What the Ballad Knows: The Ballad Genre, Memory Culture, and German Nationalism

Publication Date
August 22, 2022
Author Affiliation

Over the course of the 19th century, ballads proliferated in German-speaking Europe in a truly remarkable range of contexts. Audiences were of course likely encounter balladry in the volumes of Goethe and Schiller, in various anthologies or illustrated editions. But they were just as likely to come across objects billed as ballads in recitation evenings by popular actors, in song-settings by Schubert and Loewe, in piano pieces by Chopin, in the opera house and the concert hall, in mass-produced drawings, paintings and even chinaware. Ballads were poems one could use - schoolteachers used them to train their students' memory (or punish them), women composers used them to assert their place in the musical canon, actors used them to bolster their income, mothers used them to put their children to sleep. Ballads intersected with gender and class, promising to democratize art, while in fact helping make distinctions. In What the Ballad Knows: The Ballad Genre, Memory Culture, and German Nationalism, Adrian Daub tells the story of this itinerant genre across media, periods, regions and social strata and shows that, even though it was often positioned as an authentic product of German spirit, the ballad frequently unsettled and subverted the national project. The popular imagination rooted these poems in pre-modern oral culture, among bards and peasants in the everyday life of common folk. But in fact nineteenth-century ballads were in the end all about modernity DS modern modes of association, of attention, of dissemination.