‘After the defeat in the war with Prussia in France, the search for a national voice was generated’: Philipp Blom, historian
CHANGE: How did France, and in particular Paris, manage to regain its importance so quickly after the defeat by Prussia in 1871?
PS: France never really lost its importance. After all, it was still an industrial and colonial power and still set the standard in areas of culture such as literature and painting. The loss of importance was rather subjective. Germany had always been Germany’s main rival, and the population in Germany was growing faster than in France, its industries and universities were rapidly catching up with and surpassing its international rivals, and the new German Empire (founded on a symbolic humiliation in the Hall of of the mirrors in the Palace of Versailles) was openly expansionist. There was a sense of powerlessness in France, a crisis of masculinity that was reflected not only in popular culture but also in the event that tore French society apart around 1900: the Dreyfus Affair in which a Jewish officer was charged with espionage and sentenced to life imprisonment in a penal colony in a public trial. France was a fractured nation, but the moral bankruptcy of the older generation also created a younger generation of rebellious artists who looked elsewhere for inspiration and who countered an increasingly anxious official culture with a musical language that refused to partake of this game and went much further to explore the sensations and musical languages of the past.
CHANGE: What influence or impact did the universal exhibitions of 1998 and 1900 have on the development of French music at that time?
PS: Both were very important to Paris. The one in 1900 was attended by 50 million people. This shows the size of the mobilizations at that time. France projected itself as a very strong and self-confident culture, a colonial empire (there was a colonial section where human beings were exhibited in their costumes in zoo cages), an industrial center. The arts were not so important in these exhibitions, but these events underlined the international luster of the French capital, which also brought as a consequence very important artistic influences, such as the presence in Paris of the young Igor Stravinsky and Sergei Diaghilev with his famous avant-garde ballet Russian. The exhibitions showed that France had taken a symbolic step into the future and this was reflected in the arts.