Welcome to the launch for Nanette Nielsen’s book «Paul Bekker’s Musical Ethics»
The book launch will include a panel discussion on the topic:
‘Staging morality in the 1920s and 2020s: should opera be political?’
Panel speakers include: Peter Edwards (University of Oslo), Peter Franklin (University of Oxford), Sarah Hibberd (University of Bristol). The event is introduced and moderated by Hallgjerd Aksnes (University of Oslo).
When and how should opera be a tool for moral and/or political expression? What might contemporary opera directors learn from the past? While working as an opera director in the Weimar Republic between the two World Wars, the German-Jewish music critic and public intellectual Paul Bekker claimed that he did not present works on the stage with the purpose of serving particular political perspectives. In the politically turbulent period of his time, this may have been a wise move: perhaps it was due to this explicit distancing to politics that Bekker in 1932 – amidst the powerful rise of Nazism – managed to stage works that had been met with significant Nazi protests, and that other opera producers did not dare touch. An expression of his musical ethics, Bekker’s stance for opera was all about enabling what he saw as music’s ‘socially forming force’, its power to unify the German people in a society which needed to pick itself up in the aftermath of World War I. Forced to flee the country in the face of Nazism due to his Jewish ancestry, Bekker’s ‘ethical project’ in the end, however, did not succeed.
The purpose of this panel is to discuss the extent to which contemporary opera enthusiasts might find the example of Paul Bekker instructive for opera’s moral and political engagement today. Like in the 1920s, today’s Western world is politically fragmented, alienated, and constantly on the brink of several wars and disasters, financially, technologically, and environmentally. What are the moral ‘oughts’ and ‘shoulds’ in relation to opera’s engagement in such matters?
Nanette Nielsen is Associate Professor at the University of Oslo. She works on music and philosophy, especially intersections between ethics and aesthetics, on opera and music criticism in the Weimar republic, and on Scandinavian music and culture. Her publications include Music and Ethics (2012), co-authored with Marcel Cobussen, the article 'Ernst Krenek's "problem of freedom" in Jonny spielt auf' (Twentieth-Century Music, 2013) - for which she won the 2014 Jerome Roche Prize - the Oxford Handbook of Western Music and Philosophy, co-edited with Jerrold Levinson and Tomas McAuley, and the newly published monograph Paul Bekker’s Musical Ethics (Routledge, October 2017). Future projects include the monograph The Sense of Music: Phenomenology, Hermeneutics, and Embodiment (under contract with Routledge).