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Sound Diplomacy

Music and Emotions in Transatlantic Relations, 1850-1920

Sound Diplomacy

Music and Emotions in Transatlantic Relations, 1850-1920

The German-American relationship was special long before the Cold War; it was rooted not simply in political actions, but also long-term traditions of cultural exchange that date back to the nineteenth century. Between 1850 and 1910, the United States was a rising star in the international arena, and several European nations sought to strengthen their ties to the republic by championing their own cultures in America. While France capitalized on its art and Britain on its social ties and literature, Germany promoted its particular breed of classical music.
Delving into a treasure trove of archives that document cross-cultural interactions between America and Germany, Jessica Gienow-Hecht retraces these efforts to export culture as an instrument of nongovernmental diplomacy, paying particular attention to the role of conductors, and uncovers the remarkable history of the musician as a cultural symbol of German cosmopolitanism. Considered sexually attractive and emotionally expressive, German players and conductors acted as an army of informal ambassadors for their home country, and Gienow-Hecht argues that their popularity in the United States paved the way for an emotional elective affinity that survived broken treaties and several wars and continues to the present.

352 pages | 24 halftones, 6 line drawings | 6 x 9 | © 2009

History: American History, European History

Music: General Music


“This is an outstanding history of the coming together of Germans and Americans through music that adds tremendously to our knowledge of international and cross-cultural relations at a crucial moment in history: the first phase of globalization. Historians of that process have yet to examine either classical music or the emotional experiences it produced, and so Gienow-Hecht’s excellent book will be widely hailed as a major contribution.”

Akira Iriye, Harvard University

“Jessica Gienow-Hecht’s book is an exciting contribution to the expanding field of transnational history. She breaks new ground by placing music in the context of an intersectional and multifaceted history of American-German relations in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Going beyond existing histories of cultural transmission which have focused on the role of government, she stresses the critical role of informal networks and personal relationships in the development of an elective affinity between Americans, Germans, and an idealized concept of German music.”

Toby Thacker, Cardiff University

“Gienow-Hecht has put back in motion hosts of musicians—and their admirers—who once traveled back and forth across the Atlantic in the service of musical culture. Her theoretically astute, thematically wide-ranging, and socially inclusive account of German-American relations with a symphonic soundtrack is a great read. Gienow-Hecht gives us a highly original analysis of the emotional dimensions of cultural internationalism and proves herself a discerning but sympathetic critic of the many claims people have made for the universality of music, especially the Austro-German tradition. Music may not be able to change society or to instill universal brotherhood, but its capacity to evoke an awareness of subjective states and social bonds receives its due in this wonderful book.”

Celia Applegate, University of Rochester

“With an enthralling narrative based on prodigious research, Jessica Gienow-Hecht demonstrates how central German symphonic music became to Americans’ anxious claims to possess high culture in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. But as she also reveals, the music welcomed as German did not particularly serve the German state. Her fascinating study leaves us with the question of what relationship a powerful culture has to cultural power.”

Charles S. Maier, Harvard University

Sound Diplomacy is a richly suggestive book. It documents the international exchange of ideas and people that created musical life in America in the nineteenth century. Insightfully interweaving diplomatic and cultural history, Gienow-Hecht offers fresh insights into nationalism and politics, art and enterprise while never forgetting that listening to music is a deeply emotional experience. Gienow-Hecht takes down the fences that have parceled up the discipline. It is an impressive achievement.”

David Monod, Wilfrid Laurier University

"Undertaking an impressive, exhaustive examination of German and American archives and private collections, and covering major American orchestras and their associations from East Coast to West, Gienow-Hecht has written an absorbing transnational scholarly study of the ’elective affinity’ between Germany and America through German musical culture. . . . Each of the seven elegantly written, well-documented chapters delineates social, cultural institutions and informal networking that helped shape the transatlantic affinity. . . . This is a model of interdisciplinary work."—Choice


“[A] compelling example of transnational cultural history. . . . Sound Diplomacy delivers a wonderfully rich story of the cross-cultural influences on late nineteenth-century American musical life, in no small part because of the author’s impressive mining of an extensive archival record.”

German Studies Review

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations



1    Transatlantic Cultural Relations before World War I   

2    Music, Magic, and Emotions   

3    The Houseguests: Rooted Cosmopolitans   

4    American Hosts   

5    Love Affairs: Audiences and Programs   

6    Musical Patriotism and the Fear of Europe   

7    Facing the Music in World War I   








Choice Magazine: CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title Awards

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