It is true, though, that their activism did not necessarily take the form of a program strategically planned out in advance.
These three men, after all, were composers and not philosophers or theoreticians. They were not concerned with elaborating a philosophical system. Their ideas are not flawlessly logical nor, in many cases, all that deep. Of the three, Wagner is the most theoretical, the one who thought hardest about what he was doing. However, even his thought lacks the internal consistency we find in, for example, a Kant. Nonetheless, it is not only philosophers whose ideas have import. Indeed, it is as innovators and implementers of the ideas behind nation building and national art that Wagner’s, Smetana’s, and Grieg’s thought is worth examining. They practiced what they preached. Further, what they were involved in was a project and not a program: the imagining of the nation proceeds not according to an inviolable five-year plan, but instead contingently in response to a variety of factors. Together with fellow nationalists in their respective movements, Wagner, Smetana, and Grieg were impacted by the intellectual, artistic, and social developments of their time. They elaborated their ideas and techniques as they went along.
That said, their projects for creating a national music and culture were predicated on a certain logic. We can read the intellectual, artistic, and practical principles that informed these men’s activism from both their own accounts of their motivation and inspiration, and from their concrete achievements. These principles, their motivation, and their achievements all lead to the overriding question of precisely how, according to Wagner, Smetana, and Grieg, the project of creating a national music should proceed, and what, ultimately, it should accomplish.