Musical nationalism

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Musical nationalism refers to the use of musical ideas or motifs that are identified with a specific country, region, or ethnicity, such as folk tunes and melodies, rhythms, and harmonies inspired by them.


As a musical movement, nationalism emerged early in the 19th century in connection with political independence movements, and was characterized by an emphasis on national musical elements such as the use of folk songs, folk dances or rhythms, or on the adoption of nationalist subjects for operas, symphonic poems, or other forms of music (Kennedy 2006). As new nations were formed in Europe, nationalism in music was a reaction against the dominance of the mainstream European classical tradition as composers started to separate themselves from the standards set by Italian, French, and especially German traditionalists (Miles n.d.).[unreliable source]

More precise considerations of the point of origin are a matter of some dispute. One view holds that it began with the war of liberation against Napoleon, leading to a receptive atmosphere in Germany for Weber's opera Der Freischütz (1821) and, later, Richard Wagner's epic dramas based on Teutonic legends. At around the same time, Poland's struggle for freedom from Czarist Russia produced a nationalist spirit in the piano works and orchestral compositions such as Chopin's Fantasy on Polish Airs and slightly later Italy's aspiration to independence from Austria resonated in many of the operas of Giuseppe Verdi (Machlis 1979, 125–26). Countries or regions most commonly linked to musical nationalism include Russia, Czech Republic, Poland, Romania, Hungary, Scandinavia, Spain, the United Kingdom, Latin America and the United States.


Jan Stefani[edit]

Jan Stefani [pl] (1746–1829) composed the Singspiel Cud mniemany, czyli Krakowiacy i górali (The Supposed Miracle, or the Cracovians and the Highlanders), which premiered in 1794 and contains krakowiaks, polonaises, and mazurkas that were adopted as if they were Polish folk music by audiences at the 1816 revival with new music by Karol Kurpiński (Goldberg 2008, 231–32). The suggestive lyrics of many of the songs could scarcely have been interpreted by the Polish audiences at the verge of the outbreak of the Kościuszko Uprising as anything other than a call for revolution, national unity, and independence (Milewski 1999, 129–30). In this sense, despite his obscurity today, Stefani must be regarded as a precursor and founder of nineteenth-century musical nationalism.

Frédéric Chopin[edit]

Frédéric Chopin (1810–1849) was one of the first composers to incorporate nationalistic elements into his compositions. Joseph Machlis states, "Poland's struggle for freedom from tsarist rule aroused the national poet in Poland. ... Examples of musical nationalism abound in the output of the romantic era. The folk idiom is prominent in the Mazurkas of Chopin" (Machlis 1963, 149–50). His mazurkas and polonaises are particularly notable for their use of nationalistic rhythms. Moreover, "During World War II the Nazis forbade the playing of ... Chopin's Polonaises in Warsaw because of the powerful symbolism residing in these works" (Machlis 1963, 150).

Stanisław Moniuszko[edit]

Stanisław Moniuszko (1819–1872) has become associated above all with the concept of a national style in opera. Moniuszko's opera and music as a whole is representative of 19th-century romanticism, given the extensive use by the composer of arias, recitatives and ensembles that feature strongly in his operas. The source of Moniuszko's melodies and rhythmic patterns often lies in Polish musical folklore. One of the most visibly Polish aspects of his music is in the forms he uses, including dances popular among upper classes such as polonaise and mazurka, and folk tunes and dances such as kujawiak and krakowiak.

Henryk Wieniawski[edit]

Henryk Wieniawski (1835–1880) was another important composer using Polish folk melodies—he wrote several mazurkas for solo violin and piano accompaniment, one of which being the popular "Obertass" in G major.


Giuseppe Verdi[edit]

Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1901) would instill a sense of nationalism in his music.[when?] This is evident in Nabucco with the lyrics, "Oh mia Patria sì bella e perduta (Oh my Fatherland so beautiful and lost!)!"[citation needed] "Viva VERDI" would also be written as a way to support Italian unification. This translates to Viva Vittorio Emanuele Re d'Italia (Long Live Victor Emmanuel King of Italy) in support of King Vittorio Emmanuele II of the Kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont.[citation needed]


Mikhail Glinka[edit]

Mikhail Glinka (1804–1857) was a Russian composer.

The Mighty Five[edit]

The Mighty Five (also known as the Mighty Handful and the New Russian School) were five prominent 19th-century Russian composers who worked together to create a distinct Russian classical music: Mily Balakirev (the leader), César Cui, Modest Mussorgsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Borodin.

Czech Republic[edit]

Bedřich Smetana[edit]

Bedřich Smetana (1824–1884) pioneered the development of a musical style which became closely identified with his country's aspirations to independent statehood. He is widely regarded in his homeland as the father of Czech music. He is best known for the symphonic cycle Má vlast ("My Homeland"), which portrays the history, legends and landscape of his native land.

Antonín Dvořák[edit]

After Smetana, Antonín Dvořák (1841–1904) was the second Czech composer to achieve worldwide recognition. Following Smetana's nationalist example, Dvořák frequently employed aspects, specifically rhythms, of the folk music of Moravia and his native Bohemia. Dvořák's own style creates a national idiom by blending elements of the classical symphonic tradition and extraneous popular musical traditions, absorbing folk influences and finding effective ways of using them. Dvořák also wrote nine operas, which, other than his first, have librettos in Czech and were intended to convey Czech national spirit, as were some of his choral works.

Leoš Janáček[edit]

Leoš Janáček (1854–1928) was a Czech composer, musical theorist, folklorist, publicist and teacher.

Bohuslav Martinů[edit]

Bohuslav Martinů (1890–1959) is compared with Prokofiev and Bartók in his innovative incorporation of Central European ethnomusicology into his music.[citation needed] He continued to use Bohemian and Moravian folk melodies throughout his oeuvre, usually nursery rhymes—for instance in Otvírání studánek ("The Opening of the Wells").


Edvard Grieg[edit]

Edvard Grieg (1843–1907) was an important Romantic era composer whose music helped establish a Norwegian national identity (Grimley 2006,[page needed]).


Jean Sibelius[edit]

Jean Sibelius (1865–1957) had strong patriotic feelings for Finland. He composed Finlandia.[clarification needed]


Hugo Alfvén[edit]

Hugo Alfvén (1872–1960) studied at the music conservatory in his hometown, Stockholm. In addition to being a violinist, conductor, and composer, he was also a painter. He is perhaps best known for his five symphonies and three Swedish Rhapsodies.[citation needed]


Niels Gade[edit]

Niels Gade (1817–1890) was a Danish composer, conductor, violinist, organist and teacher.

Carl Nielsen[edit]

Carl Nielsen (1865–1931) was a Danish composer, conductor and violinist.


George Enescu[edit]

George Enescu (1881–1955) is considered Romania's most important composer (Malcolm and Sandu-Dediu 2015). Amongst his best-known compositions are his two Romanian Rhapsodies and his Violin Sonata No. 3 (in Romanian Folk Style), Op. 25.


Béla Bartók[edit]

Béla Bartók (1881–1945) collaborated with fellow Hungarian composer Zoltán Kodály to document Hungarian folk music, which they both incorporated in their musical pieces (Stevens 2016).

Zoltán Kodály[edit]

Zoltán Kodály (1882–1967) studied at the Academy of Music in Hungary and had an interest Hungarian folk songs and would often take prolonged trips to the Hungarian countryside to study the melodies which were then incorporated into his music compositions (Anon. 2014).


Isaac Albéniz[edit]

Isaac Albéniz (1860–1909) was a Spanish virtuoso pianist, composer, and conductor.

Enrique Granados[edit]

Enrique Granados (1867–1916) composed his work Goyescas (1911) based on the etchings of the Spanish painter, Goya.[clarification needed] Also of a national style are his Danzas españolas and his first opera María del Carmen.[citation needed]

Manuel de Falla[edit]

Manuel de Falla (1876–1946) was a Spanish composer.

Joaquín Turina[edit]

Joaquín Turina (1882–1949) was a Spanish composer.

Joaquín Rodrigo[edit]

oaquín Rodrigo (1901–1999) was a Spanish composer and a virtuoso pianist.


A nationalistic renascence in the arts was produced by the Mexican Revolution of 1910–1920. Álvaro Obregón's regime, inaugurated in 1921, provided a large budget for the Secretariat of Public Education, under the direction of José Vasconcelos, who commissioned paintings for public buildings from artists such as José Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera, and David Alfaro Siqueiros. As part of this ambitious programme, Vasconcelos also commissioned musical compositions on nationalistic themes. One of the first such works was the Aztec-themed ballet El fuego nuevo (The New Fire) by Carlos Chávez, composed in 1921 but not performed until 1928 (Parker 1983, 3–4).

Manuel M. Ponce[edit]

Manuel M. Ponce (1882–1948) was a composer, educator and scholar of Mexican music. Among his works are the lullaby La Rancherita (1907), Scherzerino Mexicana (1909) composed in the style of sones and huapangos, Rapsodía Mexicana, No 1 (1911) based on the jarabe tapatío, and the romantic ballad Estrellita (1912).

Carlos Chávez[edit]

Carlos Chávez (1899–1978) was a Mexican composer, conductor, educator, journalist, and founder and director of the Mexican Symphonic Orchestra and the National Institute of Fine Arts (INBA). Some of his music was influenced by indigenous Mexican cultures. A period of nationalistic leanings initiated in 1921 with the Aztec-themed ballet El fuego nuevo (The New Fire), followed by a second ballet, Los cuatro soles (The Four Suns), in 1925.


Carlos Gomes[edit]

The most representative composer of Brazilian romanticism, Carlos Gomes (1836–1896) used several references from the country's folk music and traditional themes, chiefly in his opera Il Guarany (1870).

Heitor Villa-Lobos[edit]

Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887–1959) traveled extensively throughout Brazil in his youth and recorded folksongs and tunes that he later used in his series Bachianas Brasileiras[citation needed] and all of his Chôros[citation needed] (amongst them, his Chôros No. 10, subtitled Rasga o coração after the song with words by Catulo da Paixão Cearense and music by Anacleto de Madeiros, which Villa-Lobos quotes in the second half of this choral-orchestral piece, which employs native percussion).

Francisco Mignone[edit]

Francisco Mignone (1897–1986) incorporated folk rhythms and instruments into his suites Fantasias Brasileiras nos.1–4 (1929–1936), his 12 Brazilian Waltzes (1968–1979), Congada (1921) and Babaloxá (1936), besides composing ballets based on major literary works from Brazilian literature.

United Kingdom[edit]

Joseph Parry[edit]

Joseph Parry (1841–1903) was born in Wales, but moved to the United States as a child. In his adulthood, he traveled between Wales and America, and performed Welsh songs and glees with Welsh texts in recitals. He composed the first Welsh opera, Blodwen, in 1878 (Rhys 1998,[page needed]).

Alexander Mackenzie[edit]

Alexander Mackenzie (1847–1935) wrote a Highland Ballad for violin and orchestra (1893), and the Scottish Concerto for piano and orchestra (1897). He also composed the Canadian Rhapsody. In his life, MacKenzie witnessed both the survivals of Jacobite culture, and the Red Clydeside Era. His music is heavily influenced by Jacobite art (White and Murphy 2001, 224–25).

Charles Villiers Stanford[edit]

Charles Villiers Stanford (1852–1924) wrote five Irish Rhapsodies (1901–1914). He published volumes of Irish folk song arrangements, and his third symphony is titled the Irish symphony. In addition to being heavily influenced by Irish culture and folk music, he was particularly influenced by Johannes Brahms (White n.d., 205).

Edward Elgar[edit]

Edward Elgar (1857–1934) is best known for the Pomp and Circumstance Marches[clarification needed] (Moore 1984,[page needed]).

Ralph Vaughan Williams[edit]

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872–1958) collected, published, and arranged many folksongs from across the country, and wrote many pieces, large and small scale, based on folk melodies, such as the Fantasia on Greensleeves and the Five Variants on "Dives and Lazarus. Vaughan Williams helped define musical nationalism, writing that "The art of music above all the other arts is the expression of the soul of a nation" (Vaughan Williams 1934, 123).

United States[edit]

Edward MacDowell[edit]

Edward MacDowell (1860–1908)'s Woodland Sketches, op. 51 (1896) consists of ten short piano pieces bearing titles referring to the American landscape. In this way, they make a claim to MacDowell's identity as an American composer (Crawford 1996, 542).

Horatio Parker[edit]

Horatio Parker (1863–1919) was an American composer, organist and teacher.

Charles Ives[edit]

Charles Ives (1874–1954) was an American modernist composer, being one of the first American composers of international renown.

Aaron Copland[edit]

Ironically, Aaron Copland (1900–1990) composed "Mexican" music such as El Salón México in addition to his American nationalist works (Piston 1961, 25).


In Ukraine the term "Music nationalism" (Ukrainian: музичний націоналізм) was coined by Stanyslav Lyudkevych in 1905 (Hrabovsky 2009,[page needed]). The article under this title is devoted to Mykola Lysenko who is considered to be the father of Ukrainian classical music. Ludkevych concludes that Lysenko's nationalism was inspired by those of Glinka in Russian music, though western tradition, particularly German, is still significant in his music, especially instrumental.

V. Hrabovsky assumes that Stanyslav Lyudkevych himself could be considered as significant nationalistic composer and musicologist thanks to his numerous composition under Ukraine-devoted titles as well as numerous paper devoted to use of Ukrainian folk songs and poetry in Ukrainian classical music (Lyudkevych 1905).

Inspiration by Ukrainian folklore could be observed even earlier, particularly in compositions by Maksym Berezovsky (1745–1777) (Kornii 1998, 188), Dmytro Bortnyansky (1751–1825) (Kornii 1998, 296), and Artem Vedel (1767–1808) (Kornii 1998, 311). Semen Hulak-Artemovsky (1813–1873) is considered to be the author of the first Ukrainian opera (Zaporozhets za Dunayem, premièred in 1863). Lysenko's traditions were continued by, among others, Kyrylo Stetsenko (1882–1922), Mykola Leontovych (1877–1921), Yakiv Stepovy (1883–1921), Alexander Koshetz (1877–1944), and later, Levko Revutsky (1889–1977).

At the same time the term "nationalism" is not used in Ukrainian musicology (see for example Yutsevych 2009, where such term is missing). Moreover, the article "Music Nationalism" by Ludkevych was prohibited in the USSR (Hrabovsky 2009,[page needed]) and was not widely known until its publication in 1999 (Lyudkevych 1999).


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Further reading[edit]

  • Apel, Willi. 1968. Harvard Dictionary of Music. Boston: Harvard University Press.
  • Applegate, Celia. 1998. 'How German Is It? Nationalism and the Idea of Serious Music in the Early Nineteenth Century', 19th-Century Music, 21, no. 3 (Spring): 274–96.
  • Castellanos, Pablo. 1969. El nacionalismo musical en México. México, D. F.: Seminario de Cultura Mexicana.
  • Dibble, Jeremy. 1997. "Musical Nationalism in Ireland in the Twentieth Century: Complexities and Contradictions". In Music and Nationalism in 20th-century Great Britain and Finland, edited by Tomi Mäkelä, 133–144. Hamburg: Bockel. ISBN 3-928770-99-3.
  • Eichner, Barbara. 2012. History in Mighty Sounds. Musical Constructions of German National Identity, 1848–1914. Woodbridge: Boydell. ISBN 9781843837541.
  • Garmendia Paesky, Emma. 2007. "El nacionalismo musical de Alberto Williams en sus obras para piano: Milonga, vidalita y huella". Inter-American Music Review 17, nos. 1–2 (Summer): 293–306.
  • Grout, Donald J. 1960. A History of Western Music. New York: W. W. Norton.
  • Hebert, D. G. & Kertz-Welzel, A. (Eds.). 2012. Patriotism and Nationalism in Music Education. Aldershot: Ashgate Press.
  • Kolt, Robert Paul. 2009. Robert Ward's The Crucible: Creating an American Musical Nationalism. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press. ISBN 0-8108-6350-2.
  • Labonville, Marie Elizabeth. 2007. Juan Bautista Plaza and Musical Nationalism in Venezuela. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-34876-5.
  • Leersen, Joep (ed.). 2018. Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe, 2 vols. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press. ISBN 9789462981188, online here.
  • Limón, José Eduardo. 2011. "'This Is Our Música, Guy!': Tejanos and Ethno/Regional Musical Nationalism". In Transnational Encounters: Music and Performance at the U.S.-Mexico Border, edited by Alejandro L. Madrid, 111–28. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-973592-1 (cloth); ISBN 0-19-973593-X (pbk).
  • Milin, Melita. 2004. "Socialist Realism as an Enforced Renewal of Musical Nationalism". In Socialist Realism and Music, edited by Mikuláš Bek, Geoffrey Chew, and Petr Macek, 39–43. Proceedings of the 36th Brněnské Hudebněvědné Kolokvium (2001), Brno. Prague: kpk: Koniasch Latin Press. ISBN 80-86791-18-1. Poland".
  • Murphy, Michael. 2001. "Moniuszko and Musical Nationalism". In Musical Constructions of Nationalism: Essays on the History and Ideology of European Musical Culture, 1800–1945, edited by Harry M. White and Michael Murphy, 163–80. Cork: Cork University Press. ISBN 1-85918-153-8 (cloth); ISBN 1-85918-322-0 (pbk).
  • Otaola González, Paloma. 2008. "Oscar Esplá y el nacionalismo musical". Revista de Musicología 31, no. 2 (December): 453–97.
  • Porter, Cecelia Hopkins. 1977. "The Rheinlieder Critics: A Case of Musical Nationalism". The Musical Quarterly 63, no. 1 (January): 74–98. ISSN 0027-4631
  • Southern, Eileen. 1997. The Music of Black Americans, third Edition. New York: Norton and Company.
  • Stolba, K. Marie. 1990. The Development of Western Music: A History. Dubuque, Iowa: Wm. C. Brown, Inc.
  • Taruskin, Richard. n.d. "Nationalism". Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (Accessed 8 December 2005).
  • Turino, Thomas R. 2000. "Race, Class, and Musical Nationalism in Zimbabwe". In Music and the Racial Imagination, edited by Ronald Michael Radano, Houston A. Baker, Jr., and Philip V. Bohlman, 554–84. Chicago Studies in Ethnomusicology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-70199-9 (cloth); ISBN 0-226-70200-6 (pbk).
  • Villanueva, Carlos. 2008. "El nacionalismo musical en la obra de Alejo Carpentier: Variaciones sobre la lira y el bongó". Cuadernos de Música Iberoamericana, no. 15:119–31.