American classical music has come a long way in a short time. From the European-style music that was the norm at the end of the 19th century, a body of music has evolved that at the end of the 20th can be termed authentically and distinctively "American." The History of American Classical Music takes an in-depth, panoramic look at this amazing variety of music, how it developed and the often fascinating people who composed it. While the emphasis is on the 20th century, author John Warthen Struble goes back to colonial times to examine all the early influences: the hymns of the "First New England School"; the genteel musical traditions of the East Coast cities during the 18th and 19th centuries, the folk music of Appalachia and the Mississippi Valley imported by Scottish and Irish settlers; the indigenous music of the North American Indians; the African music brought over and adapted by slaves; the balladry, beginning in the 1820s and continuing even today; and the Creole and Gulf Coast music, an amalgam of French, Spanish, African, Cuban, Haitian and American influences. By the 1920s American classical music had reached its most active stage to date. Many conductors and musicians were willing to play it, enough dedicated patrons and promoters were willing to present it and a brilliant group of American composers existed who "spoke a language that the public was, on the whole, willing and able to hear, " a group that included the likes of Aaron Copland, Virgil Thomson, Roy Harris and George Gershwin. As university music departments expanded in the 1920s and 30s, Americans like Howard Hanson, Roger Sessions and Walter Piston became influential teachers along with many European composerswho had fled the Nazis. An entire generation of composers were taught and influenced by these academics, and many of these new composers produced music that, at worst, antagonized audiences who found it difficult to understand. The author lays the groundwork for the emergence in th
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Struble identifies "Americanist" music as a "conservative" style using vernacular sources for melody and rhythm. In contrast, most American composers-though often representative of their generation-have expressed distinctly original ideas in their memorable music. Such strong opinions, supported by reasonable arguments, are the author's best asset. Unfortunately, Struble repeatedly threatens to numb readers with paragraphs that do little but present lists in between discussions of individual composers. Still, this is less technical and focuses more exclusively on art music than H. Wiley Hitchcock's Music in the United States (Prentice Hall, 1988. 3d ed.) and will make a thoughtful, reasonably priced supplement to large music collections. Useful appendixes give a historical chronology, list composers by place of origin, and propose a canon of major works.
Bonnie Jo Dopp, formerly with Dist. of Columbia P.L.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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