Confronting the National in the Musical Past

Third Sibelius Academy Symposium on Music History

May 21–23, 2014 at the Sibelius Academy, University of the Arts, Helsinki

An international conference hosted by the Rethinking Finnish Music History research project at Sibelius Academy.

Keynote speakers

Celia Applegate, Vanderbilt University, USA

Philip V. Bohlman, University of Chicago, USA

Tomi Mäkelä, Martin Luther Universität Halle-Wittenberg, Germany


Conference outline

In cultural studies, a growing interest towards questioning methodological nationalism has emerged. Methodological nationalism points to an attachment between historiography and historical research, on the one hand, and nationalism and the nation state, on the other – an attachment, which has gone, for the most part, unquestioned. For instance, music history has regarded the contemporary nation states as defining the borders and essence of various musical idioms, regardless of whether or not those nations were in existence in the period of the music in question.

The "Netherland schools" and "German Baroque" are among the best known and widely used examples of methodological nationalism at work in music historiography, and, even in the 21st century, most general histories of music – independent of genre – are narrated from a national point of view. Most of these nationally oriented histories of music manifest the tendency of associating Great Composers – and famous artists – with a certain nationality, no matter the ethnic and cultural origin of those individuals. It is also very common to read about "Italian", "Spanish", "Norwegian" or "French" music as if these were supra-historical epithets, something that in and of themselves qualify and define the essence of those musics.

Widening the scope into categories that are more international and multinational is not necessarily a solution to the ideological fallacy described above – we still have the "national" to contend with, even if our grasp extends beyond national borders. Even through this paradigm shift, it is very difficult to do away with international comparisons of musics. We can, however, detach our research from nation states: instead of focusing on musical idioms, styles and practices within the borders of nations, we can shift our focus towards transcultural musical processes that unfold independent of those borders.

In conclusion, we could argue that a certain "national gaze" has pervaded western music historiography ever since the 19th century, and in relation to this we still have a number of problems to solve in our historical research. The symposium provides a forum for presenting new, critical research in this field, as well as acting as a forum for a critical re-evaluation of the historical narratives to which methodological nationalism has given ground.


We invite proposals for papers and group sessions under the following themes:

1. Writing the Nation in Music Historiography

2. (De)constructing the National Grand Narrative in Music

3. Methodological Nationalism in the Music Media

4. Methodological Nationalism in Music Education

5. Globalization vs. Competition Between Nations in Music History

6. Cultural Transfer in Music History


Conference Committee at Sibelius Academy

Vesa Kurkela (chair), Anne Sivuoja-Kauppala, Heidi Westerlund, Lauri Väkevä, Veijo Murtomäki, Kaarina Kilpiö (conference secretary), Markus Mantere, Olli Heikkinen, Saijaleena Rantanen, Derek B. Scott / University of Leeds.


Conference venue

Helsinki Music Centre, Mannerheimintie 13 a.

There is an info desk open during symposium hours for registration matters, symposium materials and information at the Agora lounge (situated at the Sibelius Academy wing of the Music Centre).


Conference dinner

The dinner will be held on Wednesday, May 21, in Restaurant Töölönranta at 7:30 pm. We have a reservation for 50 guests.


Evening programme

The Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra (RSO, conductor: Hannu Lintu) will perform Earth Dances (1986) by Harrison Birtwistle and Das Lied von der Erde (1909) by Gustav Mahler on Thursday, May 22nd. The concert will take place in Helsinki Music Hall at 7 p.m. Tickets (22,50 euros) can be bought or reserved individually on the following website:

For the best possible concert experience, we recommend booking seats in the sections situated in front of the stage.