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The Search for Medieval Music in Africa and Germany, 1891-1961

Scholars, Singers, Missionaries

This innovative book reassesses the history of musicology, unearthing the field’s twentieth-century German and global roots. In the process, Anna Maria Busse Berger exposes previously unseen historical relationships such as those between the modern rediscovery of medieval music, the rise of communal singing, and the ways in which African music intersected with missionary work in the German colonial period. Ultimately, Busse Berger offers a monumental new account of the early twentieth-century music culture in Germany and East Africa.

​The book unfolds in three parts. Busse Berger starts with the origins of comparative musicology circa 1900, when early proponents used ideas from comparative linguistics to test whether parallels could be drawn between nonwestern and medieval European music. She then turns to youth movements of the era—the Wandervogel, Jugendmusikbewegung, and Singbewegung—whose focus on joint music making influenced many musicologists. Finally, she considers case studies of Protestant and Catholic mission societies in what is now Tanzania, where missionaries—many of them musicologists and former youth-group members—extended the discipline via ethnographic research and a focus on local music and communities. In highlighting these long-overlooked transnational connections and the role of global music in early musicology, Busse Berger shapes a fresh conception of music scholarship during a pivotal part of the twentieth century.

360 pages | 25 halftones, 12 musical examples, 2 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2020

New Material Histories of Music

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

History: African History, European History

Music: Ethnomusicology, General Music


"Berger crafts a rich, nuanced analysis of a foundational moment in the making of modern musical thought... The author’s scrupulous account of events, based on the painstaking review of an enormous body of archival material, makes for a dizzyingly complex history. Her book charts multiple paths, and heightening its drama are the circumstances of colonial occupation in which events unfold."

Music and Letters

"[A] pioneering account of early 20th-century musical culture in Germany and East Africa. . . . [Busse Berger's] book opens up a host of new opportunities to combine historical musicology with ethnomusicology, to study structures of musical knowledge, and to take us in new directions which will ultimately make musicology more diverse, equal and inclusive."

Early Music

"There is much to learn from Busse Berger’s authoritative musical expertise and extensive archival research. Global historians, Europeanists, and Africanists will learn about a largely forgotten chapter of twentieth-century history in this imaginatively conceived work."

Central European History

"One can see how the book describes people, thoughts and positions in the Germany of the first half of the twentieth century (including its colony in East Africa) in a stirring way and thus leads into the middle of the ramified discussions about the foundations of musicology. Anyone interested in the subject will read the book with profit."

Die Musikforschung

"Busse Berger sheds light on the long overlooked transnational contexts and the role of of global music in early musicology and shapes a new conception of musicological research in a crucial part of the 20th century.”

Zeitschrift für Missionswissenschaft and Religionswissenchaft

"A wide-ranging work that uncovers layers of reciprocal influence between comparative musicology, early music historiography, the culture of the Jugendmusik- und Singbewegung, and German missionaries in Africa."

H-Net Reviews

"The book presents an exciting and completely new view of early and mid twentieth-century music history, placing the focus again and again on the search for medieval music, combining it with African music, with questions of how this search was realized by missionaries, as well as by amateur singers and musicians. In the end, [Busse Berger] uncovers completely new connections."


"Busse Berger's book should, above all, be read by every musicologist. It is, after all, a work about the fascinating and difficult beginnings of comparative musicology, but also of musicology in general as a scientific discipline that was slowly finding its place among other fields of study that had long been well established in universities."

Res Facta Nova

“Meticulously researched and engagingly written, The Search for Medieval Music in Germany and Africa, 1891–1961 eschews glib appeals to globalism for focused accounts of three topics: European medieval music and its supposed parallels with non-Western (specifically African) music; antimodernist ideologies and a longing for participatory music; and the need to save the souls of contemporary others living far away. Reflecting the respective concerns of comparative musicologists, youth movements, and missionaries to East Africa, these three inquiries turn out to be mutually reinforcing, sometimes in surprising ways. Busse Berger’s labors in various archives, her nuanced and judicious readings, and her consistent focus on human agency even while acknowledging the shaping forces of various institutions make this a timely, original, and inspiring book.”

Kofi Agawu, The Graduate Center, City University of New York

The Search for Medieval Music in Africa and Germany, 1891–1961 presents a largely unknown or underrated history of African-European interactions in music. Brilliantly researched and full of surprising new data from the history of African missions, it is a unique, necessary, and exhilarating contribution. Busse Berger has collected an immense amount of original scholarly material and presents it with stunning directness and immediacy. This book is a mind-blowing experience for anyone interested in global musical history.”

Reinhard Strohm, University of Oxford

The Search for Medieval Music in Africa and Germany, 1891–1961 explores connections between musical scholarship and music making in Germany. The book is engagingly written and will stimulate readers to further reflection on motivations and uses of musical scholarship. Busse Berger offers an original and valuable approach to research on the intellectual and social history of musicology as well as an important contribution to the history of German missions in East Africa.”

Stephen Blum, The Graduate Center, City University of New York

"Anna Maria Busse Berger’s fascinating book, The Search for Medieval Music in Africa and Germany, 1891–1961, ranges across continents, disciplines, and cultures. It is an exemplar of histoire croisé, one of the most productive approaches to international history over the last decades . . . This is an eminently scholarly book, combining clear prose and abundant information about the careers of many people. Combined with extraordinary archival research on three continents and multidisciplinary expertise, it makes important contributions to German, global, and music history."

Journal of Modern History

"As medievalist Anna Maria Busse Berger shows in her compelling, original, and thought-provoking book, the quest for medieval music that captivated German musicologists, performers, and missionaries in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was not limited geographically and intellectually to their homeland, but extended to Germany’s colonies, especially to those in Africa . . . The book’s rich ma-
terial and interdisciplinary scope, undergirded by meticulous archival
research, will thus be of value not only for music scholars, but also for
readers affiliated with German studies, theology, and missiology."

Journal of the American Musicological Society

"Busse Berger’s examination of scholarship about and in Africa, occasionally by African scholars, suggests the way forward for a less-blinkered musicological discipline. The historiography in this examination makes it a critical read for musicologists, but the book is also very much of interest to the general humanist."

German Studies Review

Table of Contents

List of Figures

Part I: The Search for the Origins of Music: Comparative Musicology

1. Comparative Musicology and Comparative Linguistics
2. Erich Moritz von Hornbostel
3. Marius Schneider
4. Georg Schünemann
5. Two Crossover Musicologists: Jacques Handschin and Manfred Bukofzer
6. Nicholas G. J. Ballanta

Part II: Bringing Medieval Music to Life: Jugendmusik- and Singbewegung

7. The First Performances of Medieval Music and the Historians Behind Them
8. The Jugendmusik- and Singbewegung: Ideology, Leaders, and Publishers

Part III: Music in the German Mission Stations in East Africa: Some Case Studies

9. A History of the Missions
10. The Moravians
11. The Leipzig Mission
12. The Bethel Mission
13. The Catholic Missionsbenediktiner St. Ottilien

Cast of Characters


Society for Ethnomusicology: Bruno Nettl Prize

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