This book tells three inter-related stories that radically alter our perspective on plainchant reform at the turn of the twentieth century and highlight the value of liturgical music history to our understanding of French government anticlericalism. It offers at once a new history of the rise of the Benedictines of Solesmes to official dominance over Catholic editions of plainchant worldwide, a new optic on the French liturgical publishing industry during a period of international crisis for the publication of plainchant notation, and an exploration of how, both despite and because of official hostility, French Catholics could bend Republican anticlericalism at the highest level to their own ends. The narrative relates how Auguste Pécoul, a former French diplomat and Benedictine novice, masterminded an undercover campaign to aid the Gregorian agenda of the Solesmes monks via French government intervention at the Vatican. His vehicle: trades unionists from within the book industry, whom he mobilized into nationalist protest against Vatican attempts to enshrine a single, contested, and German, version of the musical text as canon law. Yet the political scheming necessitated by Pécoul’s double involvement with Solesmes and the print unions almost spun out of control as his Benedictine contacts struggled with internal division and anticlerical persecution. The results are as musicologically significant for the study of Solesmes as they are instructive for the study of Church-State relations.
Katharine Ellis is Professor of Music at Royal Holloway. She is a cultural historian of music in nineteenth-century France, author of two monographs (Music Criticism in Nineteenth-Century France (CUP, 1995) and Interpreting the Musical Past (OUP, 2005)), and joint editor with David Charlton of a collection of essays on Berlioz (The Musical Voyager, Peter Lang, 2007). In her research she seeks to explain what different kinds of music meant to those who experienced them, used them and avoided them, and to probe how music and musicians operated in light of cultural, social and regulatory frameworks.
'It is not often that a musicological text reads like a mystery novel, yet the plot of this ’detective investigation of unforeseen complexity and obsessive grip’ (p. xi) could make for bestselling fiction... The Politics of Plainchant is a pleasant surprise in another respect, too. In no more than 150 pages this ’extended essay’ (p. xi) deals adroitly with issues as diverse (yet interconnected) as French nationalism and protectionism; international diplomacy; relations between Church and State; labour history; the European publishing industry; plainchant revival; and gender relations between monks and nuns... its unexpectedly wide range defies recent charges of insularity in French music scholarship... this monograph constitutes a breakthrough in research on plainchant reform at the fin de siècle and opens up numerous avenues for future inquiry... the text will appeal not only to specialists but to anyone with an interest in French political and religious histories at the turn of the twentieth century.' Music and Letters 'Katherine Ellis’s monograph on the fraught history of plainchant in late nineteenth-century France is a densely woven tale which rewards sustained and attentive reading. Part institutional, part political history, part biography, The Politics of Plainchant in fin-de-siècle France takes a new approach to the history of plainchant in a period when the ancient music of the Roman church was at a flashpoint ... Ellis’s achievement ... is to enrich and complicate that story in ways which situate much of what has become received knowledge about Solesmes and the plainchant restoration in new and illuminating perspectives'. Plainsong and Medieval Music ’Through expert archival work, the connexions between politics and plainchant, and the deep seated, necessary changes in perspective on the reform of chant at the turn of the century, are elegantly and unambiguously presented. ... Ellis demonstrates a firm and influential hold on the histo