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Jann Pasler. Composing the Citizen: Music as Public Utility in Third Republic France. University of California Press, 2009

Following the defeat of 1870, Republicans took control of government, and by 1875 had engineered the constitution of a new Republic. Republican politicians, ideologues, and bureaucrats developed ways of thinking shaped not only by the inherent fragility of the Republic’s birth but also by trends in post-revolutionary French history. In the early 1870s, the combined forces of the Right almost voted them out of power; in the late 1880s, Georges Boulanger, a charismatic minister of war, sprang from the folds of republicanism to become a darling-of-the-right strongman who almost seized control; in the late 1890s, republicans contended with the specter of a rapidly growing socialist left. Whereas in liberal democracies today governments face opposition parties that work within constitutional frameworks as they seek to win over populations, in late 19th century France, regime-change lurked as a possibility at the margins. Latent anxiety drove bourgeois republican leaders aggressively to promote their values of secularism, centralization, and free and compulsory education, as essential and self-evident to modern France.
Like her article on d’Indy, she intervenes in the work of authors such as Jann Fuclher who “divide musicians into camps and present their conflicts as battles, but at the expensive of nuance and accuracy. When politics is mentioned, it is for its pernicious influence, whether coming for the Right or the Left.” Whereas these scholars have emphasized the ideological fault lines in fin-de-siècle French culture, Pasler addresses how people of opposing political persuasisns found common grand through music. In contrast to performances of la musique ancienne et moderne in the 1870s that played up historical differences for the sake of “critical judgement,” Pasler contends that musicians and audiences in the 1890s sought to integrate the old and the new in a kind of musical ralliement (reconciliation) between aesthetic values past and present. She also intervenes in Ravel’s argument that his Valses nobles et sentimentalles is a “useless” occupation and intervenes in critics like Adorno, who have argued that music’s only possible use in a capitalist society is as a commodity.

Pasler looks at a number of pamphlets, concert programs, and government correspondences to argue that the French Third Republic used music as a “public utility” to channel usefulness into the common good. The political strategies of the republic resonated in musical culture in order to shape mouers and, vice versa, the people used music to shape their government. Focused on the national interests of the country more than the special interests of factions or individuals and seeing social value in musical differences and diversity, she ask what rendered music valuable to French people of all classes and what it contributed to “composing” citizens.

French music could teach judgement and cultivate an informed citizenry, bring together heterogeneous people divided by class, religion, and politics, help negotiate ideological conflicts, and encourage French citizens to imagine a common identity. In Chapter 1, Pasler traces the notion of “utility” from Horace to the Enlightenment to show how the theory of utility provided a means of reconciling individual and collective interests. This focus caught on in 18th and 19th c. France, as opposed to Germany, whose artistic value was often tied to metaphysical expression and musical autonomy. The most obvious example of utilité publique occurred after an 1841 law (which just recognized a Frenchman’s right to own property) also allowed for “expropriation pour case d’utilité publique,” a law which ultimately led to Haussman’s reconfiguration of Paris.

Chapter 2 examines music during the French Revolution through the lens of the Third Republic. French leaders and historians like Julien Tiersot and Jules Michelet in the late 19th century studied how revolutions used music to “build a republic not only of minds but also of hearts” (95). Revolutionary leaders instilled common values through popular songs and music education such as the “Marseillaise;" encouraged a sense of fraternity through music in public festivals like the 1790 Festival of the Federation where people sang Gossec’s “Hymne à l’etre suprême” and listened to marches; and fired up a unified public spirit through opera and other theatrical entertainments. The Opéra, because of its previous association with the court, was an ideal place to combat the “coldest of the sous,” possibly those most resistant to revolutionary ideals.

In Chapter 3, Pasler discusses how much could mold individuals into active citizens and revive national pride. Concerts, especially during the Moral Order (a particularly conservative time of the Third Republic [1875-1879 under Pres. MacMahon] that crushed the Paris Commune) that juxtaposed la musique ancienne (Bach) with la musique moderne (Saint-Saens) were especially useful because they helped French listeners develop “critical judgement” and reflect on the presence of the past and the nature of French identity.

At the same time, Chapter 4 shows the enthusiastic international reception of contemporary French works like Charles Gonoud’s Faust (1859) and Ambroise Thomas's Mignon (1866) during the 1870s and 1880s validated tastes at home and encouraged French leaders of all political persuasion to support national music and musical institutions.

In Chapter 5, Pasler argues French leaders used music to promote republican ideals like egalitarianism, progress, secularism (removing the last part of the name of Ecole Niedermeyer de musique et religueuse), and tolerance (encouraging religious music nevertheless). As they consolidated power at the end of the 1870s, French republicans sought to democratize pleasures that had been previously associated with the Ancien Régime. Aesthetic pleasure, exemplified in the works of Delibes and Massenet, became a focus of public policy and people ‘began to think of charm as a category of judgement with serious connotations,” (377), not simply as a frivolous diversion. The Republic also recuperated notions of eclecticism, previously tainted by anti-Semitic discourses of Meyerbeer, and the republican tolerance for aesthetics even provided a hospitable context for Wagner.

Chapters 7 and 8 show that French leaders began to promote economic liberalism as necessary for the public good. Performances in commercial settings such as the Bon Marché and the Jardin zoologique d’Acclimation brought together listeners from different classes and cultural backgrounds.

In Chapter 9, Pasler shows how opponents of republicanism used music to advocate oppositional values. With regime change a real possibility after the 1885 elections, monarchists dissatisfied with the status quo embraced music from or inspired by the Ancient Régime, even holding costume parties with period attire and dance.

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