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Singing in the Age of Anxiety

Lieder Performances in New York and London between the World Wars

In New York and London during World War I, the performance of lieder—German art songs—was roundly prohibited, representing as they did the music and language of the enemy. But as German musicians returned to the transatlantic circuit in the 1920s, so too did the songs of Franz Schubert, Hugo Wolf, and Richard Strauss. Lieder were encountered in a variety of venues and media—at luxury hotels and on ocean liners, in vaudeville productions and at Carnegie Hall, and on gramophone recordings, radio broadcasts, and films. 

Laura Tunbridge explores the renewed vitality of this refugee musical form between the world wars, offering a fresh perspective on a period that was pervaded by anxieties of displacement. Through richly varied case studies, Singing in the Age of Anxiety traces how lieder were circulated, presented, and consumed in metropolitan contexts, shedding new light on how music facilitated unlikely crossings of nationalist and internationalist ideologies during the interwar period.

256 pages | 13 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2018

History: American History, British and Irish History, History of Technology

Music: General Music


“This beautifully written book considers an intriguing juncture in music history . . . . Tunbridge brings exemplary scholarship and a warmly-accessible prose style to the book, making this a fascinating, hopeful study of how the ‘musical refugee’ of Lieder found unexpected shelter during anxious times. . . . Four stars.”

BBC Music Magazine

“[The book] doesn’t concentrate on what are usually thought of as the main musical issues of the twentieth century: the developments of big institutions, modernism, and popular music. Its interest and achievement are to show how a quintessentially Austro-German art form, grounded in the German language and deeply implicated in both German nationalism and German Romanticism, was transmitted into the late twentieth century and beyond, to become in the LP age the hallmark of cosmopolitan and civilized music-making. . . . Tunbridge's tracing of the ups and downs of lieder singing in translation is subtle and extensive.”

The New York Review of Books

“Within her tight focus on a particular musical form as performed in two cities over three decades, Tunbridge conveys a remarkable wealth of cultural history alongside the main narrative, which traces the evolving reception of German art songs by English-speaking audiences from WWI to the aftermath of WWII. . . . Recommended.”


“Laura Tunbridge’s fascinating new book gives us a biography of German art song in troubled times. Her theme is a musical repertoire that, perhaps against the odds, proved remarkably patient of interpretation, adapting readily to new technologies and new ways of seeing the world. Her cast of characters, always sensitively drawn, comprises a fascinating miscellany of transatlantic musicians — of working men and women trying by means of their art to make sense of a perilous age.”

Roger Parker, King’s College London

“In this important and beautifully written book, we learn much about the changing state of lieder performance between the two world wars, with mass media and the uses of song in cultural diplomacy all playing their roles in a shifting landscape. We discover fascinating tales of canon formation, of the venues and clubs and societies devoted to this small Romantic genre, of the singers who crossed the Atlantic between New York and London to offer German song to a variety of audiences, of the roles of radio broadcast shows in offering lieder to middle-brow listeners, and much, much more. From programming aboard ocean liners to the Schubert centenary in 1928, there are riches galore here, all of it connected by Tunbridge’s analyses of the dual workings of anxiety and civilization in the story of this genre. I repeat: this is an important book.”

Susan Youens, University of Notre Dame

"There seems to be no end to what the history of performance can teach us about ourselves, musicians and music, and the social, cultural and political world in which we live. This is beautifully demonstrated in Tunbridge's recent study of Lieder performance from the 1920s to the 1950s. . . . The style is immensely readable and lucid. The study is richly referenced, both from the scholarly and general literature. Altogether, this book reminded me of how the music we love retains its hold on us, notwithstanding tumultuous socio-political, technological, and other changes; its relevance cannot be overestimated at a time when the issue of national identity as defined by exclusion once more rears its ugly head."

Fontes Artis Musicae

"Auch kleine Dinge können teuer sein” (Even little things can be precious). Tunbridge takes this motto to heart in her masterful study, in which she considers the performance of Romantic German lieder in various contexts and in conjunction with new technologies in the two cities between the 1910s and 1940s... With this book, Tunbridge offers a valuable new approach to the contextual study of art song that should appeal not only to musicologists and historians, but to performing musicians and general readers interested in the genre and interwar culture."

Jennifer Ronyak | Transposition

"...exhibits meticulous and thorough research drawn from a diverse array of primary sources and an impressive range of secondary sources related to early sound recording, mass communication, modernism, cosmopolitanism, and internationalism, in addition to the appropriate musicological ones. This highly engaging book, artfully organized and written, is particularly valuable for its juxtaposition of the anecdotal with the general and the personal with larger cultural trends."

Michelle Meinhart | Notes

"Tunbridge recaptures in high definition an era of possibility for the lied, a genre marked by its closeness, its sense of authenticity, and, perhaps most important for the interwar period, its nostalgia."

Twentieth Century Music

"...Singing in the Age of Anxiety is a remarkable achievement. LauraTunbridge handles her complex and diverse material with dexterity and nuance, and in the process opens up new vistas on music history during the interwar years."

Music and Letters

"Tunbridge has provided us with a wonderfully-written, thought-provoking book whose topics are, as she states in her introduction, wide-ranging. . . . her depiction of the era. . . is invaluable for deepening our understanding of the political, economic, and cultural networks that [Strauss] traversed."

Richard Strauss-Jahrbuch 2018

Table of Contents

Introduction An Anxious Age
One Transatlantic Arrivals
Two Languages of Listening
Three Lieder Society
Four Saving Music

Selected Bibliography

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