1936 commence, année de la grande espérance populaire! […] Le ,Front populaire‘ occupe 378 sièges – les deux tiers – à l’Assemblée Nationale […] Cette victoire des idées pour lesquelles je me bats depuis plusieurs années, contre celles qui se développent aux frontières […] j’ai conscience de jouer un rôle dans la transformation de cette société française qui est devenue la mienne.
This quotation is from the memoirs of musician Paul Arma (1904/5–1987), who fled Germany to live in French exile upon the National Socialists’ seizure of power in 1933 due to the dire threat that they posed to him as a Jew and a communist. It expresses Arma’s elation following the 1936 election win of France’s Popular Front (Front Populaire) movement. The “popular front” concept championed here by Arma aimed to achieve cooperation between multiple left-wing and moderate parties in the struggle against fascism. Paul Arma played a formative role in the rise and subsequent government (1936–1938) of the Front Populaire via his general efforts for the Communist Party, the composition of political music, leadership of agitprop troops and workers’ choirs, appearances as a pianist and choir director at politically motivated events, and work together with the French Ministry of Education in the area of youth music.
Paul Arma was one of a number of musicians who fled Nazi Germany and became active in the Popular Front movement while in French exile. These figures included Paul Dessau (1894–1979), Hanns Eisler (1898–1962), Joseph Kosma (1905–1969), Franz Landé (1893–1942), Marianne Oswald (1901–1985), Louis Saguer (1907–1991), Eberhard Schmidt (1907–1996) and Cora Schmidt–Eppstein (1900–1939). The interweaving of the musical and political spheres effected via the committed work by these musicians in Popular Front circles was examined more closely in my dissertation, Exiled Musicians in the Antifascist Fight of the French Popular Front. Its specific research question was: How and under what conditions did musician-émigrés from Nazi Germany help shape the French Popular Front during the 1930s?
Answering this question involved the approach known as histoire croisée, or entangled history. This approach was developed at the beginning of the present century by Bénédicte Zimmermann and Michael Werner at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris. It is based on a networked concept of thought that takes interwoven or entangled structures into consideration in its derivation of scholarly findings. Since histoire croisée leaves the concrete methods used to analyse these entanglements largely open, additional research approaches are brought to bear. In essence, the histoire croisée approach as applied here is threefold: it integrates historical method, network analysis, and music analysis. Furthermore, in the interest of arriving at the most intersubjective portrayal possible, different types of sources were evaluated—among which musicians’ memoirs and press sources proved particularly fertile.
The dissertation consists of three parts. Part One provides theoretical and contextual foundations upon which to research the subject matter, Part Two examines individual exiled musicians’ antifascist activities, and Part Three is devoted to various contexts that each involved multiple exiled musicians. The initial chapter of this third part focuses on the areas of agitprop and cabaret. Its second chapter deals with exiled musicians’ antifascist activities in the efforts to oppose Germany’s annexation of the Territory of the Saar Basin in connection with the attendant plebiscite on 13 January 1935. This is followed by an analysis of the political dimension of the International Workers’ Music Olympiad in Strasbourg (Whitsun, 1935) in the third chapter. The fourth chapter takes a close look at political compositions by exiled musicians as well as translations and contrafacts. Chapter Five deals with the opportunities that existed to publish political music as well as general publishing opportunities while in exile. The sixth chapter is devoted to the media of radio and film and their employment as Popular Front mouthpieces. And in Part Three’s final chapter, the focus is broadened to the international level with the theme of exiled musicians’ activities in support of the Spanish Republic during the Spanish Civil War. Each chapter of Part Three features the analysis of three musical works with respect to their lyrical content and their role in the antifascist struggle. The dissertation concludes with a summary of the most important findings plus a survey of questions that still remain open.