Dvořák to Duke Ellington: A Conductor Explores America's Music and Its African American Roots

Dvořák to Duke Ellington: A Conductor Explores America's Music and Its African American Roots

Dvořák to Duke Ellington: A Conductor Explores America's Music and Its African American Roots

Dvořák to Duke Ellington: A Conductor Explores America's Music and Its African American Roots

Synopsis

Drawing upon a remarkable mix of intensive research and the personal experience of a career devoted to the music about which Dvorak so presciently spoke, Maurice Peress's lively and convincing narrative treats readers to a rare and delightful glimpse behind the scenes of the burgeoning American school of music and beyond. In Dvorak to Duke Ellington, Peress begins by recounting the music's formative years: Dvorak's three year residency as Director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York (1892-1895), and his students, in particular Will Marion Cook and Rubin Goldmark, who would in turn become the teachers of Ellington, Gershwin, and Copland. We follow Dvorak to the famed Chicago World's Fair of 1893, where he directed a concert of his music for Bohemian Honor Day. Peress brings to light the little known African American presence at the Fair: the piano professors, about-to-be-ragtimers; and the gifted young artists Paul Dunbar, Harry T. Burleigh, and Cook, who gathered at the Haitian Pavilion with its director, Frederick Douglass, to organize their own gala concert for Colored Persons Day. Peress, a distinguished conductor, is himself a part of this story; working with Duke Ellington on the Suite from Black, Brown and Beige and his "opera comique," Queenie Pie; conducting the world premiere of Leonard Bernstein's Mass; and reconstructing landmark American concerts at which George Antheil's Ballet Mecanique, George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, James Reese Europe's Clef Club (the first all-black concert at Carnegie Hall), and Ellington's Black, Brown and Beige, were first presented. Concluding with an astounding look at Ellington and his music, Dvorak to Duke Ellington offers an engrossing, elegant portrait of the Dvorak legacy, America's music, and the inestimable African-American influence upon it.

Excerpt

For some time now I have wanted to write a book about American music— what I learned from my work as a conductor, some of the composers with whom I shared the exquisite pain and pleasure of a world premiere (Leonard Bernstein's Mass, Duke Ellington's Queenie Pie, Morton Feldman's Rothko Chapel, David Amram's Autobiography for Strings), and what I discovered as I searched and sifted, preparing for my re-creations of historic concerts at which George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, Ellington's Black, Brown and Beige, James Reese Europe's Clef Club orchestra, and George Antheil's Ballet Mécanique were given new life.

Some might consider the range of American music I have been concerned and involved with as unusually broad. I simply followed my muse and am now pleased to find that I am not alone. Other artists are letting their roots show. Where once there was a cultural divide between those who are moved by Dvořák and those who dig Ellington, I now find that many more people take immense pleasure from both. These names are not selected at random. There is an unbroken line that connects the Czech master and the American composer and orchestra leader with one another.

The first music I knew was Dad's Arabic folksongs, which he sang to the accompaniment of his oud, and Mamma's Yiddisher liederle, sung in a voice of the sweetest purity. I didn't understand the words. But the experience of seeing my parents away from their endless store- and housekeeping chores, becoming transfixed as they reconnected with their youthful dreams in . . .

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