Hudební Věda

Music History and Ethnicity from Prague to Indiana: Paul Nettl, Eighteenth-Century Bohemia, and Germaness

article summary

Martin Nedbal

Bohemian-American musicologist Paul Nettl spent an early part of his career in Prague but emigrated to the United States in 1939, after the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia. This article examines Nettl’s writings on Bohemian history and culture, including his scholarly articles, lectures for the general public, and autobiographical essays. These materials include both English and German sources, published articles, unpublished manuscripts and typescripts preserved in Nettl’s estate at Indiana University, and typescripts of radio programs from the Czech Radio Archive. These materials illuminate the complex issues of national and ethnic identity in pre-WWII Czechoslovakia and within the post-WWII Central European emigrant community in the United States. The examination shows that despite, or perhaps because of, his Bohemian and Jewish roots, Nettl exhibited a life-long commitment to the doctrine of German cultural superiority, that this ideology was in fact compatible with his commitment to multiculturalism, and that his attitudes to specifically Czech culture fluctuated, depending on the political situation in Central Europe, between a rejection and a hesitant acknowledgment. Some of these fluctuating attitudes were also connected to Nettl’s Jewishness and other elements that made him a life-long outsider—as a German in pre-WWII Czechoslovakia, a Jew in the German-Bohemian community, and a Central European emigrant in America. This article argues that within the social and political upheavals affecting Nettl and his family, the ideology of German cultural superiority represented a stabilizing element and an absolute, unquestionable value.

The article also includes an annotated edition of a previously unpublished memoir by Nettl. The memoir was written in Indiana in the late 1940s and contains a number of previously unknown details not only about Nettl’s biography, but also about the history of Central European musicology and the cultural life of Prague’s German community before WWII.

Keywords: Paul Nettl; Bruno Nettl; Gustav Becking; Heinrich Rietsch; Czechoslovak musicology; Sudeten-German music; Germanness; Stamitz, Biber; Czechoslovak Radio

The complete text of this article can be found in the printed edition of Hudební věda 4/2019