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2009 Graduate Student Essay Prize

Committee: Margaret Beissinger, Lavinia Stan, and Ileana Orlich.

The First SRS Graduate Student Essay Prize went to Roland Clark, a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh, for his paper “Singing Fascist Style: Music in the Romanian Legion of the Archangel Michael.” The committee wrote: “It was a very fine essay. We found that it was well written, well documented, with a clearly defined research question, and well argued. Clark’s findings on the role of music in the Iron Guard were fascinating and his interpretations were superb. His essay contained definitions ‘of appropriate terms (‘legionary’) based on a diversity of information sources, included Securitate documents obtained recently by the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.’ We also all felt that it was a topic that has not been covered adequately in the English-language literature on the Iron Guard.” Exploiting a support base built by earlier Romanian anti-Semites, the Legion of the Archangel Michael was established by Corneliu Zelea Codreanu (1899-1938) in 1927, and took power in a coup together with General Antonescu in 1940, ruling for five months before the regime disintegrated in an open legionary rebellion. Song lyrics articulated legionary ideology, but the music also communicated messages about unity, virulence, and ethnic specificity. It expressed the legionaries’ love affair with the peasantry, their romanticization of the natural world, their obsession with death, and the religious symbolism that characterized every aspect of legionary public life. Legionaries sang about highly emotional themes, and made frequent use of the imperative tense in their songs. Ron Eyerman and Andrew Jamison argue that in many social movements, “collective structures of feeling are actually made and reorganized … through song.” By claiming that their music expressed the Romanian soul, legionaries hoped to transform spectators into sympathizers and incorporate them into an imagined national community that Legionaries claimed to be appealing to a peasant base, and yet even though early legionary songs celebrated peasant life, they rarely reproduced peasant musical forms. Music, more than many forms of culture, often reflects class distinctions very clearly through both song structure and lyrical content, so how did legionaries use music to attract peasants? Songs expressed the Legion’s mythology, they created its style, and they provided the basis for its convivial sociability. In this paper, I situate legionary songs within the group’s wider semiotic web, suggest why certain musical styles were preferred over others, and show how legionaries used song to form solidarities with diverse sections of the population. Roland Clark is a a doctoral student in History at the University of Pittsburgh.


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