was far more nuanced than was previously thought. The canon was not simply a weapon of dictatorship, used to legitimize the state; it also served as an important forum for criticism and individual expression.
2) That the preoccupation with the past in the early years of the state can not just be ascribed to political opportunism. It is indicative of the wider importance of tradition, metanarratives, and heroic icons in the construction of new societies.
3) That the decline of a society can be traced in its artistic discourse. The preoccupation with artistic "lateness" in the final decades of the GDR, as manifest by the rejection of classicism in favour of romanticism, the "heroic" in favour of late Beethoven, and unified stagings of Wagner in favour of a post-Brechtian approach, reflects the wider onset of late socialism. As the socialist utopia failed to materialize, and the onset of real-existing socialism brought with it an increasingly fractured and alienated society, intellectuals turned to paradigms of interpretation that emphasized contradiction and fragmentation rather than resolution and totality.
Effective start/end date1/09/1131/05/12


  • AHRC: £84,508.00


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