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Music, Poetry, Propaganda

Constructing French Cultural Soundscapes at the BBC during the Second World War


Claire Launchbury

Offering new perspectives on the role of broadcasting in the construction of cultural memory, this book analyses selected instances in relation to questions of French identity at the BBC during the Second World War. The influence of policy and ideology on the musical and the poetic is addressed by drawing on theoretical frameworks of the archive, memory, trauma and testimony. Case studies investigate cultural memories constructed through three contrasting soundscapes. The first focuses on the translation of ‘Frenchness’ to the BBC’s domestic audiences; the second examines the use of slogans on the margins of propaganda broadcasts. In the third, the implications of the marriage of poetry and music in the BBC’s 1945 premier of Francis Poulenc’s cantata setting of resistance poems by the surrealist poet Paul Éluard in Figure humaine are assessed. Concentrating on the role of the archive as both narrative source and theoretical frame, this study offers a new approach to the understanding of soundscapes and demonstrates the processes involved in the creation of sonic cultural memory in the context of global conflict.


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Chapter 2 - Sounding the Nations 19


Chapter 2 Sounding the Nations The extent to which music could be used in constructing national sound- scapes realised new potential when allied to technology that broadcast to mass audiences at home and overseas. Radio ef fectively liberated music from the bounded landscape and geography of the nation state, and in doing so new applications of value and ultimately of meaning obtained – not least when it was broadcast in alliance with ‘national publicity’: a combination of advertising – analogous with the commercially valuable – with a style of broadcasting that aims to maximise its return in propaganda terms.1 Such publicity inevitably intersects with issues of national identity and was emphasised particularly in programmes and cultural missions that in the parlance of the BBC and British Council promulgated the positive ‘projec- tion of Britain’.2 Music transmitted by radio in such a way could be seen as an intention to cultivate in listeners a sense of unisonality where partici- pation in nation, or in the case of the BBC’s first forays in non-domestic broadcasting, empire, is experienced in spite of a displaced relationship with the medium of communication.3 Following the overview of cultural memory and soundscapes in the previous chapter, my focus here is to look first at the issues of nationhood as expressed in cultural propaganda, contrasting the situation in Occupied 1 Brian Currid, ‘The Acoustics of National Publicity: Music in German Mass Culture, 1924–1945’, PhD thesis, University of Chicago, 1998. 2 See Christine Okret-Manville, ‘La politique de promotion culturelle britannique en...

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