Afro-American Folksongs: A Study in Racial and National Music

Afro-American Folksongs: A Study in Racial and National Music

Afro-American Folksongs: A Study in Racial and National Music

Afro-American Folksongs: A Study in Racial and National Music

Excerpt

This book was written with the purpose of bringing a species of folksong into the field of scientific observation and presenting it as fit material for artistic treatment. It is a continuation of a branch of musical study for which the foundation was laid more than a decade ago in a series of essays with bibliographical addenda printed in the New York "Tribune," of which journal the author has been the musical reviewer for more than thirty years. The general subject of those articles was folksongs and their relation to national schools of composition. It had come to the writer's knowledge that the articles had been clipped from the newspaper, placed in envelopes and indexed in several public libraries, and many requests came to him from librarians and students that they be republished in bookform. This advice could not be acted upon because the articles were mere outlines, ground-plans, suggestions and guides to the larger work or works which the author hoped would the be the result of his instigation.

Folksong literature has grown considerably since then, especially in Europe, but the subject of paramount interest to the people of the United States has practically been ignored. The songs created by the negroes while they were slaves on the plantations of the South have cried out in vain for scientific study, though "ragtime" tunes, which are their debased offspring, have seized upon the fancy of the civilized world. This popularity may be deplorable, but it serves at least to prove that a marvellous potency lies in the characteristic rhythmical element of the slave songs. Would not a wider and truer knowledge of their other characteristics as well lead to the creation of a better art than that which tickles the ears and stimulates the feet of the pleasure-seekers of London, Paris, Berlin and Vienna even more than it does those of New York?

The charm of the Afro-American songs has been widely recognized, but no musical savant has yet come to analyze them. Their two most obvious elements only have been copied by composers and dance-makers, who have wished . . .

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