Habilitation projects

Mapping Transformation in Opera in South Africa (1994-2022) - The Impact of Democracy on an 'Elite Artform' (AT)


This interdisciplinary habilitation project at the intersection of historical musicology, performance studies, music sociology and music anthropology is the first to comprehensively analyse the various transformation processes of South African opera since democratisation. Since opera as an institution and genre was used during apartheid as a political instrument to represent the power and cultural superiority of an "elite", it has had to change its "image" since the transition to democracy.


One aim of the project is to identify for the first time who has been producing operas in South Africa since the dissolution of the Performing Arts Boards. It will then analyse the production conditions of these opera companies and ensembles in their socio-political context in terms of their funding, institutional structures and personnel, as well as their active repertoire and audiences.


A further aim is to illustrate the processes of transformation of genre form and aesthetics in South Africa. The analysis of transformation processes will examine the extent to which institutional structures and production conditions influence the choice of material and the aesthetic realisation of productions. The focus will be on adaptations of the traditional canon staged in a South African context, on the one hand, and on new compositions by South African composers and/or librettists, on the other. In a diachronic and synchronic comparison, it will be examined which implicit intentions (e.g. new identity, community or social formation) are associated with opera productions in the still young democracy, and whether these intentions differ or overlap due to their different structures.


Furthermore, in the context of the transformation processes of the genre's form and aesthetics, a compositional analysis of the new compositions is indispensable in order to critically position the research project in the young research fields of "Black Opera" and "African Art Music Production". Not only will the various academic and practical notions of 'indigenised', 'African' and/or 'black opera' be problematised in terms of their applicability and suitability to the South African operatic repertoire, but the intentions behind their use will also be questioned. My research will reveal the extent to which music-historical "black empowerment" in South Africa is tangible when not only individual works, but also institutional structures and their repertoires are comprehensively scrutinised.


While memory culture, nostalgia and reconciliation politics were initially central to "nation building" after 1994, I will show that new compositions and productions are increasingly being created that are dedicated to socially critical themes. Drawing on Yvette Hutchison's theatre studies in South Africa, my repertoire analyses will show how earlier positions on ethnicity, gender, class and history are being renegotiated in terms of content and music, reflecting and influencing current debates on identity, history, and dealing with discrimination and violence.


Translation of the german original of this website with Deepl.com


Women, Musical Patronage, and Imperial Diplomacy at Fin-de-Siècle International Exhibitions

Recently, music scholars have extended their attention beyond the constructions of nation (Hobsbawm & Ranger 1992) to notions of internationalism and globalisation (White 2012; Stokes 2012; Celestini & Bohlman 2014; Romanou 2015). Simultaneously, there has been a move away from inscribed forms of knowledge towards those embodied in ‘performance’ (Taylor 2003; Cook 2013). This proposed project responds to these currents with a comparative study of three highly significant events that took place between 1892 and 1893: the Viennese International Exhibition of Music and Theatre, the Columbian Historic Exposition of Madrid, and the World’s Columbian Exposition held in Chicago. Within the frame of imperialism, these three possibilities of encounter represented the rupture of the status quo between the European Monarchies and the American Republics. The patterns of arts management displayed at these international exhibitions, especially those related with Music, became a fruitful symbol of empowerment and civilization.

Although these exhibitions were extremely different in terms of size, impact, and topic, they shared a cluster of common organisers and agents. A selected group of cosmopolitan women were actively engaged in these events. Around the Austro-Hungarian Princess Pauline Clémentine Marie Walburga von Metternich (1836–1921), the Spanish Infant Isabel de Borbón y Borbón (1851–1931), and the American businesswoman Bertha Palmer (1849–1918) a dense elitist network of women was built. All the three of them were active salonnières and renowned patrons of arts, whose social influence was strengthened in the international exhibitions. These three mobilizers acted as cultural managers mastering the language of the status (contacting their own personal network of personal contacts), the language of the administration (promoting official bilateral diplomatic relations), and the language of “good taste” (acting as “influencers” from their salon network). The transnational scope of this female group highlights the ways in which patterns of art management and patronage intersected with elite networks transcending Nation-State categories of analysis. In addition, these international events represented an arena where different social groups, such as old aristocracy, liberal professionals, and upper bourgeoisie, displayed their power and identity struggles. These intergroup tensions mirrored the unstable economic balance between a musical patronage inherited of the Ancient Régime, the State arts commission, and the emerging transnational music industry, rooted in the economic framework of the electric revolution and the colonial expansion of capitalism.

Through a methodological approach based on discourse analysis and historical social network analysis, the proposed project investigates the role of women in the frame of International Exhibitions in the standardisation and globalisation of musical practices and discourses, labelled as Western, at the turn of the 20th century. The main research sources are bilateral diplomatic papers, the catalogues of exhibited objects, the personal correspondence of individuals involved in these events, and a selection of different records, including traveller reports, social chronicles, and music criticism.

Kontakt: maria.caceres@musik.unibe.ch / caceres.maria@gmail.com


‘Gypsy Music’ in Switzerland: a Space for Cultural (Re-)negotiation and Divergence

‘Gypsy Music’ is a popular category within the World Music genre, which currently seems to be omnipresent in Western Europe and the United States: ‘Gypsy’-bands are formed by amateur and professional musicians, ‘Gypsy Music’ workshops attract great numbers of folk music lovers and ‘Gypsy’-festivals representing ‘real gypsies’ are booming. However, the term ‘Gypsy Music’ is highly problematic and its concept seems most arbitrary. Firstly, because it is used for a number of completely unrelated musical styles, and secondly, because it seems to be rather the product of Western fantasies than the actual musical expressions of Romani peoples.

On the one hand, there are ‘Gypsy Music’ bands of generally Western devotees of folk music who play these - what they perceive as - beautiful, passionate and exotic melodies, lyrics and rhythms with great fervour. Many of these musicians received classical Western art music training as children but feel nowadays restricted by the music’s perceived seriousness and fixed forms. In their eyes, classical music leaves not much room for improvisation and creativity. Therefore, followers of the modern and generally more alternative Folk music scene look for possibilities to engage with music in a presumably more joyful and free manner, while at the same time celebrating cultural hybridity. Although initially designed as a musical style to foster multicultural inclusiveness, aspects of orientalism combined with the stylistic simplification of autochthonous Romani music aesthetics seem to be omnipresent in what these musicians understand as ‘Gypsy Music’.

On the other hand, there is a majority of renowned Romani musicians who are nowadays an integral part of the globalisation process. They frequently interact with Western Europe and the USA, either because they live in the diaspora, or because they extensively tour the world’s stages. The majority of these musicians have their cultural roots in the Balkans (Bulgaria, North Macedonia, Serbia, Rumania and Greece in particular), but there are also musicians from Russia, Poland, Czech Republic, or France. The main consumers of Romani Musics are frequently not the people who the Romani live next door with in the Balkans but rather often left-alternative Westerners, consumers of ‘World Music’ and ‘World Beat’, or Romani people living in the diaspora. Contemporary Romani musicians find themselves often torn between adapting to Western aesthetics (Self-Orientalisation or Westernisation) or exploring new musical idioms with the risk of losing their paying audience. Collaboration between Romani musicians and Western musicians on an equal eyelevel also exists, which leads towards completely new musical creativity. As becomes clear, the concepts of Western ‘Gypsy Music’ and modern ‘Romani Musics’ often stand in harsh contrast with each other but they sometimes overlap. This ambiguity seems exemplary for many multicultural societies in present Western Europe and the United States. It constitutes therefore an essential area of not only philosophical concepts (e.g. Homi Bhabha’s ‘Third Space’) but hands-on research.

This habilitation project takes Switzerland as a case study and examines how various promoters of ‘Gypsy’ Music and Romani Musics understand and (re-)negotiate the plethora of different musical styles and cultural approaches, thereby often using similar labelling. Questions of authenticity, transculturality, bi-musicality, cultural appropriation, exoticism and hybridisation in a post-modern World Music setting and/or diaspora in Switzerland are being compared, discussed and evaluated. The research thus aims at filling an important gap in the research on Romani Musics in the diaspora as well as on ‘Gypsy Music’ in modern cosmopolitan contexts.


CLEFNI - Das Chorleben in den Städten Bern und Freiburg im langen 19. Jahrhundert

Link zur Projektbeschreibung


Klanglichkeit in burgundisch-habsburgischen Riten

Musikalische und klangliche Darbietungen spielten in der Inszenierung höfischer Festlichkeiten eine wesentliche Rolle. Ihre Wirkung entfalteten sie jedoch vor allem in der Verbindung mit anderen Medien. Erst die Kulmination unterschiedlicher medialer Elemente führte zu der angestrebten Überwältigung, die im Vorfeld herausragender festlicher Ereignisse detailliert geplant, über lange Zeiträume vorbereitet und im Anschluss gezielt in idealisierenden Festberichten oder bildlichen Darstellungen Verbreitung erfuhr. Die Festbeschreibungen zum Fasanenfest, das Philipp der Gute 1454 in seiner Residenz in Lille ausrichten liess, oder zu den Feierlichkeiten, die anlässlich der Vermählung Karls des Kühnen mit Margarethe von York 1468 in Brügge stattfanden, zeigen eindrücklich, wie sich die Herzöge mittels klanglicher, bildlicher, akrobatischer, kriegerisch-sportlicher, tänzerischer und gustatorisch-olfaktorischer Elemente inszenierten, dass deren Ineinandergreifen einer geplanten Strategie unterlag, die eine bestimmte Performation verlangte.

Anhand des weiter gefassten Begriffs von «Klanglichkeit», der sich bewusst gegen das paradigmatisch aufgeladene Verständnis von Musik als Kunstwerk in der Auffassung der Musikgeschichtsschreibung des 19. Jahrhunderts wendet, sollen musikalisch-akustische Phänomene dieser beiden sowie weiterer herausgehobener und besonders gut dokumentierter Festlichkeiten der burgundisch-habsburgischen Sphäre in intermedialer Perspektive untersucht werden. Gefragt wird dabei, wie akustisch-musikalische Momente Festverläufe räumlich, zeitlich und emotional im intermedialen Gefüge strukturierten, wie sie Bedeutungen transportieren, die sinnliche Ausgestaltung von Festräumen gestalteten, aber auch wie sie von den Festbesuchern wahrgenommen wurden. Der klanglich-intermediale Zugriff erfolgt dabei auf der Basis verschiedener Materialitäten, schriftlich-musikalische Quellen werden dabei ergänzt von textilen, bildlichen, figürlichen Darstellungen sowie weiteren Artefakten der Schatzkunst, die im Rahmen der Hoffeste präsentiert und benutzt wurden.