Conference 2019 Conference 2019

NIFC International Conference 2019 ‘The element of dance in music of the first half of the nineteenth century’

In the first half of the nineteenth century, the idiom of dance became the main factor in defining the identities of European musical cultures. At that time, we see a significant increase in emphasis on the local features of music, and on revealing the musical diversity of cultures. Dance is an excellent medium for reflecting this diversity in divisions based on ethnic, political or geographical criteria, as well as in the area of social stratification (the distance between the cultures of the ‘plebs’ and the ‘elites’). However, it also provides a unique conduit for the transfer, exchange and interpenetration of features, since it is also a common denominator of popular and artistic music, a place where ‘high’ and ‘low’ styles meet and unexpected inter-generic transgressions may occur. Dance, even when it is not danced but performed as a purely musical composition, always reveals the corporal dimension of music in all its possible manifestations, as well as all its functional and generic embodiments, testifying to its organic closeness to movement and to a particular space.

1. Dance as a social practice and an object of stylisation in art music

In nineteenth-century ballrooms, participation in a dance was subject to the rules of ritualised social behaviour. This is illustrated particularly well by quadrilles, country dances and other kinds of square dances performed in groups, which by their choreography emphasised and confirmed the binding hierarchical social order, while at the same time indicating the possible directions of social interactions.

Maribeth Clark emphasises that the practice of using melodies from operatic works in ballroom dances encouraged some composers to employ fairly simplistic ‘dance narrations’ in their operas. This led to the blurring of the boundary between ‘common’ utilitarian music and ‘sophisticated’ art music. It was Richard Wagner, a sworn enemy of efforts to deprive opera of its elitist, sublimated character, who dealt with this ‘underhand practice’. Nota bene one of the main reasons why the Paris premiere of Tannhäuser in 1861 flopped was the German composer’s refusal to adapt to the local conventions, which demanded the introduction of a ballet. Thus Wagner’s ‘choreophobia’ drew one of the main demarcation lines between the style of nineteenth-century opera and the modern aesthetic of music drama.

Topics to be covered

1.1. The idiom of dance in the music of the first half of the nineteenth century in the context of the musical construction of nationalisms: the invention of tradition or the discovery of true identity?

1.2. The idiom of dance  in the music of the first half of the nineteenth century and the blurring of boundaries between:

– popular (folk) and elite cultures,

– utilitarian and art music,

– high and low styles.

1.3. The idiom of dance in opera and in symphonic, chamber and instrumental music of the first half of the nineteenth century: sources, application, functions; current state of knowledge and research perspectives.

1.4. The idiom of dance in the music of the first half of the nineteenth century and the corporal and spatial dimension of music, influence on the style of a work and ‘styles of reception’.

1.5. Music criticism and journalism in the first half of the nineteenth century in relation to the dance idiom in opera and artistic music:

2. Dance and dance music as a medium for expressing social ideas and popular cultural topoi

The first half of the nineteenth century was a period when a number of important social ideas and popular cultural themes were given expression through dance and dance music. On the one hand, the quest for national dance idioms initiated in the eighteenth century reached out not only to new dance genres, but also to other national communities, influencing the spread of national stereotypes. At the same time, the use of national dance repertoire was becoming not only a manifestation of self-identification and national identity, but also a way of expressing solidarity with the aspirations for national independence of nations dominated by foreign state powers. On the other hand, the constant themes reflected in ballrooms and on theatre and concert stages involved individual characters and social groups, as well as their dances and the music that went with them, expressing a fascination with fashionable literature, folk tales or even the phantasms functioning in the public space (Cracovians, Cossacks, Hungarians, Scots, Gypsies, Greeks, lancers, hussars, fairies, sylphs and water nymphs). Regardless of the original motivations, making use of these dances and themes became a pretext for going beyond the established boundaries which governed behaviour. For this reason, in the first half of the nineteenth century, those boundaries were significantly extended, first in dance (less distance between partners, the acceptance of more intimate relations and frivolous behaviours, lighter dress) and then in social life in general.

Topics to be covered

2.1  Dance and dance music as a means of shaping and popularising national stereotypes.

2.2  National dances: their forms, genres and role in demonstrating national identities or sympathies in the ballroom and the theatre and on the concert stage.

2.3  Dance and dance music as a means of reproducing or demonstrating popular topoi and phantasms

2.4  Dance and dance situations as fora for negotiating social norms.

3. Dance and dance music as an object of folkloristic documentation

In the first half of the nineteenth century, the romantic, idealised vision of folklore evoked by Johann Gottfried von Herder’s concept of a nation as an ethnic community shaped by historical processes converged with changes to the map of Europe; this encouraged intellectual elites to strive towards building, maintaining or restoring threatened national identity. Folk culture – ‘natural’ and ‘original’ – became the basic source of truth and inspiration for the national culture. This led to the amateur and then progressively more scientific documentation of folklore.

While it did not flourish fully until the second half of the nineteenth century, earlier decades already produced collections whose presence in social circulation may have influenced the consciousness of the creators and recipients of music both popular and artistic.

The development of Music Information Retrieval tools enables historical holdings to be used more effectively to analyse the morphological characteristics of their material, including rhythmic structures. Detailed analyses may provide scholars researching the music of the first half of the nineteenth century with a solid reference base for analysing art music compositions containing an element of dance.

 Topics to be covered

3.1  The documentation of dances and dance music in the first half of the nineteenth century: identified source holdings, their content, quality, reliability and application.

3.2  The documentation of dances and dance music in the first half of the nineteenth century: contemporary methods for the use of sources.

Program Committee:
prof. Ewa Dahlig-Turek (Institute of Art, Polish Academy of Science)
prof. Tomasz Nowak (Institute of Musicology, University of Warsaw)
dr Grzegorz Zieziula (Institute of Art, Polish Academy of Science)

Conference Dates:
20–22 November 2019

Conference Venue:
The Institute of Art of the Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw, Poland

Organiser’s Address:
The Fryderyk Chopin Institute, Research and Publishing Department,
ul. Tamka 43, 00-355 Warszawa, Fax +48 22 44 16 113, e-mail:,

Conference Languages: English

Queries: Please send any queries to Ewa Bogula: