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Nationalism, Chauvinism and Racism as Reflected in European Musical Thought and in Compositions from the Interwar Period


Andrzej Tuchowski

This book concerns the ways in which many different types of nationalism, chauvinism and racism penetrated into musical thought in the interwar period, and how the leading artistic personalities of that period reacted to these ideologies. The concept of "nationalism" is understood broadly in this book and covers the entire spectrum of its positive and negative aspects. The topics listed in the book’s title have been discussed on the example of selected four countries, significant with respect to population and territory and representing different social-political systems: Germany (mostly after 1933), Italy, Poland (after 1926) and Great Britain. This selection is also representative of the main ethnic groups in Europe: Anglo-Saxon, Germanic, Latin-Romance and Slavic.

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I. The National and Universal Dimensions of Music in the Aesthetic Thought of Ralph Vaughan Williams and Karol Szymanowski

I.  The  National and Universal Dimensions of Music in the Aesthetic Thought of Ralph Vaughan Williams and Karol Szymanowski21

State histories can hardly be more different, it might seem, than those of Poland and England in the last three hundred years. England – the dominant nation of the United Kingdom – created history’s greatest empire during those years, implemented an industrial and scientific revolution of global significance and transformed the cultural landscape in a large portion of the world, which has had lasting consequences until now. Poland, which used to be the dominant nation of the old Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth – lost (in political terms) all that an erstwhile empire could lose, becoming a symbol, a tragic victim of shameful conspiracy for some, or a loser of its own making for others. Thomas Carlyle, an influential British philosopher and historian and author of the very popular (and dear to the Victorian establishment of the empire) ideology which claimed that “the strongest are right” – characteristically opted for the latter assessment of Poland’s fall. The fate of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was for him a model example of a state that suffered a catastrophe due to the moral decline of its elites. Once moral disintegration had reached a certain critical point, he claimed, the state as a representation of the nation is doomed to fall, whereas the nation itself will be subordinated to another, stronger one which derives its strength from moral principles, and is therefore protected by Divine Providence. Today such a historiosophic paradigm requires no commentary. Curiously, in line with this reasoning not only Prussia, but also the tsarist Russia was a model of virtue. All the same, one should stress the importance of this view for the development of 19th-century English nationalism22 and its specific qualities, the ←21 | 22→most prominent of which was its undaunted triumphalism. Donald Read quotes examples of opinions23 which can be seen as a kind of Victorian creed, such as: “one Englishman can beat two foreigners”, “the English fiscal system is the best in the world”, and “our men of business, when they take the trouble to excel, are without rival in the world.” These and similar views, rooted in the unquestionable civilizational success of the English nation, supported the claim that the Providence has extended special protection over the British Empire. At the same time, however, such opinions blurred the distinction between what was British and what was ethnically English (the same was true about opinions concerning Poles in the old Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth).

Naturally, the differences in historical conditions also determined the different shape of Polish national thought. Still, paradoxically, there was also a marked element of triumph in Poland – a moral one, albeit tinged with bitterness. Dmowski wrote that the nation’s tragedy was not always viewed as a downfall. Poles were never able to stoop to the cynically treacherous ways of international policy, which made many a state into an empire.24 Despite a hundred years of life under foreign rule (in the partitioned Polish territory), Polish culture survived and – battle-hardened – can now stand every trial. Naturally, the Romantic tradition in Polish national thought (as represented by Mochnacki, Mickiewicz, Słowacki, and Towiański), as well as their early 20th-century successors – based its ideology on an idealised vision of the nation’s history. Also present, however, was space for the workings of Divine Providence. Despite the nearly blasphemous criticism contained in Chopin’s Stuttgart diary and in Mickiewicz’s Forefathers’ Eve, the dominant view was that the nation, deprived of its own state, nevertheless enjoys special divine protection that will ensure its survival. Poland was still to play its unique role in history as the “Christ of Nations”. Being a nation – observed Ernst de Renan in 188225 – involves shared experiences and ←22 | 23→memories, but also shared “forgetfulness”. A tendentious approach to the history of one’s own nation is a constitutive feature of the phenomenon of national historical memory. Still, it was history (albeit frequently reduced to mythology) that constituted the driving force of 19th-century national thought both in Poland and England. Both nations derived their characteristic sense of pride from history: Poles – from past achievements and the conviction about their own moral superiority; Englishmen – from current successes seen as the effect of England’s moral prowess which earned her the support of Divine Providence.

Historical character is contained, in a sense, in the very etymology of the word ‘nation’. As stressed by E.J. Hobsbawm26, the Latin natio refers to the source or origin; the same is true about the Slavonic naród (from ród – the clan, the progeny), as the already quoted Karol Libelt observed. However, Antony D. Smith27 stressed that national thought and theoretical reflection on the phenomenon of nationalism need not focus on common origins, which are the subject of a broadly conceived history. Contrary to appearances – as we have already signalled before – the idea of a ‘nation’ is an ambiguous one and its semantic content depends on its context: philosophical-ethical (the nation and national identity as an absolute value or as a means to securing other values), political and anthropological (the rules of the relationship of nation vs. individual; the social principle of national community), and historical (the place of the nation in history; its ‘roots’ in the history of culture). From this point of view, the ethnic-cultural criterion is (along with an idealised vision of history) dominant both in English and Polish traditions. In both cases, the turn toward a historical mythology of the nation received support in the form of works of art, and music played a vital role here. In England – largely thanks to Ralph Vaughan Williams – it was, as I will demonstrate below, the music of the Tudor era, and in Poland – obviously the works of Chopin.

It can be viewed as a paradox that in such radically different historical, geopolitical and (especially) economic circumstances, the history of Polish and English music went through similar phases, experiencing its heyday and its decline in the same periods. In both countries, the 16th century has customarily been referred to as ‘the golden age’ when musical culture flourished, and both experienced a musical ‘renaissance’ with the onset of the 20th century, after two centuries of stagnation. The phenomenon of Chopin does not fit into this picture of parallel music development – but the English could balance the account with the ←23 | 24→appearance of Handel a hundred years earlier. Though of German descent, he nevertheless contributed greatly to the music tradition of England. Chopin was– as Szymanowski was the first to point out – a brilliant exception in the context of Polish culture in his age. “He did not remain in any organic relation with that culture, had neither predecessors nor successors, and was almost paradoxical in his ‘singularity’ – a bright lone star amid the night.”28 Szymanowski’s critical remarks on the condition of music culture in Polish territories find their striking counterpart in the writings of George Bernard Shaw and Ralph Vaughan Williams, though the motivation was obviously different in either case. In 1919 Shaw wrote:

“And we are a people of low pleasures because we are brought up to them: the British workman finds the public-house and the football field offering themselves to him insistently at every turn; and the British gentleman is actually forced to spend his boyish leisure at cricket and football before he enters an adult society in which he cannot escape hunting, shooting, bridge, and billiards, though he can go through life as a complete gentleman without hearing a Beethoven sonata in any other form than that of a disagreeable noise which he forbids his daughters to make in the schoolroom except during the hours when he is usually out of doors. If you eliminate smoking and the element of gambling, you will be amazed to find that almost all an Englishman’s pleasures can be, and mostly are, shared by his dog…”29

Vaughan Williams wrote in a similar spirit, though without Shaw’s sharp tongue. He claimed that from the 18th century onward, when political power in England had been taken over by the entirely uncultured gentry, the practice of art came to be regarded as “unworthy of a gentleman’s time.”30

In the history of music, the late 19th and early 20th centuries were for both nations the time to “catch up on the backlog”, especially in the field of symphonic music. This revival took the form (common to both nations, in a sense) to (as Karłowicz put it) “snatch the knowledge from the Germans.” In both England and Poland, the 20th century brought world-class artistic personalities and schools of composition which enjoyed a well-established international position. By a strange twist of fate, the two greatest authorities in the field, now ←24 | 25→already considered as classics in both countries – Benjamin Britten and Witold Lutosławski – were born in the same year. The greatest similarity, however, we can discern in the work on behalf of national music undertaken by Karol Szymanowski and Ralph Vaughan Williams – the two artists whose contribution to their respective musical cultures can hardly be overestimated. They represent the generation that entered the music scene early in the 20th century.

Ralph Vaughan Williams’s life (1872–1958) was much longer than Szymanowski. 10 years older than the latter composer, he also outlived Szymanowski by 21 years. He was a man of a strong mental and physical constitution, leading a regular, respectable life free from any social scandals or excesses that were typical of the bohemian artists who Szymanowski closely associated with. Like Szymanowski, he impressed people with his cultured manner, versatile interests and profound erudition. Unlike the master from Villa Atma (who was a brilliant autodidact), Vaughan Williams studied at Britain’s most renowned universities.

Stylistically and in terms of technique, the two composers had little in common. Szymanowski’s style was dominated by his modernist fascinations, while Vaughan Williams’s musical language was shaped by a nostalgia for the past and by cautious attempts to modernise tradition. Nevertheless, both artists’ styles developed in similarly meandering fashion and in the same direction – toward national music. In the interwar period they had in common not only their fascination with folk scales, rhythms and a ‘folkish’ type of sound, but also their considerable activity as writers, teachers and organisers. Both passionately engaged in the promotion of the ideology of national music, which they understood in a similar fashion – as their publications from that time also confirm. Their musical nationalism was quite devoid of any chauvinistic elements. Moreover, national music was for them an organic part of a greater whole termed European musical culture, with which they felt close ties, although each of them understood that culture in his own way. Both also expressed their concerns about the domination of German culture, which had previously been very close to their hearts.

What is evident in the writings of both composers is their fervent dedication to the cause of national cultures, and the emotional character of their discourse, which reminds one of the Romantic roots of both artists. This also found its reflection in their music, which through all of its stylistic stages preserved a Romantic type of expression, particularly in the form of ardent, emotionally intense lyricism. It would be interesting to examine in this context the question of possible communication between the two, or their opinions about each other’s work. In the interwar period, as we know, Szymanowski spoke warmly of England, of its ←25 | 26→culture and civilizational achievements, also making positive comments about the evident revival in British music. He quoted the names of Arnold Bax and Arthur Bliss in this context, but there was no mention of Vaughan Williams, and he made the following reservation: “I do not have too much confidence in the musical talents of the Anglo-Saxon race.”31 As for Vaughan Williams, from among Polish composers he mentioned only Chopin, whom he valued highly, though it would not have crossed his mind (and in fact nobody else’s mind in England) that Chopin could be placed on par with the German masters, as in Szymanowski’s writings. Even though both composers’ works (Szymanowski’s Kurpie Songs and Vaughan Williams’s Benedicite) were performed at the same concert at London’s Queen’s Hall (on 28th July 1931 at the 9th annual ISCM Festival), Szymanowski did not visit London on this occasion. There is no information from available sources about any mutual contacts, which supports the supposition that the two composers never met in person.

Szymanowski’s and Vaughan Williams’s views on the issue of national music can be gleaned, as I have said, from their articles and interviews published during the interwar period. In Szymanowski’s case these texts have been collected in volumes containing his musical and literary writings32, while for Vaughan Williams the main source of his opinions on this matter is his book National Music33, published in 1934 and comprising his new editions of lectures that he had delivered in the USA in the early 1930s. Szymanowski’s ‘conversion’ to the national cause was, as we know, rather sudden and very likely related to his “intoxication with Polish freedom” and the related surge of patriotic sentiments. With Vaughan Williams, the situation was more complex. His views on national music crystallised gradually over many years, in connection with such factors as the disappearing ethnically English folklore (from 1903) and with his growing fascination for the musical traditions of the Anglican Church. These inspirations coincided with a change in English national thought that took place at the turn of the century and was stimulated by the political situation.

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The ever increasing economic expansion of Germany and the USA from the 1880s onward had shocking economic consequences for the Brits, and forced them to abandon the triumphalist rhetoric that derived British national superiority from their civilisational success. Germany was becoming a great military power as well, which made the claim that “the strongest are always right” rather risky. Additionally, internal unrest threatened the unity of the British empire. Thus, a new type of nationalism emerged, based on the primacy of cultural values, which attached much importance to England’s pre-industrial art and folklore. Because of the special role of the latter, British historians refer to that ideology as ruralist nationalism34.

The phenomenon of cultural nationalism – specifically in relation to music composition – is obviously the subject for a separate study. According to Leon Plantinga35, in the 19th century it developed mostly in countries struggling for their independence, among the so-called developing nations, and in the context of a sense of cultural inferiority to other nations. None of these can explain the appearance of this phenomenon in England. As stressed by E. J. Hobsbawm36, nationalism can arise both spontaneously, as a ‘grassroots’ movement, or it can be steered ‘from above’. In the case of nationalisms present in great empires, the latter situation is more common, since imperial power and conditions for further expansion need to be maintained. This, then, was the aim of the Slavophile messianism in Russia and the usurpation of the role of the heir to the Roman Empire by both the German Reich and Russia37. England for obvious reasons could not claim this kind of role, whereas the awareness of economic and civilizational achievements and of the wide civic freedoms stopped functioning in the British Empire as an integrating factor. It was then that the British elites accepted the claim that – for the sake of maintaining social and moral order – the sense of national identity had to be reinforced through a wider dissemination of patriotic behaviour models. Both English history and ethnic folk culture were ←27 | 28→therefore idealised and opposed to the demoralised modern life of great industrial cities38. The rhetoric of a collective “spirit of the nation” (also found in the writings of Vaughan Williams) dates from that time. It was claimed to be most strongly present in folk songs. In British writings this rhetoric was influenced by Herder and Hegel39, but the analogies to the ideology of the völkisch movement (popular among the German intelligentsia in the 19th century) are more evident. Also in Germany, this ideology was (as I will demonstrate later) employed for social-political ends. On the other hand, not without significance for the growing interest in the vanishing folklore were (according to Percy M. Young40) pro-socialist sentiments that gained followers among British intellectuals, which found its expression, among others, in the tendency for the tastes of the lower and higher social strata to ‘level off’. This was also true of Vaughan Williams, who demonstrated his ability to combine such seemingly contrary ideologies as socialism and nationalism. In his country he was no exception.41

How did Vaughan Williams’s aesthetic views and artistic preferences evolve? As in the case of Szymanowski, their paths to the ‘discovery’ of national music traditions led through periods of enchantment with German and French music. It began with a youthful fascination for Wagner, which was characteristic of their generation. Later, in the 1890s, already as Parry’s pupil at London’s Royal College of Music, Vaughan Williams added Bach, Beethoven and Brahms to the list of his beloved masters. This was obviously the influence of his teacher. Parry, known for his conservative-academic and Germanophile tastes, was an ardent devotee of Brahms, who enjoyed great esteem in England at that time. As evident from a ←28 | 29→letter written to his cousin and fellow student at Cambridge, Ralph Wedgwood, in the autumn of 1897, Wagner still remained the young composer’s greatest idol. When asked by his cousin to choose a wedding gift, he answered without hesitation that “he should prize a Wagner full score more than anything…”42, and he included a whole list in the order of preference, starting with Tristan und Isolde and ending with Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Also the choice of Berlin as the place to continue his studies (in 1897 Vaughan Williams studied composition for several months with Max Bruch) was determined, as the composer himself recalls, by the fact that Berlin was at that time the only city where Der Ring des Nibelungen was performed without cuts.43 Notably, Szymanowski also eagerly visited Berlin at the same age (though he did not take up studies there) and shared Vaughan Williams’s fascination with Wagner, even though his modernist passions made him naturally prefer the music of Strauss, Reger and Schönberg.

Berlin offered the 25-year-old Vaughan Williams a great wealth of experiences and allowed him fully to absorb all aspects of the German culture which he had valued so highly at that time. However, his correspondence from February 1898 shows that his musical tastes were already beginning to change. He wrote critically of the works by contemporary German composers which he heard in Berlin, concluding that most likely the future of music lay “between Russia and England.” First, however, he claimed that the Russians needed to stop being overly original and that the English should stop imitating others. In the same letter he remarks: “I very much believe in the folk tune theory”44, explaining that he means creative stylisation rather than direct quotations that bury original samples of folklore under a heavy mass of symphonic texture quite foreign to folk music. Interestingly, the concept of a peculiar cultural ‘alliance’ reaching ←29 | 30→over but omitting Germany anticipated Szymanowski’s later ideas – though, as we know, Szymanowski did not see any role in his scheme for England. Most importantly, Vaughan Williams saw folk song already at that time as a kind of remedy that would make possible the liberation of music from German domination. As he recalled years later, folk song encapsulates the simplest type of musical idiom “which we unconsciously were cultivating in ourselves.”

Indeed, the works he wrote after 1902 demonstrate his growing interest in modal and pentatonic scales, which frequently (as in three Norfolk Rhapsodies for orchestra) determine his basic harmonic structures and polyphonic progressions. At the same time, his thematic material and textures undergo a substantial reduction. From 1903 Vaughan Williams took up systematic field trips with Gustav Holst, thus becoming one of the pioneers of the movement for the preservation of England’s disappearing original folklore. The following year Vaughan Williams joined the Folk Song Society and began to demonstrate a growing interest in 16th-century Anglican music, which – as he frequently stressed – is one of the foundations of English national culture. It would be an over-interpretation, however, as Michael Kennedy observes45, to suggest that the composer was ‘liberated’ from under German domination by direct contact with folk song. Quoting Vaughan Williams’s own statement of 1903 that English folk song would not become the foundation of the English school of composition, Kennedy observes that the composer’s busy work as an ethnographer was related more to his preoccupation with teaching music than to his interests as a composer. He wished to restore to the English society its forgotten and vanishing folk music, and even have it arranged so that it can enter concert repertoires46. According to Kennedy, what really ‘liberated’ and formed Vaughan Williams’s mature, fully recognisable style was his stay in Paris and his studies with Ravel, which had commenced in January 1908. Ursula Vaughan Williams wrote47 that the composer was openly enthusiastic about his French master. “I am getting a lot out of Ravel – I hope it doesn’t worry him too much – only I feel that 10 years ←30 | 31→would not teach me all I want” – he wrote in a letter, admitting that it was Ravel who suggested that he should orchestrate his pieces thinking in terms of sound colour, and not of instrumental lines48. Indeed, in 1909–1910 he wrote his first major works – On Wenlock Edge for tenor, string quartet and piano (1909) as well as the famous Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis for strings (1910)49.

Notably, the key stylistic breakthroughs in Szymanowski’s life followed a similar pattern. He also began to free himself from under the influence of German musical culture around the thirtieth year of his life (this change can be heard in his Tanz [Dance] and Der verliebte Ostwind [The East Wind in Love] from the cycle of Des Hafis Liebeslieder [The Love Songs of Hafiz]), while the principal breakthrough in his musical style came 8 to 10 years later. Both composers were in some ways captivated by the exotic, which led their imagination far from the canons of the dominant German culture. Szymanowski, like other modernists, drew on the culture of the Near East, while Vaughan Williams – on the ‘native exoticism’ whose charm Szymanowski would only discover after 1919. What both composers had in common was their fascination with French culture, which played a major role in the shaping of their respective styles – especially with the achievements of Maurice Ravel.

As observed above, ruralist nationalism (popular among the English intellectuals in the early 20th century) substantially influenced the development of Vaughan Williams’s folkloristic passions. However, his article bearing the provocative title Who wants the English Composer?50 published in 1912, proves that he did not embrace this ideology in an unreflective manner. In the article, he criticised his compatriots for writing derivative music, and observed that whenever any novelty reached the British Isles from overseas, the British invariably demonstrated a deplorable attitude that he characterised as “the desire to do it too.” For art to be valuable, he claimed, it needs to grow organically out of the very life of the artist, the community he lives in, and the nation he belongs to. “Have not we all about us,” he asked, “forms of musical expression which we can take and purify and raise to the level of great art?”51 Here he quoted examples: “the lilt of the chorus at a music-hall joining in a popular song, the children dancing to a ←31 | 32→barrel organ, the rousing fervour of a Salvation Army hymn, St. Paul’s and a great choir singing in one of its festivals, the Welshmen striking up one of their own hymns whenever they win a goal at the international football match, the cries of the street pedlars, the factory girls singing their sentimental songs? Have all this nothing to say to us?”52 he asked rhetorically.

The opportunities for artistic explorations of the folklore of great cities, which Vaughan Williams outlined above, seem to anticipate trends characteristic of the interwar period. His probable sources of inspiration are here (as Byron Adams claims) the poetry and views of Walt Whitman53 as well as the artistic tendencies he observed during his stay in Paris. As we know, the composer put these ideas in practice in his monumental London Symphony (1914), whose thematic material was inspired by the folklore of the London agglomeration. In Szymanowski’s music we will not find similar fascinations, and most likely he would not have accepted Vaughan Williams’s criticism of adopting novelties from abroad (except when it led to clearly derivative imitation). However, Szymanowski definitely embraced the idea of nobilitating elementary forms of musical expression and elevating them to the status of ‘high art’ – albeit in a different context.

The article discussed above is significant in the context of the formation of Vaughan Williams’s views on the national and universal dimensions of music. The final impulse came from the traumatic experience of World War I. On a wave of patriotic fervour, the composer (like his friend Gustav Holst, and like Maurice Ravel on the other side of the English Channel) joined the army as a volunteer. The wartime experience deepened his sense of the power of human community, which became a nearly mystical value for him, but also gave a new dimension to his search for universal values, both in the spiritual and political spheres. Henceforth he defined himself as a federalist, a believer in a joint international European government – which did not collide in any way with his cultural nationalism. Later, during World War II, Vaughan Williams would write:

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“I believe that the love of one’s country, one’s language, one’s customs, one’s religion, are essential to our spiritual health. (…) I believe that all that is of value in our spiritual life springs from our soil; but this life cannot develop and fructify except in an atmosphere of friendship and sympathy with other nations.”54

As evident from the above, for Vaughan Williams the notion of the community was the key to understanding national music. Both his historiosophic concept formulated in National Music, which determined his understanding of the laws of musical history, and the definition of the art of music itself – derived from that concept. Vaughan Williams starts his reasoning with a polemic on Whistler’s view that the concept of national music is a curiosity that could be compared to ‘national chemistry’. According to the composer, Whistler fails to recognise the difference between science and art. Science is a pure quest after knowledge and, as such, clearly has no limits. Art, on the other hand, and particularly musical art – uses knowledge merely as a means to an end – as Vaughan Williams puts it, as a tool to express personal experience in such a way that it becomes more understandable to others. The logical consequence of such reasoning is that those ‘others’ are – first and foremost – those closest to the author with respect to nationality and culture; as a matter of fact, they are members of the same nation or of another homogenous community of a similar kind.55

The above is a necessity, since no one can work in a social vacuum and the creative process always presupposes the existence of some kind of audience. The artist puts inspiration in a form shaped by the circumstances of his or her time and place, even though in most cases this process takes place spontaneously and without conscious effort. Therefore each artistic endeavour, regardless of the class of the artist’s talent, is determined by the qualities of the community in which he or she has grown up56. Be it a Beethoven symphony or a folk musician’s song, it is always shaped by history and by long tradition. As for folk songs, claims Vaughan Williams, we can say the same that Gilbert Murray said about the Bible and the works of Homer. They are not the work of one poet’s imagination, but encapsulate the accumulated emotions of several generations; “there is in them, ←33 | 34→as it were, the spiritual life-blood of a people…”57 The same is true about music of the highest artistic calibre. True style – here Vaughan Williams quotes Hubert Parry – is not an individual product. The greatest geniuses are preceded by entire generations of nameless craftsmen-composers who are rooted in the tradition and who themselves have a long genealogy. Contrary to popular belief, great masters usually closed historical epochs, which were inaugurated by pioneers of lesser stature. “Is not the mighty river of Wagner,” asks Vaughan Williams rhetorically, “but a confluence of the smaller streams, Weber, Marschner, and Liszt?” In his view, genius is “the right man in the right place at the right time”58. We know many examples of time that grew ripe, but the space remained empty for the lack of the right person that could fill it. On the other hand, “we shall never know of the number of ‘mute and inglorious [John] Miltons’ who failed because the place and time” were not ready for them. “Was not Purcell a genius born before his time?” asks Vaughan Williams; “was not [Arthur] Sullivan a jewel in the wrong setting?”59

These assumptions have subsequently become the basis for reflections concerning various aspects of music history in the context of national ideology, and confirming the theses discussed above. The text is clearly influenced by interpretations of historical mechanisms borrowed from the theory of evolution, with echoes of the historiosophic concepts of Hegel and Herder. In this context, Vaughan Williams dedicates much space to 16th-century English religious music. He engages in a polemic with the opinions of British historians, who expressed their astonishment at the suddenness with which the English Renaissance had taken hold. Vaughan Williams presented his own scenario of historical events – one that he believed in deeply. Throughout the Middle Ages, he claimed, English folk religious music flourished, though it was ignored by the English court (dominated by French culture) and by the Italianate church. It was from that music, from the oral tradition of folklore, that the energy, vitality and wealth of music during the Tudor era derived. Vaughan Williams quoted the evidence of the existence of French folk religious chant at the time of Charlemagne and drew a map of evolutionary development from folk song to chorale to organum to the polyphony of Thomas Tallis. He used a similar line of reasoning in his survey of European national schools, which (for obvious reasons) were at the centre of his attention. In this context he highly praised Chopin and Mussorgsky, whose ←34 | 35→originality, he claimed, was directly related to their creative approach to their respective folk and national traditions.

The local roots of great (naturally – German) masters are discussed separately in Vaughan Williams’s book. He especially focuses on the “greatest of the greats” – J.S. Bach. Probably no art is more universal than the music of Bach, he claims, and still one could hardly find anyone more ‘local’ and more dedicated to his community. Bach never left his home country and seldom travelled outside his place of residence. He was steeped in local tradition. Vaughan Williams admits that Bach eagerly absorbed the achievements of other musical cultures, thus enriching his own style and technique. All the same, his artistic identity was decisively shaped by two traditions: the organ music of his ‘Teutonic predecessors’ and the religious songs that gave his own nation its identity. In this context, we read in National Music:

“Who has heard nowadays of the cosmopolitan hero Marchand, except as being the man who ran away from the Court of Dresden to avoid comparison with the local organist Bach?”60

Here we come to a key question: How did Vaughan Williams explain the supra-national, universal impact of the works of great masters? In the first chapter of his book (“Why Music Should be National?”) he questions the claim that music is a “universal language” and, with his characteristic humour, attributes this notion to “some misguided thinker, probably first cousin to the man who invented the unfortunate phrase ‘a good European’”61. Even though most of the texts in National Music were written in the 1930s and breathe the atmosphere of that time, and notwithstanding the author’s tendency to provoke by consciously exaggerating – his text does contain some clues that can serve as an answer to the question above. It seems that the key to his understanding of the phenomenon of musical universality lies in his descriptive, genuinely naturalistic metaphors, especially in the above-quoted metaphorical vision of Wagner’s oeuvre as a great river fed by the waters of countless tributaries. Only music of the highest calibre can reach that universal level and transcend the boundaries of local community cultures. This is because a genius can express in both synthetic and original ways what the previous generations had laid the groundwork for. Universal literary masterpieces also come into being in this manner, Vaughan Williams claims. This concerns the already quoted examples of the Bible and of Homer. As a river needs those numerous tributaries, art also needs a rich multi-generational ←35 | 36→tradition plus the right person at the right time and place, who will be able to collect all those influences into one powerful current capable of transcending national boundaries. The richer the tradition, the more music a given culture produces, and the greater the chance for great individuals to appear. Only such individualities can make a universal impact.62 It is evident from this line of argument that Vaughan Williams – unlike many of his contemporaries, including Szymanowski – did not believe in the existence of musically gifted and musically mediocre nations. Germany gave the world those he considered to be the greatest composers because through the conscious effort and perseverance of many generations, they built up a tradition that propelled and released tremendous creative force. England, on the other hand, oblivious of its own traditions plunged into the vicious circle of self-depreciation, convinced of its musical impotence. From this point of view, ‘musical language’ understood as a complex of technical-musical qualities is of secondary importance. In any given historical period, the dominant musical culture imposes its own language on the international society. As in the case of the Italian opera and the German symphony, this language becomes universal after some time.

Another universal aspect of art clearly pointed out by Vaughan Williams is of a philosophical nature: it is music’s mission. The visible, audible and comprehensible media used by musicians are symbols not merely of other visible and audible phenomena, but of what transcends our senses and knowledge.63 Art is an attempt to reach the infinite, claims the composer. In his post-Romantic vision, a special place is reserved for music, which is rooted in everyday life in a way quite inaccessible to other arts. It is hard to determine whether Vaughan Williams knew the writings of Friedrich Schleiermacher and Ludwig Tieck, and to what extent he agreed with the Romantic metaphysics of art64. Still, it is this ←36 | 37→aspect of his aesthetic thought that inevitably leads to questions concerning his worldview. Paradoxically, despite his many works inspired by religious texts or for use in the Anglican Church, Vaughan Williams was an atheist. In his mature years he moved toward a less radical kind of agnosticism, with some pantheistic strains.

Conflicts of outlook related to the clash of scientific rationalism and traditional religious faith were in fact frequent in Victorian England and had manifested themselves earlier in the Williams family. The composer’s father – who died when Vaughan Williams was just two years old – was an Anglican priest. The composer’s mother – Charles Darwin’s niece – attempted to reconcile belief in the revealed truths of the Bible with the results of scientific research.65 However, Vaughan Williams’s worldview was affected most strongly not by his family connections, but by his historical studies in Cambridge (1892–95), where he came under the influence of such intellectuals as George Edward Moore and Bertrand Russell. As we know, Russell called himself an agnostic because he found himself unable to disprove the existence of God. He added, however, that it would be equally hard to demonstrate the non-existence of Zeus, Hera and other deities of ancient Greece. Presenting Christian dogma on one level with Greek mythology was – as we have seen – also characteristic of Vaughan Williams. For all we know, however, the composer did not share Russell’s radical views on the institution of the Church. For him, the Anglican Church was an inherent part of the national tradition; it guarded moral and social order, and as such it was worthy of respect and support, regardless of one’s personal attitude to the dogma itself. He was aware that culture grew out of the soil of specific religious ideas, which entailed a similar attitude to other religions and denominations as well. Apparently the scientific fascinations of his friends associated with philosophical realism did not quite satisfy the composer’s mind. He felt the need for a spiritual dimension on which to build his own aesthetic, and which could constitute an alternative to traditional piety. As in the case of Szymanowski, it seems, for Vaughan Williams music became an alternative to religious faith.

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The composer’s views on the national and universal aspects of music as presented in National Music derived from his conviction about the indispensable ‘rooting’ of all cultural phenomena in their geographic and ethnic context. This conviction, supported by his experience as an ethnographer, influenced his interpretation of historical processes and gave his statements a specific colouring, frequent in the history of English thought. Apart from the strong influence of the theory of evolution, a distinct predilection for realism and pragmatism is evident here – both dear to the English philosophical tradition. Szymanowski would most likely have accepted many of the English composer’s views without reservations, while others would have inevitably met with his opposition. Interestingly, he was the closest to Vaughan Williams when external historical events made him leave his “ivory tower” and firmly stand on the ground – which he not always seemed to have been eager to do.

Though Szymanowski did not present his views in a coherent and systematic way as Vaughan Williams had, the former’s sketches, materials for Ephebos and his publications from the interwar period make it possible to compare the similarities and differences between the two composers with regard to the topic in question. As previously stated, for Vaughan Williams the point of departure was his pragmatic distinction between the aims of science and art. Szymanowski did not consider this issue, but in his sketches for Ephebos we find an interesting definition of music, put in the mouth of one of his novel’s protagonists. His definition is based on the view of music as an autonomous art; it is strict and technical, but does leave some space for the audience. “The artist shall not go beyond certain territories because the audience would not be able to react emotionally to his work; the audience, on the other hand, shall make sure that those territories are as extensive as possible.”66 Evidently for both artists the audience’s emotional reaction was a constitutive element in the functioning of a work of art. For Vaughan Williams, however, the audience was primarily the ethnic community, whereas Szymanowski seems to be referring to a supra-national community based on the values of high culture. In the preface to Ephebos, Szymanowski declared himself wholeheartedly a supporter of ‘pan-Europaism’ in music, a trend of clearly elitist nature, which claimed that the most valuable individuals were to unite around “the greatest achievements of individual, spiritual culture.” It purported to be “a secret plot of the solitary ones, faithfully guarding our most sacrosanct common good.”67 Szymanowski opposed the thus understood pan-Europaism, ←38 | 39→and destructive Bolshevik internationalism of the masses, and to nationalism (described as “narrow and egoistic in a way).” The Polish composer admits, however, that in the historical circumstances of his time his pan-European ideals had very little chance to be put in practice. He calls them “a chimera” and therefore sides with nationalism “as the only truly creative element in history.”68 As Zofia Helman aptly argued69, Szymanowski found his spiritual homeland in the culture of the fin de siècle. In the extremely unfavourable conditions related to the historical cataclysms of the 1910s, it comes as no surprise that he should seek refuge in this ‘homeland’ while writing his novel. Sober realism, however, made him revise many of his earlier views. This is evident, for instance, in his letter to Zdzisław Jachimecki in 1920, in which he frankly admitted that “Poland has no time and no use for such artistic luxuries as me” and then adds with disarming pragmatism: “an honest policeman in the street, when viewed from this perspective, is worth more than I am.”70 It was most likely this sober realism and the need to be useful in the face of political events that led Szymanowski to embrace the nationalist outlook. This only happened gradually, however, and not without certain reservations. “There are certain evolutionary phases (both in the history of humankind and of individuals) in which the national sentiment already loses its creative force and almost becomes an obstacle to the further journey”,71 we read in his preface to Ephebos. From sketches written in the same period we learn that as late as the early 1920s, Szymanowski had formulated views with which Vaughan Williams could fully have agreed. In his comments on the historical roots of patriotism, he refers to it as “an offshoot of the primeval instinct of defending the family cave, later – the clan and tribe”, which is strikingly similar to what Vaughan Williams had written concerning the origins of nationalism. Their conclusions were identical. According to Szymanowski, patriotism “in historical practice proved to be the most stable emotional support for any form of culture building – or perhaps the only one.”72 Vaughan Williams would surely have also agreed with his Polish contemporary’s realistic acceptance of the inevitability of national ‘rooting’:

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“Even if we were to reject the emotional and idealistic content of such notions as ‘patriotism’, ‘Fatherland’ and our duty toward it […] there will always remain a number of positive conditions which make it impossible to proceed in human history beyond the magic bounds of ‘nationalism’. The idea of a ‘human’ is a philosophical chimera that has no existing counterparts on Earth, while the Poles, French, Chinese, Zulus, and the Russians most certainly exist as countless individuals whose spiritual and physical character has been determined once and for all by a number of undoubtable, indisputable facts such as the longitude and latitude of their place of living, the soil and climate, the shape of the landscape, the type of work…”73

The consequences of such a claim are obvious: the ethnic features are “by their very nature” reflected in the work of art. A question emerges, however: “should these features decide the value of the work?” Szymanowski answers in the negative:

The true value of a great work of art lies where the ethnic man – a Frenchman, Englishman or Pole – ends in an artist, and a human begins, facing life all alone as a metaphysical question.74

What we have, then, is man facing universal questions. This conclusion, echoing Witkacy (S.I. Witkiewicz) is, in some ways contrary to appearances, not far removed from musical universalism as defined by Vaughan Williams, especially with reference to Whitman’s ‘metaphysics of life’, which (as I have mentioned earlier) greatly fascinated the English composer. Szymanowski’s cult of individualism, identical with his postulate of respecting artistic freedom, which he emphasised till the very end of his life – led him to a warning which is sometimes misinterpreted as criticism of national art. In a sketch written most likely before 1920, we find the following remark:

National art as a postulate is a dangerous misconception. It is a notion born in quite a different cultural sphere; a purely rationalist conviction that the contemporary nation-state, should – among many other attributes […] also have its own aesthetic.75

Further in his text, however, Szymanowski says this view is “quite correct” as long as it does not infringe “the absolute creative freedom of the artist”,76 which would automatically annihilate the very possibility of a national art. This opinion does not contradict in any way his later declarations concerning national music or his own music, for that matter. The above may sound overly categorical; all ←40 | 41→the same, history confirmed the truth of this statement. The postulate of national art, when employed by official state politics (especially in a totalitarian state) does usually prove to be a “dangerous misconception”. Szymanowski’s pronounced stress on freedom as a necessary condition for the flourishing of art (including national art) finds its distinct parallel in Vaughan Williams’s claim that the national character of music ought to develop and find expression in spontaneous individual creations, in fact – without the artist’s conscious effort in this direction. Otherwise art will lose its most precious attribute – the sincerity of expression. Naturally, Vaughan Williams worked in quite different geopolitical circumstances and did not experience the same kind of threats as a composer who personally witnessed the Bolshevik system – one of the forms of the totalitarian state.

In his publications from the interwar period, Szymanowski presented his views using the (then popular) rhetoric based on the belief in the unique and historically unchanging features (both physical and spiritual) of different human races. In 1922 he commented that music “is so strongly related to an artist’s individual qualities that it must eventually have roots in his racial background.”77 He claims one should look for the essence of national music not so much in the stylisations of folklore as in the ability to get an in-depth insight into the qualities of a given race. In the context of the forms of projecting and absorbing emotional content specific to a given nation, Szymanowski again refers to the idea of an ‘emotional bond’ so typical of his thought. The previously unspecified ‘audience’ takes on a distinctly national character, and so the ‘emotional bond’ becomes identical with Vaughan Williams’ concept of ‘sympathy’, while the ‘insight into racial character’ finds its counterpart in the centuries-long tradition that gave birth to the cultural qualities specific to the given ‘community’.

As we know, Szymanowski conceived of genuine national music as an organic and spontaneous combination of modern, top-class technical-formal solutions with expressive-emotional content that penetrated into the deepest layers of the nation’s “racial identity”78 Only this kind of synthesis, he claimed, can guarantee ←41 | 42→that the national music will secure its place in the universal dimension as well. His model in this area was Chopin, whom he called “the creative genius of our race.” Characteristically, it is in the context of Chopin’s music that Szymanowski uses much of his ‘racial’ terminology.79 In 1920 he described how Chopin portrayed the soul of the people in its “infinite racial depth”80, while 10 years later he praised the composers of the Russian school for understanding Chopin’s “original racial qualities.”81 In his 1921 publication dedicated to Stravinsky he stressed that “like our Chopin in the past”, Stravinsky managed to capture “the racial features inherited from many generations”82, and in his article on Bartok’s folklorism he criticised Bartok’s placement of two great Romantics, Liszt and Chopin, “on one level in relation to the music of their respective folk”, though he admitted that the “racial subtleties” of Chopin’s art may not be quite comprehensible to foreigners, but can be much more easily grasped by the Polish audience83.

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Vaughan Williams did not emphasise the need for the Europeanisation and constant modernisation of musical language (though he did introduce these elements in his own music from the interwar period). However, he would have agreed with Szymanowski’s other conclusions, without reservation, concerning the essence of contemporary national music. Though he did not refer to the concept of ‘race’ in his writings, Vaughan Williams likewise believed in the presence of unchanging, historically constant expressive-emotional qualities which were the determinants of the national style (more profound than folk stylisations). The English composer was also equally convinced about the existence of subtle musical features that could only be understood within the given national culture.

We can find other analogies between the writings of the two composers as well. Like Vaughan Williams, Szymanowski granted Bach the highest place in the history of music: “I frequently feel that Bach is the very summit of music.”84 Szymanowski also shared the belief in the metaphysical mission of art: “Most important in art is what lies beyond it, a certain transcendental element. Even unmusical people can feel the air of another world blowing through music.”85 Szymanowski respected tradition and its culture-building power. He even used identical comparisons as Vaughan Williams when he stressed that the great masters are like aristocrats with huge family trees; whole generations contributed to their identity. Another striking similarity is their similar attitude to institutional religion. For both composers the religions they were brought up in were strongly related to national traditions; both saw religious faith as a source of the wealth of imagination and priceless artistic inspiration. Szymanowski’s confession that the “Holy God [Polish religious hymn] sung in some village church” moved his “religious instinct” more deeply than the most sophisticated Latin mass – would have undoubtedly found full sympathy with his English colleague86. Another striking analogy is Szymanowski’s treatment of the culture-building function of folk song, which he poetically describes as “the spring of vital inspiration eternally flowing from the very heart of the race.”87 Both composers quote folk song as proof of the existence of a primeval, instinctive need for music among the wide masses. Finally, as mentioned above, both saw the domination of the German music tradition as a threat to 20th-century national schools in music. “Sound development of Polish music depends solely on how thoroughly we can liberate ←43 | 44→ourselves from the powerful grip (…) of German music”, wrote Szymanowski in 1922. Five years later, he stood up in defence of other national schools as well:

Great music can be founded on something different from the German ‘emotional type’. The racial qualities of other national groups must be elevated to the rank of the highest values in music88.

Despite all these analogies found in the writings of the two composers, they differ not only in the distinct intellectual traditions on which their reflections are based, but also in their attitude to modern trends of general European significance. Szymanowski would not have shared Vaughan Williams’s distrust for the notion of a ‘good European’. He frequently conveyed what amounted to genuine enthusiasm for pan-European values and expressed his conviction that the “separate racial identity of Polish music in its deepest sense” can only be achieved through Europeanisation. Isolation leading to parochialism, he believed, was the greatest threat to that true identity. Vaughan Williams explained that he did not advocate artistic provinciality, but in his writings he did not dedicate much space to that threat. After all, he spoke for a culture that had dominated a large part of the world and could hardly be seen as provincial. It also seems likely that Szymanowski’s attachment to Europe and its values (which he strongly emphasised during his stay in the United States) resulted from his sense of integral relation with the continent – stronger than in the case of the English composer. 19th-century England, busy constructing its own empire, frequently distanced itself from the continent. The greatest discrepancy between the two composers’ views concerned, however, not so much the ‘strategy’ but rather the ‘tactics’ of building a modern national school. Szymanowski resolutely rejected all ‘protectionist’ inclinations in the repertoire policies of concert organisers. He claimed that music institutions ought to be open to works of the highest artistic value regardless of the nationality of their authors, while compositions which are “dilettante and devoid of talent, however strongly rooted to our national tradition they might be”89 ought to be left out of concert programmes. Szymanowski thus represented an attitude of a truly liberal openness combined with an optimistic appraisal of the vitality of the Polish nation and its culture:

“We are indeed a healthy and strong society, and no external influences can jeopardise our effort to build our own culture. On the contrary, we can easily absorb the genuinely valuable and sound elements of foreign culture, and this can only be to our benefit.”90

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Vaughan Williams, on the other hand, liked to compare the revival of English music to the growth of a young and still fragile plant and therefore postulated creating ideal ‘greenhouse’ conditions for that growth, with a tendency to protect his own culture from external competition91. Some of his statements are highly controversial in this context; one of them was quoted by Alistair Wightman as an example of English “tweedy chauvinism”, with which Szymanowski’s very open attitude “contrasts pleasantly”92. Wightman’s example shows that for the sake of prompting his nation to produce its own music, Vaughan Williams was ready to accept such extreme solutions as a ban on the performance of foreign music:

“In this way the people of each nation, being prevented from employing others to make music for them, would be obliged, if they wanted it, to make it for themselves…If there was no indigenous music to be had the art in that country would die out altogether….”93

This peculiar proposal had no chance to be put in practice. It seems unlikely that Vaughan Williams, known for his realism, could treat it seriously. On the other hand, the quotation reveals both strong the emotional involvement and presence of some historical trauma (related to the mass employment of foreigners by courtly patrons some centuries before, which limited the patronage of native musical art). Michael Kennedy warned readers against overly literal treatment of the composer’s verbal extravaganzas and of his deliberately exaggerated statements, characteristically presented with tongue in cheek.

Kennedy represented Vaughan Williams as a man of impressive build whose opinions were just as big and bold as his looks94. His sense of historical mission frequently led him to make provocative statements. Concerning national music, Vaughan Williams appears to have represented a stance that was so ‘protectionist’ that even Szymanowski’s staunchest opponents from Warsaw seem liberal in comparison. Still, life itself proved that the rhetoric illustrated above did not translate into action in the composer’s own life. After the outbreak of ←45 | 46→World War II, circumstances favoured possible legal restrictions in the context of a threat to national values. As the Nazi repressions against Jews and political opponents escalated, the number of German emigrants to the UK was growing in the late 1930s. These included many musicians, musicologists, and music critics. Soon after the war broke out, the British authorities were forced to intern the refugees from Germany and Austria for reasons of prevention. Though Vaughan Williams expressed his fears of England being dominated by these emissaries of German musical culture, he did his best to free the interned musicians. He used his authority, social position and connections for this purpose. In the summer of 1940 he was appointed head of the British government’s advisory committee for refugees, and obtained release for most of the detained artists.

What did he feel at that time? We can glean this from his letter (quoted by Hugh Cobbe) to Ferdinand Rauter (an Austrian musician who settled in London in the late 1930s), written on 16th August 194295. In the letter, Vaughan Williams frankly expresses his fear that the recent “peaceful invasion” of England by Austria might completely annihilate what he called (using one of his favourite naturalistic metaphors) “the tender little flower of our English culture.” Considering Austria’s glorious musical tradition, he argued, it is only natural that they see it as one and only, and are prone to dismiss everything that differs from it as an error or a product of ignorance. The Austrians also consider it as their mission that they should instil their culture in every soil they settle on, as the only one worthy of being cultivated. However, as Vaughan Williams warns his reader, any attempt to convert England into Austria’s musical protectorate “could kill all the musical initiative in this country – destroy all that is vital and substitute a mechanical imitation of your great art – which will have no vitality, no roots in the soil and no power to grow to full stature.”96 The only viable solution is assimilation: “Become Englishmen – try to assimilate our artistic ideals and then strengthen and fertilize them from your own incomparable art.”97 In the final section of the letter, he explains the reasons for the atrophy of musical creativity in his fellow countrymen, as diagnosed earlier in his National Music: “As you must already know from your sojourn in England that there is a tendency, clearly, among English people to take that ‘Schmidt’ is musical – while Smith is ipso facto unmusical.”98 What follows is a request to support Smith and help him ←46 | 47→to gain self-confidence, to discover his artistic potential and possibilities, so as not to perpetuate the vicious circle of impossibility and the false conviction that Smith’s only chance was “musically to turn into a Schmidt.”99

Though leftist and liberal ideologies sometimes treat nationalism and chauvinism as one and the same phenomenon, it would be unfair and far-fetched to label the author of the London Symphony as a chauvinist. He never claimed the superiority of his own nation and never exhibited contempt toward other nations – quite the opposite. One should probably agree with Frank Howes’s description of Vaughan Williams’s nationalism as a ‘positive’ one100, i.e. devoid of chauvinistic leanings and based on the conviction that the international community gains its most originality and distinct character thanks to the contributions of the various national cultures. It is also hard to imagine a chauvinist who enthusiastically supports the idea of a united Europe, as Vaughan Williams did. He believed that the community of nations ought to be integrated politically, but the different cultures and nations ought to preserve their separate identity which stems from their authentic native traditions. In this view, Europe is a multi-coloured mosaic of cultures developing bottom-to-top from grassroots and strongly rooted in local traditions. The idea of a universal, supra-national language thus became of secondary importance.

Szymanowski approached the cause of European musical culture rather differently. To him, most important were the top-to-bottom, shared system of values and the common musical language which, thanks to the contributions of the various ‘racial identities’, gained a national colouring. While Vaughan Williams emphasised the community and the ethnic-territorial identity, Szymanowski attached more significance to the intergenerational bond, which resulted in the need for the constant modernisation of style. The reason why Vaughan Williams was less critical of isolationist tendencies than Szymanowski may have been the different historical experience and the different causes of the crisis of musical culture in Poland and England. Polish culture was indeed seriously undermined by provinciality and parochialism, which served as a serious warning for Szymanowski, Karłowicz and the entire Young Poland generation. As for the crisis of English musical culture, Vaughan Williams believed its roots were quite the opposite – the decline of England’s own original tradition, forgetting one’s ←47 | 48→own folklore, which strengthened and popularised the conviction that a nation with no living folklore cannot be a musical one. In order to authenticate their opinions, Szymanowski quoted the case of Moniuszko while Vaughan Williams pointed out the phenomenon of the ‘provincial composer’ Mussorgsky as an example. The two nations’ different historical experiences thus shaped the different ideologies of national music represented by the two composers.

What was the significance of Vaughan Williams’s and Szymanowski’s ideas and oeuvre for the later development of musical culture in their respective countries? How were they viewed by their major successors? Szymanowski, as we know, became the unquestioned leader of the Polish 20th-century school of composition. His music inspired the successive generations, from those that grew up in the 1930s to the “new Romanticism” of the 1970s and even contemporary Polish jazz. Szymanowski’s thought on music, naturally cleansed of the anachronistic references to the category of ‘race’, does not provoke opposition today. His postulates of organically embedding the national component in the universal European musical language and of avoiding isolation - now seem obvious.

The fate of Vaughan Williams’s artistic legacy was more complex. Already in the late 1930s he came under the criticism of the young generation of composers at that time. Both William Walton, the rising star of English music, and his debuting younger colleagues, of whom Benjamin Britten is the best known – openly expressed their fascination with the outside world. They rejected the nationalist rhetoric; their idols were Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Bartok, Schönberg, Ravel, Gerswin, and even American jazz. More than in the native folk song, they were interested in new compositional techniques and in technical mastery. They attacked Vaughan Williams with arguments similar to those that Szymanowski and Karłowicz had once used against the Polish advocates of the inviolable (provincially conceived) national tradition. The British conservative press printed reviews that opposed the suspect cosmopolitan competence and technical brilliance to something vaguely defined as ‘sincerity of expression’, which was supposed to be a quality of native English music. The adherents of European modernism counterattacked by claiming that this ‘sincerity’ is a cover for common incompetence and amateurism. All this was tinged with political conflict. The young generation for the most part did not know Vaughan Williams’s pro-socialist sympathies, which one could hardly have guessed, considering his social position. So he was attacked by persons with leftist views. The hardest times came for Vaughan Williams in the 1950s, when followers of the pro-European option gained a powerful ally in many of the German and Austrian émigrés for whom Vaughan Williams had so generously interceded. By now they had become influential critics, journalists, conductors and professors of British ←48 | 49→universities – and it was much more difficult for them to understand the music of Vaughan Williams than that of Britten, whose brilliant career many of them supported (one example is Hans Keller). From the 1950s onward, Vaughan Williams’s position was becoming distinctly weaker, while that of Britten and Szymanowski was getting stronger. The latter was recognised, also in British musical circles, as one of the leading 20th-century composers – and his fame overshadowed that of Vaughan Williams in the latter’s own country.

However, the “Guardian of British Music”, as Ferdinand Rauter called him in a letter –eventually emerged victorious. Before the outbreak of World War II, Britten had left for the United States with the intention of settling there permanently. America welcomed him warmly and he scored major successes there; all the same, he decided to return. It was only in America that Britten recognised his own separate national identity and realised that his proper place was on the other side of the Atlantic. In his letters and memories from that time, he wrote about cultural ‘rooting’ and about the significance of tradition. How homesick he must have been we may surmise from the fact that he returned at the moment of greatest threat, when England was facing the entire Nazi German power alone. Despite his pacifist outlook and danger to his own life, he came back to his fatherland in the time of combat. His first operatic hero, Peter Grimes, with whom he had largely identified with himself, preferred to perish rather than leave the land where his heart was. “I am a native rooted here…” Some time later Britten admitted that he had always had the deepest respect for Vaughan Williams, however much they differed in their views on art.

This transformation, which took place when Britten was almost thirty, could be interpreted as a sign of maturity, but also – as the first triumph of the author of National Music. His second triumph was the awakening of the dormant musical potential in his nation, the fruit of hard work. Nowadays nobody can doubt any more that Smith is just as musical as Schmidt, and Great Britain ranks among the greatest musical powers of the present-day world. Since the late 1980s, Vaughan Williams’s vast and partly forgotten output of compositions has undergone a distinct renaissance and attracted growing interest not only in the English-speaking countries, but worldwide. His great hope has also been fulfilled, and we have a united Europe without borders. Now there is a chance to build such international relations as the English composer dreamt of, based on integrity or on political cooperation which guarantees peace while maintaining cultural diversity – a “Europe of Homelands” which safeguards the continuation of national and regional traditions. There is also a chance – as Szymanowski wished – for Polish culture to win, once and for all, its permanent place on the map of Europe, so that it will never again play the role of a backwater cut off from the rest of the world.

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21 This chapter is an extended version of an article published in: Karol Szymanowski w perspektywie kultury muzycznej przeszłości i współczesności [Karol Szymanowski in the Context of Past and Present Musical Culture], ed. Zbigniew Skowron, (Warszawa-Kraków: Musica Iagellonica, 2007), pp. 49–78.

22 Hans Kohn stresses the supra-historical stability of English nationalism, whose qualities developed as early as the 17th century, and whose religious and liberal character stemmed from the awareness of the common roots of political and religious freedom in England. According to Kohn, English nationalism, invariably emphasising individualism and placing the human community above national divisions, had a strong impact on the character of British 19th-century imperialism. Cf. Kohn, The Idea of Nationalism, pp. 178–179.

23 Donal Read, Edwardian England, (London: Harrap, 1972), pp. 15–16.

24 Cf. Roman Dmowski, Myśli nowoczesnego Polaka [Thoughts of a Modern Pole], (Kraków: Towarzystwo Wydawnicze, 1904). Dmowski quotes this view as characteristic of the anachronistic nature of Polish 19th-century national ideas and of how far they diverged from the realities of life. He ironically comments on the popular opinions that violence and treason as the foundations of Prussian policy must lead the German nation to a future catastrophe. While his criticism of the Polish national vices was accurate, in his views on the prophecies of the Romantics concerning the future of Germany – he was proved to have been wrong.

25 Quoted after: Eric J.Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism since 1780: Programme, Myth, Reality, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), pp. 12–14, cf. also: Anthony D. Smith, Nationalism and Modernism, (London: Routledge, 1998), p. 10.

26 Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalisms, p. 15.

27 Smith, Naional Identity, pp. 10–11.

28 Kornel Michałowski (ed.), Karol Szymanowski, Pisma muzyczne [Karol Szymanowski, Writings on Music], (Kraków: PWM, 1984), p. 40.

29 George B. Shaw, “The Future of British Music”, The Outlook, 19th July 1919. Quoted after: Louis Crompton (ed.), The Great Composers. Reviews and Bombardments by Bernard Shaw… (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978), pp. 360–361.

30 Ralph Vaughan Williams, National Music and other Essays, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), p. 4.

31 Cf. Michałowski (ed.), Karol Szymanowski, p. 61.

32 Michałowski (ed.), Karol Szymanowski, Teresa Chylińska (ed.) Karol Szymanowski, Pisma literackie [Karol Szymanowski, Literary Works], (Kraków: PWM, 1984).

33 Oxford University Press, London 1934. Two extended editions of the book were published after World War II, containing Vaughan Williams’s articles written both before and after 1934: National Music and Other Essays (OUP, Oxford 1963) and the second revised edition (under the same title), which included publications omitted from the 1963 version, printed over a period of fifty years (OUP, Oxford 1987).

34 Alain Frogley, “Constructing Englishness in music: national character and the reception of Ralph Vaughan Williams”, in: Alain Frogley (ed.), Vaughan Williams Studies, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp. 10–12.

35 Leon Plantinga, Romantic Music, (New York: Norton 1984), p. 400, quoted after: A. Frogley, “Constructing Englishness”, p. 7.

36 Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism, pp. 10–12. Hobsbawm defines this ‘down-up’ nationalism as ‘popular protonationalism’.

37 Cf. Hans Kohn, Reflections on Modern History, (Princeton: Van Nostrand Company, 1963), pp. 133–135.

38 England was most advanced in terms of urbanisation and industrialisation of all European countries at the turn of the 19th century. In 1914 only 14 % of the British population were employed in agriculture, while in Germany that figure amounted to 33 %, and in France – to 43 %. Source: Percy M. Young, A History of British Music, (London: Ernst Benn, 1967), p. 545.

39 Cf. Frogley, “Constructing Englishness”, p. 11.

40 Young, A History, p. 545.

41 The composer’s friend Bertrand Russell, a descendant of one of England’s most prominent aristocratic families, also had leftist views. A. Frogley emphasises that this peculiar synthesis of nationalism, socialism, and even imperialistic ideology corresponded very well to the ideological make-up of the British elite in the early 20th century (Cf, Frogley, “Constructing Englishness”, pp. 12–13). This opinion was also confirmed by Hans Kohn, who suggested that the specific character of the dominant type of insular socialism, different from parallel developments on the continent, was largely due to the strong impact of English nationalism on that ideology, cf. Kohn, The Idea of Nationalism, p. 178.

42 Quoted after: Hugh Cobbe, “Vaughan Williams, Germany, and the German tradition: a view from the letters”, in: Frogley (ed.), Vaughan Williams Studies, p. 83.

43 In 1897, several months after Brahms’s death, Vaughan Williams published an article which was an attempt to reconcile the followers of the two musical idols of that time – Brahms and Wagner – through a historical argument which aimed to prove that the two masters in fact represent separate disciplines of art and are therefore incomparable. The article presents Wagner’s work as the ultimate product of the historical development of the Romantic school. From Schubert and Weber to Schumann and further on, it was the rise of a new ‘musical-dramatic’ art that can no longer be referred to as ‘music’. Wagner brought this historical process to full fruition by bringing the new art to its proper home – to the theatre. Brahms, at the same time, remained faithful to the traditional art of music. Cf. Cobbe, “Vaughan Williams, Germany”, p. 83.

44 From a letter to Randolph Wedgwood, February 1898, quoted after: Cobbe, “Vaughan Williams, Germany”, p. 87.

45 Michael Kennedy, Preface to the 2nd edition of National Music and Other Essays, (Oxford: Oxford University Press 1987), p. VII.

46 On the other hand, Vaughan Williams was aware already then – as evident from his later statements –– of the major social importance of the awareness of one’s own native folklore for overcoming widespread conviction of the English people’s unmusical nature. Changes in social awareness were of crucial importance to the growth of England’s own school of composition.

47 Ursula Vaughan Williams, A Biography of Ralph Vaughan Williams, (Oxford: OUP, 1992), p. 80.

48 U. Vaughan Williams, A Biography, pp. 80–81.

49 This beautiful, nostalgically inspired piece was in fact composed for three string ensembles treated ‘polychorally’, and took advantage of the acoustics of Gloucester Cathedral.

50 RCM Magazine, Vol. IX, No. 1, 1912, quoted after: D. Manning (ed.), Vaughan Williams on Music, (Oxford: OUP, 2008), p. 41.

51 Quoted after Manning (ed.), Vaughan Williams on Music., p. 41.

52 Manning (ed.) Vaughan Williams on Music., p. 41.

53 Whitman was one of Vaughan Williams’s favourite poets. The latter was fascinated with Whitman’s glorification of the powerful rights of life and nature, his search for the transcendental in seemingly banal everyday situations (including observation of the streets of Manhattan), and Whitman’s ability to elevate the national element to a universal level. It is very likely that Vaughan Williams’s cultural nationalism was largely shaped by his contacts with the poetry of Whitman. Cf.: Byron Adams, “Scripture, Church and culture: biblical texts in the works of Ralph Vaughan Williams”, in: Frogley, (ed.) Vaughan Williams Studies, pp. 104–105.

54 R. Vaughan Williams, National Music, p. 154.

55 R. Vaughan Williams, National Music, p. 1.

56 This thesis can be corroborated by statements that come from Polish émigré composers – found e.g. in the memories of Alexandre Tansman, who claimed that childhood and adolescence, the cultural traditions the social environment in which one grew up, can never be erased from one’s mind. Konstanty Regamey spoke in similar terms when he confirmed his allegiance to Polish culture. Cf.: Zofia Helman, “Emigrees by Choice”, in: Musicology Today, Vol. 8, 2011, p. 12.

57 R. Vaughan Williams, National Music, pp. 23–24.

58 R. Vaughan Williams, National Music, p. 4.

59 R. Vaughan Williams, National Music, p. 4.

60 R. Vaughan Williams, National Music, pp. 2–3.

61 R. Vaughan Williams, National Music, p. 1.

62 The above discussed article of 1912 suggests that the key to the universal impact of music is the artistic class represented by the given artist. Those greatest and best known (universally acclaimed) have been closely connected with their respective national cultures. Cf.: U. Vaughan Williams, The Biography, p. 101.

63 R. Vaughan Williams, National Music, p. 122.

64 Frierdrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834), a German philosopher and theologist, was one of the most influential figures in the intellectual life of early German Romanticism. He is known as one of the precursors of modern hermeneutics as well as an advocate of the concept of parallelism between religion and the arts (especially music) as both lead human souls “to the infinite”. The Romantic metaphysics of absolute, autonomous music conceived as an expression of the “infinite” was also represented in works of some eminent German writers of the same generation: Ludwig Tieck and Wilhelm Heinrich Wackenroder. Cf: Carl Dahlhaus, “The Esthetics of Feeling and Metaphysics”, in: Dahlhaus, The Idea of Absolute Music, (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1989), pp. 64–66.

65 Byron Adams quotes Vaughan Williams recalling a conversation with his mother, in which he asked her what she thought about her famous uncle’s then highly controversial book. Her answer was evasive: “The Bible says that God made the world in six days, Great Uncle Charles thinks it took longer: but we need not worry about it, for it is equally wonderful either way.” Adams, “Scripture, Church and culture”, p. 101.

66 Teresa Chylińska (ed.) Karol Szymanowski, Pisma literackie [Karol Szymanowski, Literary Writings], (Kraków: PWM, 1989), pp. 136–137.

67 Chylińska (ed.) Karol Szymanowski, pp. 128–129.

68 Chylińska (ed.) Karol Szymanowski, Pisma literackie p. 129.

69 Zofia Helman, “Karol Szymanowski’s Songs in tne Literary and Musical Context of His Times”. In: The Songs of Karol Szymanowski and His Contemporaries, ed. Zofia Helman, Teresa Chylińska and Alistair Wightman, Los Angeles: Polish Music Center at University of Southern California, 2002, p. 6.

70 Chylińska (ed.) Karol Szymanowski, Pisma literackie p. 29.

71 Chylińska (ed.) Karol Szymanowski, Pisma literackie p. 129.

72 Chylińska (ed.) Karol Szymanowski, Pisma literackie. p. 193.

73 Chylińska (ed.), Karol Szymanowski, Pisma literackie, p. 208.

74 Chylińska (ed.), Karol Szymanowski, Pisma literackie, p. 209.

75 Chylińska (ed.), Karol Szymanowski, Pisma literackie, p. 209.

76 Chylińska (ed.), Karol Szymanowski, Pisma literackie, p. 209.

77 Michałowski (ed.), Karol Szymanowski, p. 60.

78 Szymanowski’s critical attitude to the 19th-century tendency to identify national character in music with folk arrangements has already been anticipated at the turn of the 19th century in statements by, among others, Zygmunt Noskowski, and particularly by Aleksander Poliński, who emphasised that the expression on “nationality in music” depends on convergence between the “internal mood” of the musical work and the “general mood of the folk’s music.” Cf. Magdalena Dziadek, Polska krytyka muzyczna w latach 1890– 1914. Koncepcje i zagadnienia [Polish Music Criticism in 1890– 1914. Concepts and Ideas], (Katowice: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Śląskiego, 2002), pp. 467–468.

79 As Zofia Helman aptly demonstrates, Szymanowski most likely understood the concept of ‘race’ in agreement with the 19th-century theory of Hippolyte Taine, as “a complex of permanent mental features, of predispositions and original qualities” which reach deeper than “the national character”. Cf. Z. Helman, “Dylemat muzyki polskiej XX wieku – styl narodowy czy wartości uniwersalne?”, [The Dilemma of Polish 20th-Century Music: A National Style or Universal Values?] in: Ana Czekanowska (ed.) Dziedzictwo europejskie a polska kultura muzyczna w dobie przemian [European Heritage and Polish Music Culture in the Age of Transformations], (Kraków: Musica Iagellonica, 2005), p. 181.

80 Michałowski (ed.), Karol Szymanowski, p. 40.

81 Michałowski (ed.), Karol Szymanowski, p. 41. Another author who wrote quite extensively about the “racial kinship” of the Slavic peoples and its musical consequences was Ludomir M. Rogowski, who believed in the Ur-Slavic rots of Polish culture. In the interwar period, his views seem to have been relatively the closest to Szymanowski’s statements as quoted above. Cf.: Ewa Wójtowicz, „‘Muzyka nie jest kosmopolityczna’ - Ludomira Michała Rogowskiego myśli o muzyce narodowej [“Music is not cosmopolitan” – Ludomir Michał Rogowski on national music], in: Skowron (ed.), Karol Szymanowski w perspektywie…, pp. 79–92.

82 Michałowski (ed.), Karol Szymanowski, p. 54.

83 Michałowski (ed.), Karol Szymanowski, p. 173. Leszek Polony aptly observes that: “Szymanowski never explained in any detail what he understood by ‘racial qualities’ and the ways they are manifested in music. In his aesthetics, these qualities play the role of an intangible, indefinable factor akin to the ‘absolute’ of the Romantics.” Cf. Leszek Polony, Polski kształt sporu o istotę muzyki [The Dispute Concerning the Essence of Music in Poland], (Kraków: Akademia Muzyczna, 1991), p. 213.

84 Michałowski (ed.), Karol Szymanowski, Pisma muzyczne, p. 451.

85 Michałowski (ed.), Karol Szymanowski, Pisma muzyczne, p. 456.

86 Michałowski (ed.), Karol Szymanowski, Pisma muzyczne, p. 371.

87 Michałowski (ed.), Karol Szymanowski, Pisma muzyczne, p. 269.

88 Michałowski (ed.), Karol Szymanowski, Pisma muzyczne, p. 378.

89 Michałowski (ed.), Karol Szymanowski, p. 152.

90 Michałowski (ed.), Karol Szymanowski, p. 155.

91 It transpires from the results of Levi’s research that in early 20th-century Great Britain slogans like “buy British” were also frequently applied to music. Cf.: Eric Levi, Those damn foreigners’ Xenophobia and British Musical Life During the First Half of the Twentieth Century”, in: Twentieth-Century Music and Politics, ed. P. Fairclough, (London and New York: Routledge, 2016), pp. 81–96.

92 “The attitude revealed here [i.e. in Szymanowski – author’s note] contrasts pleasantly with the tweedy chauvinism of Vaughan Williams”. In: Alistair Wightman, “Szymanowski’s Writing on Music – A Comparative Study”, Res facta No. 9, PWM 1982, p. 47.

93 Wightman, “Szymanowski’s Writing on Music” p. 47.

94 Kennedy, Preface, p. V.

95 Cobbe, “Vaughan Williams, Germany”, pp. 95–96.

96 Quoted after: Cobbe, “Vaughan Williams, Germany”, p. 95.

97 Cobbe, “Vaughan Williams, Germany”, p. 95.

98 Cobbe, “Vaughan Williams, Germany”, p. 96.

99 Quoted after: Cobbe, “Vaughan Williams, Germany”, pp. 95–96.

100 F. Howes, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians, London 1975, Vol. VII p. 700. Ernest Gellner describes this type of nationalism as ‘universal’. Cf. Gellner, Nations, p. 1.