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Musicology Colloquium: Leah Batstone

Presented by Musicology Colloquium Series

date & time

Fri, Mar 22, 2024
4:30 pm
- 6:30 pm

ticketing

Free, non-ticketed

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“Across Borders and Beyond Imperial Narratives: Rethinking Music History in Central and Eastern Europe”

Much of our understanding of musical history aligns with the borders that have either previously or are today drawn by empires. The central narrative of Western music history is one that aligns with the statecraft of European, and later North American, empires and their politics and identities. Yet recent efforts at decolonization and broadening the repertoire have pushed us to look beyond the stories told by the victors, which often distort if not entirely omit histories that do not uphold their legacies. The need for these efforts surrounding the musics of formerly colonized groups, particularly and often the cultures of people of color is most glaring. However, similar deconstructions of hegemonic story-telling in more unlikely, European spaces, also prove to be a rich and fruitful endeavor.

As Ukraine continues to emerge from the shadows of Europe on the one hand and Russia on the other, the task of constructing an understanding and definition of Ukrainian musical identity has become salient. For the period of the 1920s, one in which Ukraine experienced revolution, short-lived independence, and war on multiple conflicting geographical and political fronts, understanding the position of Ukraine vis-a-vis other musical traditions of the same period is necessary. One of the most influential movements in musical composition during this period was the atonal and dodecaphonic experiments of Arnold Schoenberg and the Second Viennese School. By examining how composers of the 1920s across the contemporary territory of Ukraine responded to, engaged with, and even preempted the writings and music of Second Viennese School permits a space for Ukraine’s unique cultural contributions in the history of Western art music. This talk will present case studies of three composers across cities within the borders of today’s Ukrainian state just before and in the early years of the Soviet Union, revealing individual differences as well as cultural similarities in musical composition in Ukraine during this time. While their divergences reveal Ukraine’s rich multifaceted musical identity, their similarities can be considered a cohesive response that came from Ukraine thereby beginning to carve out a space for defining Ukrainian musical modernism. Finally, this talk will return to why a Ukrainian musical narrative has remained unknown and will examine the general shortcomings of imperial narratives in historically liminal spaces.

 

Leah Batstone is a historical musicologist focusing on the intersections of political revolution and musical innovation at the peripheries of empire, particularly in late Habsburg Austria and 20th and 21st century Ukraine. She currently holds a postdoctoral fellowship from the University of Vienna’s REWIRE Programme, a Marie Sklodowska Curie Actions project COFUND supported by the European Commission, where she is working on the first monograph on Ukrainian musical modernism. She is also preparing a proposal for a handbook on the first symphony of Ukrainian composer Stefania Turkevych for the recently relaunched Cambridge Music Handbooks Series, and is co-editing the volume Perspectives on Ukrainian Music with Peter Schmelz for Indiana University Press. Her first monograph, Mahler’s Nietzsche: Politics and Philosophy in the Wunderhorn Symphonies, was published in 2023 by Boydell & Brewer. Her scholarship has been published in 19th Century Music, Journal of the Royal Musical Association, and Music & Letters, as well as on the American Musicological Society’s online platform Musicology Now. She received her PhD in musicology from McGill University in 2019 and holds a Master’s in musicology from the University of Oxford. She is the founder and creative director of the annual Ukrainian Contemporary Music Festival in New York City.

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