Rebecca Dowd Geoffroy-SchwindenMay 11, 2022
From Servant to Savant
Musical Privilege, Property, and the French Revolution
Oxford University Press 2022
Today’s copyright laws are predicated on the idea that music is intellectual property; a commodity that has value to its creator and to its publisher. But, how did that concept originate and why? From Servant to Savant: Musical Privilege, Property, and the French Revolution (Oxford University Press, 2022) by Rebecca Geoffroy Schwinden tackles this question with an insightful examination of the years around the French Revolution when the legal protections for music moved from a system of monopolies granted by the sovereign that regulated music as an activity to a framework that assumed music was a kind of property. Before the French Revolution, making music was an activity that required permission. After the revolution, music was an object that could be possessed. In Geoffroy-Schwinden’s analysis, this is far from a simple history of commodification, it is, instead, a process entwined with the political, ideological, and cultural agendas of the French Revolutionaries. It is also a history of the development of new institutions, and how the Paris Conservatory, founded in the fluid and sometimes violent aftermath of the French Revolution, became the conservator and arbiter of French musical traditions and pedagogy. Musicians capitalized on new kinds of legal protections to guard their professionalization within new laws and institutions, while excluding those without credentials from their elite echelon.
Kristen M. Turner is a lecturer in the music and honors departments at North Carolina State University. Her research centers on race and class in American popular entertainment at the turn of the twentieth century.