Appel à communications « Popular Song in Europe in the 1920s »

University of Rouen-Normandie, France,  8-9 June 2023

The 1920s was a key period for popular song. The slow rise of recorded music, and the arrival of radio, brought to the end that era when live performance was at the centre of the music industries. Meanwhile, ongoing urbanization in many countries continually changed the relationship between song, everyday life, fantasy and identity.

In Britain in the 1920s, the urban music hall suffered terribly. The rise of records and then the radio meant that the competition between songs was far stronger, and in general US production was more sophisticated, faster, more modern. Al Jolson, and later Cole Porter, were more impressive than the old-time singers: for the first time in history British popular song was threatened by US domination. The rise of the dance hall did damage too. Younger people wanted to go out and dance, not sit in a theatre singing along. Jazz reinforced the dance halls, while, at the end of the decade musical cinema could provide a more sophisticated song and dance show for a fraction of the price of a music hall evening.

In 1920s France, the tremendous growth of the Parisian spectacle symbolized the « Roaring Twenties ». The music hall played a euphoric role. Silent, black and white cinema could not match its sparkle. So the great authors of revues[1] played with opulence, light and color, the unusual and the exotic, in a style derived from operetta and the circus. It was at this time that Parisian performance venues gained lasting notoriety.[2] It was often the stars of the caf’conc from the pre-war period who animated the craziest revues and would become the stars of the talkies at the end of the decade.

In Ireland, the gaining of partial independence in 1922 helped to reinforce a nationalist vision  of popular culture, notably through the work of the Gaelic League which worked to encourage traditional song and dance, while in America collectors such as Francis O’Neill worked to preserve and record Irish repertoires.

In Spain, theatres and music halls presented género chico (short theatrical productions with music and dance accompanying), cuplés (short pieces sung by women, with erotic connotations), varietés, and flamenco and jazz spectacles. Jazz had been present since World War One, introduced by artists who were fleeing from the war, but it became popular towards the end of the 20s. The 1920s also brought a paradigm shift in flamenco, since it began to be performed in new venues: theatres, circuses and bullrings. Its newly acquired popularity led flamenco to become the most representative Spanish genre, offering a stereotypical vision of the national music and culture.

In the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (1918-1929), popular music developed and spread rapidly. The reasons for this were the increased importance of women in the cultural sphere as a result of wartime circumstances, as well as the slow emergence of new mass media – film and radio.   Popular music was undoubtedly influenced by musical trends and genres from the United States, France, Italy, Germany, Austria, Hungary, and the Soviet Union, but it remained true to itself.  The music industry was just getting started. The most well-known early music publishers were Jovan Frajt and Sergej Strahov, Albini and Akord,[3] while Belgrade and Zagreb were the most significant commercial markets for music.

These few countries, given as examples among many, reveal a period where technological change, cultural change and economic and political factors combine to shake up the music industry and popular song.

We invite papers on any aspect of popular song in Europe in the 1920s. A fully comprehensive or truly synthetic account of such an outpouring of work and energy is no doubt unobtainable. Our aim must rather be to tease out some of the regularities of what the songs meant to people, how they were produced and sold, what they reflected or did not reflect of people’s lives.

The conference will be in English.

Proposals of 300 words should be sent by 15 December 2022 to accompanied by a biographical note of 150 words. We will acknowledge receipt and, after examination by the scientific committee, a response will be made by 30 January 2023.

Scientific committee

  • John Mullen, University of Rouen Normandie, France
  • Eric Sauda, independent scholar, France
  • Eric Falc’her Poyroux, University of Nantes, France
  • Lidia Lopez, University of Barcelona, Spanish state
  • Nataša Simeunović Bajić, University of Niš, Serbia
  • Andre Rottgeri, University of Passau, Germany


[1] Willemetz, Lelièvre, Saint-Granier, Rouvray, Lemarchand, Varna…

[2] Les Ambassadeurs, l’Alcazar, le Bataclan, Bobino, le Casino de Paris, la Cigale, le Concert Mayol, l’Eldorado, L’Empire, les Folies Bergère, le Moulin-Rouge, l’Olympia…

[3] Весић, И.(2014) „Музичко издаваштво између два светска рата као извор за проучавање експанзије популарне музике у Југославији: примери издавачких кућа Јована Фрајта и Сергија Страхова“, Зборник Матице српске за сценске уметности и музику 51, 65–81.