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Doctoral dissertation project of Jonas A. Löffler

Imperial Sounds. Music and Identity in Tiflis/Tbilisi around 1900 (working title)

My doctoral dissertation project “Imperial Sounds. Music and Identity in Tiflis/Tbilisi around 1900” looks at the nexus between music and identity formation on the fringes of the Tsarist Empire around the turn of the twentieth century. At that time, Tiflis (today’s Tbilisi) was the cultural and political hub of the Caucasus region. Its population was ethnically diverse, with a plurality of Armenian inhabitants and large numbers of Georgians and Russians living together with smaller ethnic groups, including Turkic people (Azeris) and Germans. The ethnic diversity of the city was mirrored in its musical life, in which highly different musical styles ranging from opera performances to staged concerts of Georgian and Armenian folk songs coexisted with a hybrid urban folklore, amalgamating Persian, Turkic, and Western musical elements. As questions of ethnic/national identity came to the fore in Tiflis among Armenians, Georgians, and Azeris, so also music entered the sphere of public discourse. At the same time, Tiflis was the seat of the Russian regional administration, which in the course of the 19th century pursued a colonially motivated cultural “civilising” mission in the South Caucasus. Numerous articles, reviews and advertisements in newspapers and journals published in the main languages of the city (Russian, Armenian, Georgian) paint a lively and multi-layered picture of urban musical life. Representing a central source corpus of the project, a thorough analysis of contemporary periodicals will isolate discourses, events and controversies relevant to questions of musical ethnic identity, self-affirmation, othering, and cultural hybridity as well as colonialistic influence. 

The project carries out fundamental work in a field, that has so far not received greater academic attention and is relevant to many disciplines. Interdisciplinary at its core, it unites musicological, historiographical, and ethnological methodologies and contributes to current research on identity, nationalism, empire, cultural transfer, global history and not least musical performance and reception. While the historiography of music is still often limited to a monolinear model within the bounds of Western (classical) music, this project seeks to widen its scope, proposing a polylinear, globally oriented model.


Short biography

Jonas Löffler is a doctoral student at the University of Cologne in Germany. He holds a scholarship of the German Academic Scholarship Foundation (Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes) and is member of the a.r.t.e.s. Graduate School for the Humanities Cologne. Jonas studied classical guitar and musicology at the Conservatoire and the University of Basel, Switzerland, and at Oxford University. At Oxford, he was a recipient of the Clarendon Scholarship as well as a grant from the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD). Besides his musicological undertakings, he is a performer on the classical guitar, having received various scholarships and awards. His solo album «Terra» was released in 2014. Above that he works as a translator from Georgian, having published, amongst other things, a collection of short stories for learners of the language and a translation of the Georgian Futurist/Dada journal H2SO4.





Löffler, Jonas. Review of Representing Russia’s Orient. From Ethnography to Art Song, by Adalyat Issiyeva. European History Quarterly 51/4 (2021): 590–592. https://doi.org/10.1177/02656914211049090l 

Löffler, Jonas. Review of Georgien zwischen Eigenstaatlichkeit und russischer Okkupation: Die Wurzeln des Konflikts vom 18. Jh. bis 1924, by Philipp Ammon. Ab Imperio 2020, no. 2 (2020): 267-272. doi:10.1353/imp.2020.0043.

H2SO4. Futurismus und Dada in Tiflis, aus dem Georgischen und Russischen von Jonas Löffler, Berlin: ciconia ciconia 2019.

Lia Abuladze, Jonas Löffler (Hg.), Georgisches Lesebuch (Georgisch-Deutsch), Hamburg: Buske Verlag 2018.

Gaga Nakhutsrishvili, Tutu Kiladze, Meer-Sehnsucht, aus dem Georgischen von Jonas Löffer, Berlin: ciconia ciconia 2018.

Art. „Notation“ im Glossar, in: Nicola Gess und Alexander Honold (Hg.), Handbuch Literatur und Musik, Berlin: De Gruyter 2017, S. 607–608.

Bericht zur Ringvorlesung „Selbstaffirmierung und Othering in der europäischen Musikgeschichte“ 2012/13 am Musikwissenschaftlichen Seminar der Universität Basel, in: Katharina Hottmann (Hg.), Liedersingen. Studien zur Aufführungsgeschichte des Liedes, Hildesheim 2013 (Jahrbuch Musik und Gender 6).


“Between Colonial Rule and Local Self-Empowerment. Western Art Music in Tiflis/Tbilisi around 1900,” Workshop “Approaches and Perspectives for the Caucasus and Central Asia,” Faculty of History, University of Oxford (UK), 11 March 2024.

“Der Klang des Imperiums. Musik und Identität in Tiflis/Tbilisi um 1900,” Privatissimum/Colloquium, Chair of Historical Musicology, Department of Musicology and Performance Studies, University of Music and Performing Arts (mdw) Vienna, 26 January 2024.

“Is It Culture or Just Squeaking? The Persianate Musical Heritage of Tiflis/Tbilisi as a Target of Local Criticism around 1900,” Colloquium Chair of Eastern European History, Historical Seminar, University of Basel (CH), 1 November 2023.

“Zwischen Stadt und Nation. Die urbane Musikkultur von Tiflis/Tbilissi um 1900,” Congress of the Gesellschaft für Musikforschung/German Musicological Society (GfM), Saarbrücken (DE), 4–7 October 2023.

“Contested Cosmopolitanism. The Urban Musical Culture of Late Tsarist Tiflis/Tbilisi and its Twentieth-Century Transformations,” Workshop “Relicts of the Ancien Régime – Socialist & Imperial Legacies and the City,” Leibniz Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin (DE), 13–15 September 2023.

“Sounds of Empire. Music and Identity in Tiflis/Tbilisi around 1900,” Institute for Social and Cultural Research, Ilia State University, Tbilisi (GE), 14 June 2023

“Between the City and the Nation. The Persianate Music of Tiflis/Tbilisi around 1900,” Workshop “The Caucasus in Global History,” Ilia State University, Tbilisi (GE), 5 May 2023.

“Popular Music in Tiflis/Tbilisi around 1900: Between Cosmopolitanism and the Nation,” Yearly Conference of the Associazione per lo Studio in Italia dell’Asia Centrale e del Caucaso (ASIAC), Bergamo (IT), 1–3 December 2022.

“Popular Music in Tiflis/Tbilisi around 1900: Between Cosmopolitanism and the Nation,”part of the panel “Empire and its Others: Negotiating Identity Musically in the Caucasus and Central Asia” with Rebecca Mitchell, Adalyat Issiyeva, and Knar Abrahamyan, ASEEES Congress, Chicago (US), 12 November 2022.

“Verdi im Kaukasus. Westliche Kunstmusik im multiethnischen Musikleben von Tiflis/Tbilissi um 1900,” Congress of the Gesellschaft für Musikforschung/German Musicological Society (GfM), Berlin, 29 September 2022.

“Der Klang des Imperiums. Musik und Identität in Tiflis/Tbilisi um 1900,” Colloquium of the Junge DGO, German Association of East European Studies, Online, 16 February 2022.

“Imperial Sounds: Folklore Music and Identity Formation in Tiflis/Tbilisi around 1900,” ASEEES Convention, New Orleans/Online (US), 3 December 2021.

“Imperial Sounds. The Beginnings of a National Choir Culture in Late Nineteenth-Century Tbilisi/Tiflis,” ICCEES World Congress, Montréal/Online (CA), 5 August 2021.

“Der Klang des Imperiums. Musik und Identität in Tiflis/Tbilisi um 1900,” Colloquium, Chair of Eastern European History, Historical Institute, University of Bonn/Online (DE), 17 December 2020.

“Imperial Sounds. The Beginnings of a National Choir Culture in Late Nineteenth-Century Tbilisi/Tiflis,“  Lecture Series “Works-in-Progress,“ Caucasus Research Resource Center, Tbilisi/Online (GE), 8. Juli 2020.

“Im Zentrum der Peripherie. Musik und Multiethnizität in Tiflis um 1900”, Großes Promovierendenforum of the German Academic Scholarship Foundation/Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes, Cologne (DE), 16 November 2019.

“Matrix Europa: Musik zwischen Orient und Okzident“, Workshop as part of the “Promovierenden-Meeting” of the German Academic Scholarship Foundation/Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes, together with Wiebke Rademacher, Thessaloniki (GR), 26 September 2019.

“In the Centre of the Periphery. Music in Multi-Ethnic Tiflis around 1900,“ Lecture Series “Works-in-Progress,“ Caucasus Research Resource Center, Tbilisi (GE), 13 June 2018.

“In the Centre of the Periphery. Music in Multi-Ethnic Tiflis around 1900,” 13. Juni 2018, Workshop “Toward a Global History of the Caucasus,” Ilia State University, Tbilisi (GE), 13 June 2018.

“Music and Musica in Adam de la Bassée’s Ludus super Anticlaudianum”, International Musicological Society, 20th Quinquennial Congress, Tokio (JP), 20 March 2017.

Cover photo: The Azeri tar player Sadiq and his Sazandari ensemble in Tiflis, 1878. Photo by Aleksander Roinov. // Portrait photo: Patric Fouad