A History of Western Music

By Donald Jay Grout; Claude V. Palisca | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 22

THE AMERICAN TWENTIETH CENTURY

The United States led the production of new music in the second half of the twentieth century. The number of art music composers—Americans by birth or choice—the volume, strength, and originality of their creative output, and the important fresh directions nurtured made America the center for new musical developments in this period.

Twentieth-century American art music was in large measure an extension of European music, and in the second half of the century many of Europe's leading composers for political, professional, or personal reasons spent a significant proportion of their creative years in the United States. The most prominent were Bart6k, Hindemith, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Varèse, Weill, Stefan Wolpe (1902-1972), Bohuslav Martinů (1890-1959), Krenek, and Milhaud ; others, including Dallapiccola, Berio, Penderecki, and Boulez, paid shorter visits. Hindemith, Schoenberg, Milhaud, Dallapiccola, Wolpe, and Berio had a host of American pupils, though it would be wrong to say that they founded "schools" of composition. One of the forums where American and European composers interacted was the Berkshire (now Tanglewood) Music Center in western Massachusetts. Each summer since 1940, the Center awarded scholarships to promising young composers and brought to the Berkshires eminent figures from inside and outside the country to teach.

Starting in the 1920s a steady stream of Americans went to Europe to study composition, many with Nadia Boulanger, who continued her classes in Paris and Fontainebleau until her death in 1979 at the age of ninety-two. Among those who studied with her were Aaron Copland, Virgil Thomson, Roy Harris, Walter Piston, Ross Lee Finney, Elliott Carter, and Philip Glass. These exchanges contributed to the Europeanization of American music.

In other ways American music in the twentieth century remained true to the traditions of its colonial and indigenous past and to the multicultural

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