Two UNC Musicologists Awarded Competitive NEH Fellowships

February 3, 2009
University Communications

Two musicologists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have won 2009 fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities for book projects, on music during World War II and the myth of “absolute music.”

The one-year research fellowships of $50,400 each were awarded to Annegret Fauser and Mark Evan Bonds, professors of music in UNC’s College of Arts and Sciences. Across the country, NEH awarded $15.7 million in fellowships to 248 applicants.

“It is rare enough for a single colleague in a department to receive one of these highly competitive and prestigious NEH fellowships,” said Tim Carter, chair of the UNC music department. “For two to do so in the same year is truly remarkable.”

NEH designated Fauser’s research a “We the People” project. The NEH’s “We the People” program seeks to encourage and enhance the teaching, study and understanding of American history, culture and democratic principles.

Fauser also received a fellowship from the Institute for Advanced Studies in Berlin for 2009-10. Both fellowships support the final steps of writing and research for “Sounds of War: Music in the United States During World War II.” The book explores the interface of music and American life during the second world war. Fauser recently gave a lecture at the Library of Congress about the new work.

Musicians, like other Americans, volunteered for service during the war, Fauser said. American composer Marc Blitzstein signed up for the U.S Air Force and was given a year off of active duty to compose the “Airborne Symphony,” which he wrote in 1943-44. American composer Samuel Barber also created a number of works while in the Air Force, including his “Commando March.” Other musicians, including Henry Cowell and Kurt Weill, used their musical skills in the propaganda missions of the Offices of War Information.

“Americans were very much responding to and involved in a culture war,” Fauser said. “I have discovered how music and politics were intertwined in an international context.”

Many classical composers became involved in promoting America through their art. Aaron Copland, for instance, composed “Lincoln Portrait,” “Appalachian Spring” and “Fanfare for the Common Man,” among other works.

Fauser received a Ph.D. from the University of Bonn in Germany in 1992 and joined the UNC music faculty in 2001.

Bonds, the Cary C. Boshamer Distinguished Professor of Music, will use the NEH fellowship for his book project, “The Myth of Absolute Music.”

Composer Richard Wagner coined the term absolute music in 1846 as a pejorative to characterize instrumental music “as pure abstraction, cut off from the broader realms of life,” Bonds said. The Viennese critic Eduard Hanslick embraced the term in 1854, instead celebrating instrumental music’s qualities of abstraction that had been so distasteful to Wagner.

“Hanslick argued that form was the essence of all beauty in music, and that music’s freedom from representational content set it apart from (and above) all other arts,” Bonds said.

Bonds’ book will trace the origins and changing perceptions of the idea of absolute music. He will examine texts for the project drawn not only from the field of music, but also from philosophy, aesthetics, art history and literary theory.

Bonds received a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1988 and joined the UNC music faculty in 1992.

National Endowment for the Humanities news release:

College of Arts and Sciences contact: Kim Spurr, (919) 962-4093,

News Services contact: LJ Toler, (919) 962-8589

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