The Land Without Music

The Land Without Music

The Land without Music was a German slur on England. Its analysis brings a new level of understanding to Anglo-German relations in the 19th & early 20th centuries.

The slur was however not without justification in the 19th Century, and generally believed by both nations.

It took the Scotsman Alexander Mackenzie, Irishman Charles Villiers Stanford and Englishman Hubert Parry to belatedly kickstart England’s musical revival in the mid to late 19th century, later to be joined by Elgar, Britten etc.

Yet even Stanford admitted that Parry was the finest composer of note England could offer since the days of Henry Purcell in the 17th century, and it was acknowledged that Parry’s compositions were curtailed by his teaching!

In the 1840s Heinrich Heine noted : ‘There is verily nothing on earth so terrible as English musical composition, except English painting. They have neither an accurate ear nor a sense of colour, and sometimes I am befallen by the suspicion that their sense of smell may be equally dull and rheumy; it is quite possible that they cannot distinguish horse-apples from oranges by the smell alone.’

This is echoed by another German Georg Weerth’s account of his travels around England around the same time: ‘The English can neither sing nor play music. An Englishman will sooner learn how to earn a million pounds than how to keep a tune in his head. They take only two or three songs learned in the cradle with them in their further lives, anything else is utterly closed to them.’

In 1866 the German Carl Engels could still write of England : ‘Although the rural population of England appear to sing less than those of most other European countries, it may nevertheless be supposed that they also, especially in districts somewhat remote from any large towns, must still preserve songs and dance tunes of their own inherited from their forefathers.’ from his Introduction to the study of National Music.

It seems the German composer and conductor Hans Von Bulow made a similar jibe, but the line “Das Land ohne Musik” / “The Land without music” was first loosely written down by a German critic Oscar Schmitz as : “I have found something which distinguishes English people from all other cultures to quite an astonishing degree, a lack which everybody acknowledges therefore nothing new but has not been emphasised enough. The English are the only cultured nation without its own music”.

Unfortunately, for a German nation which prides itself on precision and accuracy, this line came in 1904! It was no longer true! More analysis is found here.

Thanks to Mackenzie, Stanford and Parry, by this time England had produced its share of fine composers Elgar, Britten, Holst to name just a few, and it has continued producing them to the present day.

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One Response to The Land Without Music

  1. Karenmca says:

    Nice summary of the various individuals who cast this slur on British music! (Mr/Ms Author, who are you, out of interest? You don’t identify yourself on the blog.)

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