Mainstream Music of Early Twentieth Century America: The Composers, Their Times, and Their Works

Mainstream Music of Early Twentieth Century America: The Composers, Their Times, and Their Works

Mainstream Music of Early Twentieth Century America: The Composers, Their Times, and Their Works

Mainstream Music of Early Twentieth Century America: The Composers, Their Times, and Their Works

Synopsis

Chronologically following Tawa's The Coming of Age of American Art Music, this new study examines, in cultural context, the music of the most prominent composers active from 1900 to 1930, among them Frederick Shepherd Converse, Edgar Burlingame Hill, Mabel Daniels, Deems Taylor, Charles Wakefield Cadman, Arthur Farwell, Scott Joplin, Marion Bauer, and John Alden Carpenter. Unjustly neglected by latter-day critics interested in the avant-garde, this music deserves a hearing today. Tawa evaluates the composers and compositions on their own merits and concludes that much of the music will delight anyone not irrevocably opposed to romanticism.

Excerpt

The following pages propose to examine the most prominent American composers active in the earliest years of the twentieth century and the music they wrote: Kelley, Converse, Mason, Hill, Daniels, Hadley, Taylor, Cadman, Gilbert, Farwell, Powell, Shepherd, Joplin, Griffes, Bauer, and Carpenter. Some years ago, I set out to learn what these composers had accomplished, not what latter-day critics claim they had the obligation to have accomplished. Immediately, it became obvious that the agenda of the former was not that of the latter. Nor was I convinced that the normally temperate music of these composers was necessarily inferior because it is not infused with unfamiliar, unproven, and innovational techniques. I was also interested in finding out what was feasible for these composers to achieve, after considering their era, their place in contemporary society, and their own predilections. Lastly, I wondered how trustworthy was the prevalent notion of today that these composers were a mere footnote to our cultural history and that their works are inconsequential. Such a devastating evaluation seemed unfair to apply to honest artists who devoted so much of their creative lives to producing a body of musical literature that they hoped would represent the best in them.

The first thing that struck me was that these musicians were active during a time when tremendous changes were taking place in American society. Industrial expansion and urban growth were rapidly building up a mass of rootless wage earners. Young people were deserting the farms and villages for the cities and their promise of economic betterment. Millions of immigrants had recently arrived and continued to arrive, not from the congenial North European countries but from East-

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