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Alterity-Studies: Othering Austrian Music


Admission requirements

The lecture will be taught in English, but students need to read German. Ability to read music is not required.


When Germany and Austria separated in the 19th century, their different political agenda was reflected in criticism and aesthestics and even in musical compositions. Germans, trying to establish Prussia as the leading political power, tended to construct an image of Austria as weak and decadent, timid and sensual, as opposed to a strong, aggressive, intellectual Protestant Prussia. Richard Wagner’s writings are only one of many examples: although Beethoven was a Catholic who lived in Vienna for most of his life, Wagner praised him as a strong, heroic, and masculine „German“ whose most important influence was the Protestant Bach. By comparison, he considered Austrian-born composers like Haydn as losers. The music of Schubert was interpreted on similar lines. In the Austro-Prussian war of 1866, the Prussian „Königgrätzer Marsch“, with its triumphalist citation of an 18th century march which had already celebrated an earlier defeat of an Austrian army in 1745, was composed on the very battlefield. The fact that this march was popular on Nazi websites, some of which have been shut down only recently, shows that its message is still understood only too well. (By the way: Austrians use the composer’s name, Piefke, as a non-flattering designation for Germans even today). The defamation of Bruckner (by the disciples of Brahms) was based on politics as well as aesthetics. And many commentaries on Mahler’s music reflect the venom of (not only) Wagner’s nationalism and anti-semitism.
Teaching material: music examples, projections of illustrations and scores (which will be used like graphs to facilitate listening; students do not need to be able to read music). Some historical texts, such as contemporary critiques, will be discussed.

Course objectives

The class will underline that both music and thinking about music need to be handled with care. While classical and romantic compositions can be „presented“ and enjoyed in today’s performances, they were loaded with more meaning than we may know. Music and other arts not only reflect the past, but they also have shaped its identities, traditions and power structures. And they may reinforce them even today. By understanding how traditions and identities are constructed, we can question and change them. Concepts to think about in connection with 19th cent. music are dualisms like male/female, culture/nature, new/old, stereotypes (national, racial and gender), and identity, othering and exclusion.


See timetable History

Mode of instruction


Course Load

5 ECTS = 140 hours.

  • Lectures: 2 hours/week: 28 hours.

  • Studying literature: appr. 70 hours.

  • Following-up course work, preparation of classes and exam: app. 40 hours.

Assessment method

Oral exam, oral presentation.




  • Brigitte Hamann: Österreich. Ein historisches Portrait. München [Beck] 2009. ISBN 978-3-406-59213-3 (ca.18 €), pages 39-142.

  • Karl Vocelka: Geschichte Österreichs. Kultur – Gesellschaft – Politik. München [Heyne] 9/2002, ISBN 978-3-453-21622-8 (ca. 12, 50 €), pages 167-271.

More reading material will be made available on Blackboard.



Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs



The instructor of this lecture is a guest professor from Austria: prof. dr. Marie-Agnes Dittrich.

Contact person: Dr. P. Dassen