Music and Politics in San Francisco: From the 1906 Quake to the Second World War

Music and Politics in San Francisco: From the 1906 Quake to the Second World War

Music and Politics in San Francisco: From the 1906 Quake to the Second World War

Music and Politics in San Francisco: From the 1906 Quake to the Second World War

Synopsis

This lively history immerses the reader in San Francisco's musical life during the first half of the twentieth century, showing how a fractious community overcame virulent partisanship to establish cultural monuments such as the San Francisco Symphony (1911) and Opera (1923). Leta E. Miller draws on primary source material and first-hand knowledge of the music to argue that a utopian vision counterbalanced partisan interests and inspired cultural endeavors, including the San Francisco Conservatory, two world fairs, and America's first municipally owned opera house. Miller demonstrates that rampant racism, initially directed against Chinese laborers (and their music), reappeared during the 1930s in the guise of labor unrest as WPA music activities exploded in vicious battles between administrators and artists, and African American and white jazz musicians competed for jobs in nightclubs.

Excerpt

San Francisco is “a mad city,” wrote Rudyard Kipling of his visit in 1889, “inhabited for the most part by perfectly insane people.” Indeed, San Francisco’s reputation as brash, exotic, offbeat, diverse, free-spirited, opinionated, self-confident, quirky, and above all, fun was well established by the end of the nineteenth century. By the 1870s, it was already known as the Paris of the West—a must-visit destination for tourists, mariners, sightseers, and fortune seekers, a city of mystery and intrigue, a gathering place for the world’s adventurers. San Francisco “is not only the most interesting city in the Union and the hugest smelting-pot of races,” wrote Robert Louis Stevenson, but “she keeps, besides, the doors of the Pacific, and is the port of entry to another world and an earlier epoch in man’s history.”

The city had grown up haphazardly—with little or no urban planning—as the locus of the gold rush, and it boasted a fiercely independent population of adventurers hailing from Europe, Asia, and the eastern United States. These immigrants, of course, brought with them not only their material possessions but also their musical cultures, fostering a fascinating, if at times unrefined, sonic diversity.

Among the early settlers who particularly prized music as a historical marker were the Germans, who came to San Francisco in large numbers and proudly built on their long-established tradition of instrumental music. From the 1850s through the early years of the twentieth century, a series of conductors—mostly German (or German-trained)—attempted to establish high-quality professional orchestras. Rudolph Herold, Louis Homeier, Gustav Hinrichs, Fritz Scheel, Paul Steindorff, Frederick Wolle, William Zech: all founded symphonic groups that . . .

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