A favorite project of scholars in late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century France was to collect folk songs from various French provinces and to add new harmonic accompaniments before publishing them. This folk-song project, like so many others, has obvious nationalist undertones: gathering songs from every French province and celebrating an essential and enduring French spirit. Yet the nuances of this project and its broader context suggest a diverse set of concerns. An examination of the rhetoric around folk-song collection shows how French scholars of the period conflated history and geography: they made the provinces the place of history. Collecting songs from the provinces thus became a way of recovering France's past. Paired with contemporary discussions of musical progress and especially those related to harmony, the addition of piano accompaniments to monophonic songs now reads as a form of history writing. In this article, I argue that French music scholars of the fin de siècle acted out their preferred narratives of music history through folk-song harmonizations. What seemed like a unanimously motivated nationalist project actually reveals the development and contestation of the discipline of music history.
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