Urban Nostalgia:  The Musical City in the 19th and 20th Centuries. Deadline to apply : 6 April 2020.

Due to the Covid-19 outbreak this conference will take place as an online event. 5-7 July 2020.

Call for papers

The aim of this workshop is to explore space through music, approaching the history of the city via the notion of nostalgia. Often described as a form of homesickness, nostalgia is, by definition, the feeling that makes us wish to repossess or reoccupy a space. Such spaces appear to us as both near and distant, tangible and remote, and it seems that attempts at reclaiming them are frequently musical in nature. We know, for instance, that particular compositions have played important roles in helping people to navigate or mitigate a sense of displacement. In these circumstances, affective experiences may be bound up with trauma or joy, as is the case of song during wartime or musical imaginaries among migrants. Under other conditions, we might identify a ‘second-hand nostalgia’ in the guise of a musically-inflected tourism that seeks to reactivate (for pleasure and/or profit) the historical aura of an urban site. What are we to make of the abundance of personal, inter-personal, and propositional episodes that posit music as some kind of a bridge to the urban past?

One option is to turn to digital humanities and to recent trends in mapping the musical layers and pathways of city life. Yet, how well do such methods account for the emotional force of nostalgia and for the flickering between presence and absence that seems to characterise the musical grasp of the past? It is notoriously difficult to geo-locate affect and it is for this reason that we are looking to the kinds of mapping that music enables without the use of digital tools. How might we revisit compositions, correspondence, film music, opera, music criticism, etc. as techniques of urban nostalgia? Of course, these questions are not entirely new. But even as the so-called ‘urban musicology’ offers alternatives to traditional narratives of musical history, replacing big names with city streets, it sometimes remains unclear what the deeper relationships between musical practice and urban experience may be. We seek to address this lacuna by asking:

1) how composers, interpreters and other cultural actors have codified the city in musical terms;

2) how particular cities have afforded particular kinds of listening for particular groups at articular times;

3) and how music has contributed to the repertoire of clichés about urban identity, whether understood from ‘within’ or from the ‘outside’.


Another context for this conference is the growth of sound studies, which has made the notion of a ‘soundscape’ an unavoidable point of reference when describing links between music and urban atmospheres. In light of such work we aim to consider what the idea of a musical landscape or musicscape might offer to historically-sensitive and site-specific scholarship.

We welcome papers with a broad disciplinary grounding, including (but by no means limited to) musicology, history, cultural and sound studies, cultural geography, art history, and literature. We are also looking to include research – and researchers – that expand the geographical frame beyond Europe and Northern America, the areas favoured thus far by sound studies and technology and media studies.

We seek proposals that respond, but are not limited to the following themes:

  • Music, memory, and nostalgia
  • Music and mapping
  • Recorded music and the city
  • Musical clichés of space
  • Music, space and emotions
  • Music travel, and tourism
  • Urban music and local vs. national identity
  • Divisions of/bridges within the urban space through music
  • Intermedia exchanges in the representation of the city: visual arts, literature, and film
  • Site-specific musical works
  • Music architecture, and urbanism
  • Music and escapism: imaginary landscapes
  • Mobile listening
  • Music and noise pollution

Keynote lecture by Richard Elliott (Newcastle University) - Revisiting Old Haunts in a Time of Lockdown:  Holiday Records, Virtuality and the Nostalgia Gap


Please note the quick turnaround for this call: abstracts of no more than 250 words are to be sent to musical.cities.2020@gmail.com no later than 6 April 2020. Accepted proposals will be announced on 17 April 2020. Please, include a short biography of no more than 100 words and your institutional affiliation. Proposals in both English and French will be accepted.

Scientific committee: Esteban Buch (CRAL / EHESS, Paris); Jonathan Hicks (University of Aberdeen); Gascia Ouzounian (University of Oxford); Lola San Martín Arbide (CRAL / EHESS, Paris); Christabel Sterling (University of Westminster); Justinien Tribillon (Theatrum Mundi).

Funded by the Aural Paris project (Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement no. 750086); organised by Lola San Martín Arbide (CRAL / EHESS, Paris).

Online Registrationshttps://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_tRo1a9djSh2EIaPN7NWs0Q 

The event will be live-streamed through the CRAL’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/cral.ehess




16:00 > 16:30 Welcome and Introduction

Lola San Martín Arbide, CRAL – EHESS, Paris


From Fin-de-siècle to Retromania

Chair: Jonathan Hicks, University of Aberdeen

 Part One. Beirut­–Rome: The Written Discourses of Urban Modernity

  • Beirut in the musical discourse

Diana Abbani, Freie Universität Berlin

  • In memory of Rome. Topographical and musical proofs in Il piacere by Gabriele D'Annunzio

Raffaela Carluccio, Università degli Studi di Parma

(15 minute pause, 17.30 > 17.45)

Part Two. Beirut–Japan in the 1960s

  • Beirut the Ancient City of the Future: On Hauntology, Vaporwave, and the Sounds of Nostalgia for Lost Futures

Ali Jaber, Lebanese University of Fine Arts /American University of Beirut

  • From Rustic Hometowns to Dazzling Skylines: Nostalgia, Healing and the Negotiation of Identity in the Urban Cityscapes of Japanese New Music (nyū _myūjikku)

Anita Drexler, independent scholar




The City’s Rural Idyll

Chair: Justinien Tribillon, Theatrum Mundi

  • Heimatsmusik in Prague: Rural nostalgia in the capital?

Ondřej Daniel, Charles University Prague, and Jakub Machek, Metropolitan University Prague

  • The transposition of the musical landscape of the Brazilian sertão to the urban environment through Armorial music

Cecília Pires, CRAL  – EHESS, Paris

  • ‘Those Old Melodies Touch Home’: Nostalgia Rurality in Old-Time Music’s Urban Audience (United-States, 1920-1945)

Manuel Bocquier, Mondes Américains / Centre d’Études Nord-Américaines, EHESS, Paris 


Paris: Old, New and Déco

Chair: Gascia Ouzounian, University of Oxford

  • Nineteenth-Century Popular Song and the Invention of Le nouveau Paris

Jack Blaszkiewicz, Wayne State University

  • Mal de Paris: Singing and dancing nostalgia in the late nineteenth-century city

Tristan Paré-Morin, University of Pennsylvania

  • Paris, art déco, and the spirit of Apollo

Jonathan Cross, University of Oxford




Musical Palimpsests

Chair: Christabel Stirling, University of Westminster

  • ‘Deine alten Melodien von der schönen Stadt Berlin’. Popular Song and Urban Nostalgia in Berlin, 1880-1930

Daniel Morat, Freie Universität Berlin

  •  Longing for a Disappearing City: Urban Transformation and Nostalgia in Costumbrista Music Theatre in Late Nineteenth Century San Sebastian

Asier Odriozola Otamendi, Universidad Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona

  •  The production of urban nostalgias. Montevideo and Buenos Aires’ shared histories of tango

Daniel Richter, University of Maryland


Keynote lecture by Richard Elliott, Newcastle University

Revisiting Old Haunts in a Time of Lockdown:  Holiday Records, Virtuality and the Nostalgia Gap

Respondent: Esteban Buch, CRAL – EHESS, Paris


Concluding thoughts

  • Lundi 6 avril 2020 - 17:00