Erik Bergman, cosmopolitanism and the transformation of musical geography

Heile, B. (2015) Erik Bergman, cosmopolitanism and the transformation of musical geography. In: Guldbrandsen, E. E. and Johnson, J. (eds.) Transformations of Musical Modernism. Series: Music since 1900. University of Cambridge Press: Cambridge, pp. 74-96. ISBN 9781107127210

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Modernism is haunted by its disavowal of what Homi Bhabha calls ‘the location of culture’. Making a dogma out of the universalism of the Enlightenment, it has largely denied cultural difference. However, as theorists, such as Fredric Jameson and Edward Said, have pointed out, modernism can itself be seen as a product of colonialism and imperialism with which it is largely coterminous. This is perceptible notably in the cultural geography of centre and periphery which is one of modernism’s hallmarks. Witness for instance how Theodor W. Adorno, in his Philosophy of New Music, is so troubled by music from ‘the periphery’ – that of Janáček and Bartók – that he posits an essential asynchronicity, whereby this music represents a different stage of development. This transformation of space into time, which is characteristic of the cultural geography of musical modernism, relates closely to the ‘time lag’ between metropolis and colony that Bhabha decries as an essential feature of colonialism. Since it is a largely hidden aspect, the cultural geography of musical modernism and the transformations it underwent from modernism’s inception during the hey-day of imperialism to its late, ‘post-colonialist’ phase is rarely discussed. While it is beyond the scope of this contribution to study the totality of the intricate intersections between musical modernism and cultural geography, I will illustrate some aspects with the work of a composer who was both subject to and continuously sought to evade the dynamics of centre and periphery, the Finland-Swede Erik Bergman (1911-2006). Coming from the periphery of musical modernism, Bergman was unusual in rejecting romantic nationalism, associating himself instead with the international avant-garde. However, he quickly contrasted this form of universalist internationalism with a deep interest in and compositional engagement with non-Western music, long before the American and European avant-gardes discovered ‘the orient’. This form of ‘globalism’ is in turn complemented by Bergman’s rediscovery of the local, the sounds and musical cultures of his native environment. In so doing, Bergman is however not interested in the self-exoticising characteristic of nationalism, but in uncovering the strangeness within the self. In my contribution, I will seek to relate Bergman’s compositional choices both to its various historical contexts and to recent discourses in the social sciences and humanities, notably the critical reconceptualization of cosmopolitanism currently undertaken.

Item Type:Book Sections
Keywords:modernism, music, cosmopolitanism, globalisation, Erik Bergman
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Heile, Professor Bjorn
Authors: Heile, B.
Subjects:M Music and Books on Music > ML Literature of music
College/School:College of Arts > School of Culture and Creative Arts > Music
Publisher:University of Cambridge Press
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2015 Cambridge University Press
Publisher Policy:Reproduced in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher.
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