America 2: Classic Modernism

The war had brought to the United States not only Schoenberg and Stravinsky but also Wolpe, Hindemith, Krenek, Martinů, and a host of other composers, leaving Europe comparatively bereft of senior figures. Another difference between the continents was that North America had not suffered enemy occupation or the bombing of cities. Perhaps both factors played a part in the alternative form that innovation took on the western side of the Atlantic, where there was more respect for the established masters, less feeling that music could or should be built anew. Schoenberg's own example, voiced in his words and in his music, was one of rooted growth. A late prose fragment, dating from 1950, begins by restating a thought constant in his writings: 'I am at least as conservative as Edison and Ford have been. But I am, unfortunately, not quite as progressive as they were in their own fields." 1His works of his last years, while retasting the freedom and edge of the Erwartung period, by no means betray his lifelong commitment to orderly development and integrity of voice.

The orderliness, at least, communicated itself to many of his American pupils and followers, among whom Milton Babbitt (b. 1916) -- a follower, never a pupil -- soon became one of the leading exponents of twelve-note music, both as a composer and as a professor at Princeton University, where his classes included James K. Randall (b. 1929), Donald Martino (b. 1931), Peter Westergaard (b. 1931), and Fred Lerdahl (b. 1943); Stephen Sondheim (b. 1930) was also a student. Babbitt's contemporary George Perle (b. 1915) promoted the same cause of rational twelve-note composition through his work as a teacher, theorist, and composer. His classic textbook Serial Composition and Atonality ( 1962) was followed fifteen years later by TwelveTone Tonality, an introduction to his own system, by which a twelve-note series structures relationships among notes, intervals and chords, allowing for the possibility of key feeling, and even diatonic triads, within totally chromatic music; his musical output, chiefly of instrumental works, includes sequences of wind quintets and of string quartets. From the same generation, Leon Kirchner (b. 1919), who studied with Schoenberg in Los Angeles, developed into a twelve-note composer able, like his teacher, to command the rhetoric of tonal symphonic music. His music, too, is mostly for orchestra (two piano concertos and a concerto for violin and cello with wind and percussion) or chamber ensemble (three quartets). One might also see the later music of Stravinsky, a US citizen since 1945, within the con

____________________
1
My Attitude towards Politics, in H. H. Stuckenschmidt, Schoenberg:His Life, Work and World ( London, 1977), 551-2.

-50-

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