Theoretical Implications: A Biography between National and Pluralistic Perspectives
Focusing on the ambivalent, culturally pluralistic space of Trieste and placing it in the center of a discourse on Austrian music history implies questioning and challenging a notion of national (music) historiography, which is propelled by the underlying understanding of a homogeneous and natural national cultural space. Automatically, such a concept of national history and national historiography assumes a logical opposition to a pluralistic, heterogeneous, and multilayered understanding of society and its histories. Nationalist is the antagonist of pluralist: they exclude each other. Yet this article approaches history both from a homogenizing national perspective and a pluralistic perspective and integrates these opposing views into a parallel and polyvalent reading of history. The juxtaposition of these antagonistic perspectives serves as a means for deconstruction of the national paradigm. However, I will equally argue for the (re)integration of different national perspectives into the narration and discussion of history to facilitate an understanding of their far-reaching influence and their highly problematic efficacy as powerful mechanisms of homogenization of societies.
This is particularly important for music history of the nineteenth century, as both music and music historiography served national purposes and contributed to and were appropriated for the construction of national music traditions as part of a political nation. Such national constructions become more problematic, but at the same time also more relevant, in a culturally pluralistic space that allows for different national attributions and whose national belonging has been the subject of conflicts and has changed over time, as in the case of Trieste.
The theoretical questions touched on above become tangible and assume relevance in the discussion of the biography of Carlo Ferdinando Lickl (1803–64). The present article intends to explore the biography of this mostly unknown nineteenth-century Triestine to further such theoretical discussions. For this purpose I will present his biography in a parallel and comparative reading through the lens of four distinctively different theoretical perspectives.
The topics and perspectives I explore in this biographical case study are connected in many ways to the recent discussion on Central Europe, cultural transfer, and cultural hybridity. I am indebted to the work of Moritz Csáky, whose understanding of Central Europe as a historical laboratory and heuristic space with relevance for the present has influenced my own approach of using the biography as a field of experimental exploration.
By focusing on a biographical study, this research responds to Wolfgang Welsch’s insistence on the importance of the microlevel as a relevant research focus for the understanding of the dynamics of cultural exchange processes. Finally, this narration and confrontation of Lickl’s biography from different theoretical perspectives is motivated equally by the specific historical circumstances that shaped Lickl’s life and work and his Triestine environment on the one hand, which spurred my approach in the first place, and by Michael Werner’s and Bénédicte Zimmermann’s awareness of the importance of a multi-perspectivity on the other. “Endorsing the notion of histoire croisée,” Csáky states, “we realize that history is essentially polyvalent , as there is no such thing as a binding memory that enshrines and perpetuates historical experience and thus prescribes a binding historical narrative (in the singular), but rather memories, histories, and narratives (in the plural); this suggests a variety of different—contradictory—but equally valid narratives.” Carlo Ferdinando’s Biography: One Life—Four Perspectives
In this article I narrate four different stories of Carlo Ferdinando Lickl, looking at four different models for constructing music history, all of which frame and contextualize the same subject—this nineteenth-century “Triestine” composer—from different angles, under different premises, and arguably from different ideological viewpoints. The idea of developing multiple perspectives on this composer was initially motivated by a barely significant detail: the many different names for Lickl that emerge from his documents. The literature and library catalogs address him as Ägidius Lickl, a name he actually never used for himself.
He signed his compositions as Karl Ferdinand, as Carlo Ferdinando, or occasionally as Charles Lickl. A careful look at the different applications of his names, however, demonstrates that these are not random occurrences but carefully chosen acts of multiple and different self-representations, chosen in relation to his different audiences. This multiplicity of his names not only impels us towards a perceived difference in his audience but allows us a glimpse into the heterogeneity of his Triestine context, reflected in the contemporary use of Italian, German, and French versions of his signature.
The multiple facets of the historical subject itself produce differences and ambiguities that allow alternative viewpoints to emerge and framings of this subject to be set, depending on the specificities of the respective points of view. Space is thus opened for a theoretical reflection on the representation of this historical subject—and on the question of how we write and construct music history. My four stories compare two national narratives, an Italian and a German one, with two transnational approaches, one modeled on the notion of cultural transfer and the other applying a cosmopolitan perspective. I discuss the relevance of each of these models by exploring their interpretative consequences—that is, the different stories each of these models tells and the different images that emerge from them. My aim is not to give preference to a specific model, even though I critically distance myself from the nationalist purpose of music history writing inherent in the national approaches presented in the text. Still, I believe that national constructions do produce relevant knowledge, less in the original image they try to portray than in the dynamics of inclusion and exclusion they reveal when juxtaposed with each other. Instead of favoring one model and presenting it as the solution or true story, I argue for the importance of multiple perspectives and parallel readings of history, particularly in light of the space of dissensus that emerges among the different narrations through parallel and confrontational readings of this history. The multiple perspectives inherent in this approach allow the multilayered complexity inherent in the subject to emerge, which no single model alone can depict.
Carlo Ferdinando Lickl: An Italian Patriot
Trieste’s Carlo Schmidl Theater Museum today preserves the
Nachlass (estate) of the Viennese-born Triestine composer Carlo Ferdinando Lickl. After some years in Graz in the late 1820s, Lickl arrived in Trieste in the early 1830s, where he contributed significantly to the city’s musical life as a pianist, teacher, and composer for over 30 years until his death in 1864.
Amongst the many documents preserved in the
Fondo Lickl is a photographic portrait of Carlo Ferdinando, which seems to be the only visual record of this Triestine composer. More important than the photograph itself is the memorial notice attached to this portrait, which presents Carlo Ferdinando as an Italian patriot remembered primarily not for his artistic achievements but for the overwhelming political success of one of his operas: “Carlo Ferdinando Lickl, pianist and composer, author of the opera: La disfida di Barletta. Staged with huge political success at the city theater, Trieste, February 2, 1848” (see figure 1). Lickl’s opera at the center of this memorial notice was the most successful opera in Trieste that year. It upstaged by far Verdi’s first opera for Trieste, Il corsaro (The corsair), which premiered during the fall season but failed completely. At least part of Lickl’s success has to be attributed to the popular plot, which was based on the widely read and well-known novel from the 1830s Ettore Fieramosca o La disfida di Barletta (Ettore Fieramosca or The challenge of Barletta) by Massimo d’Azeglio, one of Italy’s leading writers of the time, who intentionally used his literature to facilitate the creation of national identity. The novel develops around a historical battle between French and Italian soldiers that took place in the city of Barletta in the sixteenth century. D’Azeglio uses the historical setting of his novel for a contemporary national discourse. Defending the city’s honor against foreign troops becomes a symbol for “la patria”—the semantically loaded term meaning homeland—and for the unification of Italy into a national state that did not yet exist. Barletta was transformed into a national monument, an Italian lieu de memoire. In the heated political climate of the 1830s, d’Azeglio’s novel became an overwhelming success on which Lickl’s opera could build and created the basis for the composer’s lasting memory, as inscribed in this photographic portrait.
However, the unity that Lickl’s photograph and the memorial note form in the spectator’s eye exists only on the surface. While the photograph is a document from Lickl’s later lifetime, the memorial note dates from the early twentieth century. The two do not actually represent a historic unit but constitute a telling example of a historical construct created with the intention of producing a specific representation of Lickl as an Italian patriot.
Figure 1: Carlo Ferdinando Lickl (photograph by Franceso Benque, Trieste 1864); by courtesy of CMT Archivio Fotografico 1563; the photograph is part of the Collection Raccolta storico-musicale Schmidl
This picture is based on a fuller discourse that formed in Trieste in the course of the nineteenth century following the premiere of Lickl’s opera in 1848 and inscribed the composer in the local
memoire as part of a political activism. We find confirmation for this, for example, in Giuseppe Caprin’s literary portraits and memories of Trieste, first published in 1891 and reissued in 1973. Caprin was a prolific author on Trieste’s history, less a historian than a publicist and journalist, who contributed with his collections Nostri nonni (Our grandparents) and Tempi andati (Long gone times) to a nostalgic glance at the past shared by a wide audience. The year 1848 plays a particularly important role in his second collection, Tempi andati, which focuses entirely on the time of and the events that built up to the 1848 revolution, with which this collection culminates and concludes. It is significant that Lickl and his opera are not placed in the chapter dedicated to theater and opera in Trieste, “Palcoscenico e Platea,” but represent an intrinsic moment within the dramaturgy of Caprin’s final chapter, “Il Quarantotto,” which is dedicated entirely to the political events of this year. Lickl’s opera becomes the culminating moment of Caprin’s description of the proclamation of the constitution in Trieste on March 17. The opera, and more importantly the reaction of the audience that is at the center of Caprin’s four-page description—including a double-page lithograph of the evening—allows Caprin to portray, besides the historic event itself, the intense emotional dimension of this moment. The description of this evening at the opera serves as Caprin’s main vehicle for transporting the emotional reaction and the immediacy to his readership, allowing them to experience an immediate presence of this past event. The same is true of the accompanying lithograph that opens the view—not of the stage but of the audience and its patriotic reaction. The audience is the true protagonist of this historical memory. Yet the lithograph, which had an afterlife in later publications on Trieste’s theater history and thus became an intrinsic aspect of historic memory, provides another problematic moment of fake history. It had been created only in 1891 by Ernesto Croci as an illustration for Caprin’s book. Born in 1857, eleven years after the historic event, he could not even pretend to provide an eyewitness account. Rather, his representation has to be read as a pictorial interpretation of history that codified Trieste’s unified audience in a triumphant moment of national memory. Figure 2: Trieste Theater, La disfida di Barletta (aquarelle by Ernesto Croci, 1891); printed in Giuseppe Caprin, Tempi andati: pagine della vita triestina (1830–1848) (Trieste: Caprin, 1891), 392 –93
This national-patriotic memory not only reverberates in Schmidl’s comment on Lickl’s portrait but is reinforced and reactivated well into the twentieth century. For example, on the occasion of Lickl’s centennial the local newspaper
Il Piccolo remembers the nineteenth-century Triestine composer as the one who inflamed patriotic enthusiasm in 1848. The headline of the article, “ Carlo Lickl Carlo ignites patriotic enthusiasm at the Verdi theater in 48,” is directly shaped by Caprin’s record.
At the same time, historical documents allow and ask for a more subtle interpretation. As much as they support such a politicized picture, they equally open space for a differentiated view that indeed questions this particular political interpretation, especially when it comes to Lickl’s role in the context of these events. Caprin—depicting the events of March 17—places the composer almost as an antagonist to the events described by spotlighting his dismissive physical reaction to the audience’s overwhelming emotional response to his music.
Such a view receives further confirmation in Carlo Schmidl’s interpretation. In contrast to the politized interpretation framing Lickl’s photograph, Schmidl develops a much more balanced view in his dictionary article on the composer, placing Lickl’s opera less prominently in the realm of his pianistic and symphonic oeuvre. He interprets the audience’s reaction to Lickl’s opera in a similarly skeptical and distanced way, as “a continually increasing fanaticism” (“sempre più crescente fanatismo”) of the audience. In the academic context of his musical dictionary, Schmidl remembers and praises the composer principally for his pianistic work as teacher, pianist, and composer, not for his opera or his political success. A modification of the prevailing national political narrative only occurs in the most recent publication on the history of Trieste’s theater, in which Gianni Gori sheds lights on Lickl’s non-Italian background, which earlier histories had to silence in favor of homogenizing the Italian national narrative. He refers instead to a pluralistic narrative and depicts the composer as a typical representative of Triestine hybrid cultural synthesis of German and Italian elements: “Lickl is a staunch Austrian. His is one of those well-deserving musical families not rare in the city. German is his instrumental vocabulary…, but Italian is his operatic one.” Karl Ferdinand Lickl: A German National Composer
German aspects cannot be attributed only to Lickl’s musical language, as Gori assumes. Altogether, further analysis based on the historical material from the Triestine archive equally allows the construction of his image as a German national composer, alongside that of an Italian national composer. “Turner-Fest-Marsch für grosses Orchester componiert und dem Deutschen Turner-Verein in Triest gewidmet” (Gymnastics festival march composed for large orchestra and dedicated to Trieste’s German gymnastics society), is the title of Lickl’s op. 118, a contribution provided for the inauguration of the gymnastics society Eintracht (concord) in 1864 and one of Lickl’s last compositions, as the composer passed away the same year.
Turnen, a gymnastic sports activity practiced in numerous gymnastic societies founded throughout German-speaking territories, was more than simple physical entertainment: it became one of the grounds of expression and formation of German national unity. Inspired by the ancient Greek Olympic games, Turnen was created and promoted by Friedrich Jahn (1778–1852), who invented both the activity and its name and was himself an early nationalist. Turnen became a fast-growing mass movement starting from the time of the liberation wars against Napoleon at the beginning of the nineteenth century and propagated a German idea of a strong and healthy nation yet to be built. The later foundation of such a society in Trieste in 1864 must be seen as a result of German national influences and added to the increasing nationalization processes that Anna Milo identified for the early 1860s in the Triestine area. As Turnen and the foundation of the gymnastic society must be interpreted in this context, so must Lickl’s composition: a march for large orchestra placed prominently at the inauguration ceremony of this society, possibly combined with the images of marching athletes, creates powerful images of a German national presence.
Such an interpretation of Lickl as a German national composer becomes even more justified by the fact that the
Turner-Fest-Marsch is not alone in Lickl’s musical oeuvre. Next to it we find two further compositions in Lickl’s handwritten work catalog that reveal a similar purpose: Zwei Lieder von Friedrich Schiller, op. 119 and Die Schlacht von Friedrich Schiller für doppelten Männerchor, op. 117 point in the same direction and may have even been performed on the occasion of the inauguration of the Turnerverein. Schiller published his poem “ Die Schlacht” (The battle) in 1782 as a 22-year-old medical doctor in military service. His vivid but brutally direct description of dying soldiers on the battlefield mirrors personal experience and critical reflection on the pathos of a heroic death. In 1805, at the time of the Napoleonic Wars when his poem was republished, it permitted a patriotic reinterpretation, as the fallen soldiers of the poem could now easily be identified with the victims who lost their lives in the defeat of Napoleon. Such an understanding is also present in Franz Schubert’s interpretation of Schiller’s “Die Schlacht” (D 387) , set into music in 1815 together with two other patriotic subjects, “Vaterlandslied” (D 287) and “Hermann und Thusnelda ” (D 322) by Friedrich Klopstock. Fifty years later, in the 1860s, when Lickl took up Schiller’s text, it once again offered the potential for a new but conflicting patriotism in the specific context of Trieste.
Schiller’s battle description, in which the distant cheering for victory is overshadowed by mourning over the loss of his own comrades killed on the battlefield, must be associated in Trieste at the beginning of the 1860s with the recent and brutal battles of Solferino and San Martino in 1859, in which thousands of soldiers died. In reaction to the inhumanity of these battles the Swiss businessman Henry Dunant founded the Red Cross.
Schiller’s poem not only allows for an interpretation of patriotic feelings but produces polarization in its dramatic juxtaposition of victorious enemy and fallen comrades. In the Triestine context of the 1860s and its rising nationalism, this can easily be interpreted as a national confrontation between “Italians” and “Germans,” particularly as Schiller had already become a decisive point of reference for the construction of a German national identity.
1859 had not only been the year of the battle of Solferino but also the hundredth anniversary of Schiller’s birth. Like many German cities, Trieste used this occasion for the foundation of a local Schiller society, which soon developed into an important social meeting place for cultural activities in the second half of the nineteenth century. Trieste publicly celebrated Schiller’s centenary with a torchlight procession, which in the local interpretation was regarded as a manifestation of German identity: “we feel as Germans … we consider ourselves to be a strong link inseparable from Germany, but we also have received a warm heart, capable of ideal purposes.”
Such an idealized purpose may well refer to the cosmopolitanism of the Schillerverein (Schiller society) and its self-understanding not as a nationalist German cultural association but as a conscious mediator between the different nations. At least this is how the Schillerverein described its own cultural mission on the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of its foundation in 1885: “Through everyone’s cooperation, the association has among other things very beneficial consequences for Trieste society, as it promotes the interaction of members from different nationalities, who had remained alienated from each other more than in other places.” The reason for such alienation—which strongly contrasts with the often generally assumed cosmopolitan aura of Trieste—is seen in the recent wars in Trieste’s vicinity: “The fury of war has repeatedly shown its rage in our neighborhood, and our Trieste has not been spared by party quarrels and racism either. However, our association … was guided by the mild scepter of peace without any interruption. Educated, good people of all nations and status gathered under the German poet laureate’s peace banner and shook hands with each other.” Peace under the auspices of German supremacy. In the spirit of the liberal Bildungsbürger, education becomes a universal commodity of peacemaking that bridges national differences and eases away conflicts. As much as such cosmopolitanism is in line with Trieste’s cultural self-concept, it must at the same time be doubted that this was the only political currency present. Evidence shows that even the liberal Schillerverein with its ideas of Bildungsbürgertum leaned increasingly towards the ideas of German nationalism in the later decades of the nineteenth century. This statement of universal brotherhood under Schiller’s peaceful reign is not completely free of national sentiment. It is based on the paradigm of the essentialist nature of national cultures, an understanding that only formed during the nineteenth century and had no previous history.
Setting Schiller’s “Die Schlacht” to music in the Triestine context of the 1860s seems certainly less appropriate to celebrating the bond between the nations and strengthening the ideal of cosmopolitanism than to opening wounds by steering national sentiments with implicit references to recently lost battles. Lickl’s choice opens a rich but problematic field of German national associations, of which a composer living in Trieste certainly would have been aware. Selecting such a poem and setting it to music, with its conflicting interpretative potential, and arranging it for a festive and monumental setting of a double male choir, are conscious decisions of a composer, who by such decisions and by such a composition not only fosters German nationalism but also sheds light on his own political thinking as a German national composer.
It would be misleading to assume that Lickl’s German national orientation, as inferred from the Triestine documents presented above, was a result of and immediate reaction to the transformations taking place in his Triestine environment of the 1860s. Lickl’s German national inclinations can be traced back to earlier beginnings and manifest themselves most prominently in his first opera,
Hermann und Thusnelde, successfully staged in Graz in 1831.
For his first opera, Lickl decided on a libretto from August von Kotzebue (1761–1819), one of the most popular German authors of his time and by far the most staged. Many other composers before Lickl had already used his work as a source for their operas.
Kotzebue’s popularity did not necessarily guarantee success for the composers, as Schubert’s attempts show, but the subject chosen by Lickl resonated with the patriotic sentiments of the time and was at the center of the German national discourse. Besides Kotzebue’s lasting popularity and the timeliness of the national patriotic subject presented in the plot, Lickl’s choice may have been informed by another equally important fact. Ludwig van Beethoven, whom he regarded highly, had composed Schauspielmusiken (incidental music) for two of Kotzebue’s plays, Die Ruinen von Athen, op. 113 and König Stephan, op. 117. Beethoven also had approached the playwright to provide him a libretto for an opera, which never materialized. Following Karin Pendle’s argumentation one might assume that Kotzebue’s Hermann und Thusnelde may have been intended for Beethoven. Altogether, the subject is surprising in the context of Kotzebue’s lighter productions and Kotzebue’s skeptical stance towards nationalism.
Kotzebue’s text, written in 1813 and first published in 1819, must be seen as a product of the rising patriotism in the time of the Napoleonic Wars.
The subject of his libretto is the figure of Arminius, the legendary military leader of the Germanic tribes, who inflicted a crushing defeat on the Roman army in the Teutoburg Forest in 9 AD. At the time Kotzebue decided on this subject, Arminius—his name translates into German as Hermann—had already started a promising career as a figure of German national identity. A few years earlier, in 1809, Heinrich von Kleist dedicated his play Die Hermannschlacht (The Battle of Hermann) to the same subject, and back in the eighteenth century two other prominent German authors, Klopstock and Lessing, focused on the figure of Arminius. While these earlier arrangements by Lessing and Klopstock stress the heroic virtue of the main character, the nineteenth-century versions provide a patriotic reinterpretation in the light of contemporary political developments, emphasizing Arminius as a warrior hero against a foreign usurper. In the time of the liberation wars, a German audience could easily identify the Napoleonic army with the Roman troops in the play and hope for a similar siege in the present as that of the victorious Germanic tribes under Arminius’s leadership. Both Kleist’s and Kotzebue’s Hermann had mutated into a champion for German freedom and a symbol for national unity against the French occupation.
The Hermann myth gained further trajectory throughout the nineteenth century and became a strong symbol for German national identification and unity. In the historical context of 1830, when Lickl composed his opera, Ludwig I of Bavaria and his architect Leo von Klenze gave the legendary German warrior a most prominent place in the Walhalla, their project of a national hall of fame in the form of a replica of an ancient Greek temple. Hermann, in Ludwig’s understanding Germany’s first liberator, was placed prominently in the tympanum frieze, next to the allegorical figure of Germania.
Here he became the center of a monument which was intended as a sanctuary for the German nation, symbolically uniting German heroes of all times. The plans for this national monument date back to the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Ludwig formulated his first ideas about Hermann’s pivotal place in the pictorial program in 1813, the same year of Kotzebue’s libretto. Most likely both the opera and the monument were inspired by the same event, Napoleon’s defeat at the Battle of Leipzig, which legitimized the parallel with the historical siege of the Germanic tribes against the Roman army. Lickl’s 1831 opera, as well as an opera by the French composer Hippolyte Andre Jean-Baptist Chélard on the same subject staged in Munich in 1835, appear in a timely relationship to the construction of this national monument. The foundation stone for the Walhalla had been laid in 1830 on October 18, the day of the historic defeat of Napoleon at Leipzig, and was organized as a public mass event. Over 30,000 people gathered for this moment, which served a double purpose: the remembrance of a siege on the one hand and a sparking of hope for a united German nation on the other, clearly expressed in a programmatic statement by Ludwig I of Bavaria, the initiator of the project: “As these stones are joined together, so may all Germans be firmly united.” Figure 3: Hermann in the tympanon frieze on the northern side of the Walhalla; by courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
The same idea is evoked in a second monument, which focuses entirely on the figure of the Germanic leader: the
Hermannsdenkmal—a colossal sculpture of Hermann, almost 27 meters in height on top of a hill at the presumed site of his historical siege in the Teutoburg Forest. Ready to defend his homeland at any time, Hermann holds in his mighty arm an enormous sword, which points towards France. The golden letters of its inscription not only express the core idea behind the monument but stand for the symbolic dimension of the Hermann figure in the context of the nineteenth-century German national discourse: “Deutsche Einigkeit, meine Stärke—Meine Stärke, Deutschlands Macht” (German unity my strength—my strength Germany’s might). As with the Walhalla , the process of construction itself serves as an important aspect of evocation and dispersion of the national discourse. Thus the setting of the cornerstone in 1841 is again orchestrated as a huge public celebration, including high school students in ancient Germanic costumes and male choirs singing Arndt’s iconic patriotic song from 1813, “Was ist des Deutschen Vaterland” (What is the German fatherland). There is no doubt about what Hermann stands for: he clearly has become a most significant symbolic figure for the idea of a strong and united German nation.
This national discourse manifests itself equally in monuments set in stone to commemorate the past, in the social practices of the many celebrations commemorating and praising historical figures (often in conjunction with the construction of such monuments),
and in monuments performed on stage. Kotzebue’s libretto and Lickl’s opera are both part of the same national discourse that emerges around the historical figure of Arminius/Hermann, and both works evoke the national reinterpretation of the myth of Hermann as a patriotic fighter for German’s liberty and unity.
Their contribution to this national discourse can be clearly demonstrated in the text: Kotzebue ends his libretto with a national apotheosis, a final chorus sung by the German people praising the regained freedom of their homeland.
Let a triumphal song ring out!
May princes and people remain faithfully united. Many of the noble Germans have fallen But our homeland is free.
The wording of the libretto reflects patriotic understanding as it had developed in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars: it commemorates and justifies the heroic death of the many noble Germans by referring to the regained freedom of the homeland, thus combining the historical reference of Hermann’s victory over the Roman troops with the contemporary remembrance of the many victims of the recent war against Napoleon. Accordingly, it roots the contemporary patriotic discourse in the earliest beginnings of German history. The prominent placement of the unity of the sovereigns and the people in the second verse (“Es blieben Fürst und Volk sich treu”) not only testifies to Kotzebue’s antirepublican stance and Lickl’s supposed conservativism but makes their works representative examples of the German national discourse, rooted in the mystical unity of the
Volk (people) rather than embracing the republican values that constitute the core of contemporary French national discourse. Such an image not only serves as a symbol for the desired—and in 1831 achieved—liberation from a Napoleonic threat of the past but transforms the commemorated siege into a powerful political symbol for the future and recalls a German nation whose political unity needs yet to be built. Remembrance and praise for the past transform into hope for the future. Lickl’s Bach: A German Musician in Trieste?
On the basis of what we can assume about Lickl’s political and musical understanding and his nationally oriented musical work, we need to ask how to evaluate Lickl’s other compositions, which do not necessarily demonstrate an agenda as explicitly political as the two operas discussed previously. These also allow for an implicit political reading and even necessitate such a reading. This question becomes particularly relevant for Lickl’s understanding of Bach, who assumed the status of a German national composer from the time Johann Nikolaus Forkel portrayed him in this role. Do we need to assume such a German national subtext in Lickl’s understanding of Bach, and if so, what potential role does Bach play in the nineteenth-century context of Trieste?
Bach was an important point of reference for many nineteenth-century pianists.
Das Wohltemperierte Klavier (The well-tempered clavier), a collection of 24 preludes and fugues in all keys, was well known, part of the pianistic curriculum, and a point of reference for similar collections. Lickl was no exception, and it is therefore not surprising to find a direct reference to Bach in his collection entitled 100 Vorspiele für das Pianoforte verfasst für bildungsbegierige Clavierdilettanten (100 preludes for the pianoforte composed for piano dilettantes eager for education), op. 78 . Lickl concludes the second of three volumes of these mostly very short romantic character pieces, intended to give insights into improvisation for piano students, with a longer prelude that provides stylistic references to Bach’s preludes. Figure 4: Carlo Fernando Lickl, 100 Vorspiele für das Pianoforte verfasst für bildungsbegierige Clavierdilettanten, op. 78/2, transcription from the manuscript CMT LICKL MUS.101 [T 46764]
How do we read and interpret this remembrance of Bach, set as a musical cornerstone at the end of this collection? Is it just a musical reference honoring Bach’s achievements and paying special tribute to his
Well-tempered Clavier as a first collection of musical pieces in all keys? Should we read it as an implicit political statement? Or may both intentions be ascribed equally? This question has been relevant since the German music historian Johann Nikolaus Forkel published his influential Bach biography ( Ueber Johann Sebastian Bachs Leben, Kunst und Kunstwerke On Johann Sebastian Bach’s life, art, and art works) in 1802, with the telling subtitle Für patriotische Verehrer (For patriotic admirers). Forkel’s monograph not only marks the beginning of an enduring nineteenth-century Bach revival but also places this development immediately in a German national framework, as though occupation with Bach had become a patriotic duty: “All who hold Germany dear are bound in honor to promote the undertaking to the utmost of their power. I deem it a duty to remind the public of this obligation and to kindle interest in it in every true German heart.” This understanding also resonates in the Bach article published in Gustav Schilling’s (Encyclopedia of the collected musical sciences or universal lexicon of musical art), a central source of musical knowledge for Lickl, from which he quotes frequently and to which he refers his students in the preface to his three-volume collection of preludes. Encyclopädie der gesammten musikalischen Wissenschaften oder Universal-Lexicon der Tonkunst Lickl, in the context of this pedagogical work, is more concerned with technical musical questions than with history. For this reason, he directs his students towards an article on etudes and refers them to Schilling’s book on music harmony. Yet we can assume not only that Lickl was familiar with the article on Bach in Schilling’s encyclopedia but also that he considered Schilling a musical authority, as he dedicated one of his major symphonic works to him.
Schilling follows the interpretative line set by Forkel, portraying Bach as a German musician and as the founding father of German
Tonkunst. More than that, he also creates a clear differentiation between German and foreign music based on music aesthetic norms and judgements and argues for the need to protect the German musical tradition from destructive foreign influences. His discourse refers less to Bach’s lifetime than to his own musical present, ascribing to Bach the role of a redeemer and savior from the threat of Germany’s occupation by foreign music. Bach is “a precursor of our present time …, who redeems us from all evil and nausea, which has been recently brought to us and our music from Italy and France.” As in the political world, France, along with Italy, is identified as the main threat from which the German tradition needs to be protected. One cannot ignore the striking parallel between national political and national aesthetic discourse. To put it in pointed terms, one might say that Bach assumes a similar symbolic role in the musical discourse to Arminius in the national political discourse.
We cannot know with certainty what Lickl would have thought about this question, as the scores are the only documents available. The German national Bach discourse assumes an intertextual presence as a subtext, because of Schilling’s importance for Lickl, and fits well into the overall picture of Lickl as a German national composer. More importantly than answering the question whether this Bach reference needs a political reading or not, it is relevant to acknowledge that the meaning of the discourse itself is shifting because of the changing cultural context. The opposing relationship between a German national culture and other cultures that is inscribed into the national Bach discourse achieves a different significance in the multicultural environment of nineteenth-century Trieste, with its consistent Italian presence.
The change of contexts as an essential influence on the production of meaning remains absent in the framework of a national historiography, which has the intention of creating a homogenized space that subdues differences. Lickl’s case serves as a striking example to illustrate the limiting conditions of the homogenizing framework of national historiography, which can neither take into consideration nor explain divergent aspects. The framework of a national historiography allows us to portray Lickl coherently as an Italian nationalist or as a German nationalist. However, the notion of bringing both nationalisms together into a consistent picture goes beyond the paradigm of a national historiography, especially an Austrian historiography, which would find in Lickl only a German or an Italian composer, not an Austrian composer. The national construct of history can create a meaningful unity only through the omission and exclusion of essential content. The acknowledgement of Lickl’s biography in its complexity produces irresolvable contradictions within the framework of a national paradigm. But it is precisely this circumstance that makes this Triestine composer a fascinating case study.
The Productivity of a Border Region: Lickl as an Agent of Cultural Transfer
This requires a shift in orientation, a historiography that expands its gaze and consciously looks towards border zones and areas of transition. A look at the edges and the neglected in-between spaces of national historiographies opens new perspectives and allows both new objects and new questions to come into focus.
A composer like Lickl only becomes entirely visible and can assume a different relevance for music historiography through such a shift in orientation and an underlying paradigmatic change.
It is relevant even for national historiographies themselves to extend horizons beyond the borders of the present-day national framework. Important sources, in this case documents on the music history of Graz in the nineteenth century, are found not in a Styrian but in a Triestine archive, a region which, as an Italian city, remains out of focus from the perspective of Austrian national music historiography, if this historiography does not take into consideration the historical perspective. This historical perspective today automatically inscribes a transnational dimension onto Austrian musical historiography. Similarly, an Italian national music historiography ignores important aspects of Lickl’s biography and cultural references if it does not extend its focus beyond a narrowly national frame of reference. In the context of nineteenth-century Italian music history, Lickl remains a peripheral figure of minor importance, only of interest to local historians. Indeed, this historiography has remained unaware of Lickl’s earlier lifetime spent outside Trieste or his early German operas, and for Austrian and German music historiography, Lickl never has become a subject of interest. Changing perspectives transform existing objects and bring other objects to light.
At the same time, such a shift in orientation exposes not only new objects but also new questions. If one looks at the intermediate area and its dynamics and focuses not on demarcation but on interaction, an area such as Trieste and composers such as Lickl assume special importance precisely because of their peripheral position and the processes that take place in such areas of transition. These become visible in the biographies of individuals who live and work in these environments. Located at a cultural intersection, Trieste becomes relevant for its intercultural contacts and as a place of cultural transfers. Lickl’s biography becomes a venue that provides us the opportunity to detect and analyze these processes.
In the case of a composer such as Lickl, it is then no longer relevant to pigeonhole him as an Italian, Austrian, or German composer, to classify him within a national paradigm. The task is rather to investigate his different fields of cultural reference and his social networks. For example, how was he able to establish business relationships with Ricordi in Milan, where many of Lickl’s piano compositions were published? How did the collaboration with the Italian librettist for his opera
La disfida di Barletta come into existence? What did Lickl’s social networks look like?
100 Vorspiele were dedicated to his friend, the Slovenian piano teacher Seraphin Tomicich, and the dedication was written in German. The tabula gratulatoria presented to the composer in 1855 on the occasion of the performance of his second programmatic symphony, Il trionfo del Cristianesimo ossia La Resurrezione di Gesu Cristo: Sinfonia caratteristico-religiosa in tre parti (The triumph of Christianity, that is The resurrection of Jesus Christ: Characteristic-religious symphony in three parts), was written in Italian and included a large number of Italian colleagues as congratulators. At this point, Lickl was 52 and had spent about half of his lifetime in Trieste. A look at such aspects—the subject of further investigation—shows first of all a surprising number of transcultural connections and overlapping realities rather than signs of national segregation. Lickl was in close contact with both Italian and Slovenian colleagues and developed relevant business relations within Trieste and beyond. A Cosmopolitan View: Trieste; Border Region or Capital? Center or Periphery?
Focusing on the specific dynamics of the Triestine border region and applying the concept of cultural transfer as the underlying theoretical paradigm for research to model transcultural interaction in this heterogeneous cultural environment seems to provide a promising approach to Lickl’s biography and prompts a number of questions. Yet there is one important question to ask: how appropriate is it, actually, to depict Trieste as a border region?
This question emerged first while I was comparing the Italian and German edition of Claudio Magris and Angelo Ara’s influential study on Trieste’s literature.
The two authors define Trieste as a heterogeneous border region of linguistic, cultural, and ethnic crossings, characterized by a variety of differences that never amalgamate into a single unity but remain present as irresolvable contradictions. For Magris and Ara, this condition of irresolvable contradictions becomes the stimulating substrate for Triestine literature: “ Writers, who experienced Trieste’s heterogeneity and its pluritude of elements, which cannot be merged into a unity, in an existential manner, understood that the city—like the entire Habsburg Empire to which it belonged—was a model of heterogeneity and contradiction of the whole of modern civilization, devoid of a central foundation and a uniform value system.”
The title of the version originally published in Italian,
Trieste: Un’identità di frontiera, indeed refers to Trieste’s condition as a border region. In the German translation, however, Trieste is repositioned from the periphery into a center and transformed into a capital of literature in Mitteleuropa (Central Europe). It may have been just an editorial decision to give preference to a catchier German title, but from an academic point of view this change provides a radically different perspective.
We know that centers and peripheries must not be understood as fixed entities but as relational terms that assume their respective role as center or periphery depending on their cultural, economic, or political position within a specific frame of reference.
Central Europe’s history provides prominent examples of places that show the interchangeability of such positioning and give evidence that some places, depending on the point of reference, may assume both roles at the same time. For that reason, reflecting on Trieste’s position as border region or as center is less a question about Trieste’s nature than about the specific historical, political, cultural, and social circumstances that allow Trieste to assume these roles.
Let me, therefore, modify the question to ask for whom and under which perspective Trieste assumes the role of a border region. The response to this question depends on the orientation of the observer and changes over time. Rather than a fixed geographical position, it is a matter of changing political geographies and self-concepts. Trieste may easily be identified as a border region from today’s perspective and with a focus on the twentieth or twenty-first century, and it is present as such in our mental maps and in the current academic discourse, including that of Magris and Ara. But its position changes significantly with a shift in time and focus to the nineteenth century. The present-day political borders disappear. Yet we may continue to operate with a model based on the concept of cultural or ethnic borders, as Magris and Ara do, or we may frame Lickl as a composer between two worlds, as I have done in my own research.
However, nowhere in the biographies and the statements of Trieste’s nineteenth-century political and economic elites, for whom Lickl once worked as a piano teacher, will one find such descriptions. Triestine elites did not perceive their city as a border area in a periphery. Rather they assumed a cosmopolitan perspective and placed themselves in a center of international trade relations.
Due to its nature as a port city, Trieste’s economy was based on trade. Its merchants relied on often far-reaching international relations and were familiar with the cultural life of different European capitals from personal experience.
We may ask whether such a cosmopolitan model needs to be extended beyond the mercantile framework to other areas and subjects. Analyzing Lickl’s biography from an economic perspective, one can identify aspects that might be addressed by a cosmopolitan understanding. This may sound particularly surprising, as Lickl might be described best as a local artist. Unlike many of the more prominent pianists of his time, who traveled the European capitals as virtuosos, Lickl lived a steady life in Trieste. Yet his economic activities follow a different rationale. The fact that he reached out to two prestigious musical editors, Ricordi in Milan for the publication of his piano music and André in Offenbach for one of his symphonies (
Das Grab, op. 85, see note 52), and organized the performance of his Il trionfo del Cristianesimo in Vienna may be understood better from this cosmopolitan perspective than from an understanding of cultural border crossings. Lickl was reaching out, as local Triestine merchants did, and building economic ties with different important international stakeholders, motivated by the idea of generating both income and social prestige.
Borders pose the danger of an “unhealthy fixation on distinction, difference and otherness,”
warns Maria Todorova in relation to the Balkans, her area of research. She mistrusts spatial categories altogether, as they risk including outdated nationalist demands under the umbrella of a new academic vocabulary. This advisory may be similarly relevant for Trieste in the nineteenth century. Trieste is conceived primarily as a border area if one remains focused on the heterogeneity of different languages and national cultures, thus emphasizing indissoluble contrasts. Although this border area may be defined positively as a zone of contact that enables a stimulating cultural exchange, this does not alter the fundamental conception of this space as a place determined by borders. One has to ask critically if such an understanding implicitly replicates and solidifies the model of national cultures? To what extent does this concept actually differ from a representation such as that of the Schillerverein from 1885 stated above? This important Triestine cultural association and its agenda provide evidence that both perspectives, that of a border region and a cosmopolitan center, can be present in the mental mappings of this area.
Even though cosmopolitanism points strongly towards relations built with the outside, and towards the mental mapping of one’s own position in such an international framework, it at the same time presents—as I would like to apply this concept—an important shift regarding the idea of relationships on the inside in that it emphasizes Trieste as a unified space, not a culturally divided space.
Such a concept can build on similar discussions related to other culturally heterogeneous (border) areas of the Habsburg empire. The academic discourse on literature in Galicia, for example, confronted with a similar situation, has stressed the commonalities in a shared literary landscape instead of differentiating and separating this discourse along with distinct national literatures according to the many languages used in the common space. Conclusion
History is always a construct, and all four models compared in this article share this fundamental aspect. They all focus on the subject from a specific point of view, with a specific agenda, on the basis of a specific paradigm. They all interpret history and thereby construct a specific image of their subject. My aim is not to reveal and criticize the shortcomings of any one of these models and replace it with a better or more appropriate model. Rather, I argue for parallel readings of history and for a multi-perspective view on a historical subject. Looking at Lickl’s biography from different perspectives allows us to bring different aspects into focus. These perspectives may not necessarily coincide, but just such interpretative tensions among the different standpoints can become an important instrument for understanding. Emerging differences and ambiguities equally allow for a closer reading of a biography and a critical reflection on the assumptions of each theoretical lens. Theoretical discussion and biographical research inform each other. Biographical research can become a reflective ground for theoretical debate and permit a better understanding of the cultural dynamics in a heterogeneous region and their effects on the lives of individuals who equally lived in and shaped this space.