Musical Nationalism: American Composers' Search for Identity

By Alan Howard Levy | Go to book overview

2
AMERICANISM AND FRENCH IMPRESSIONISM

In the 1890s new styles of composition arose in Western music, notably French impressionism, and new approaches to composition, such as the use of vernacular materials. Both vernacularism and French impressionism marked departures from the academic, Germanic styles of Paine, Parker, and Chadwick. These new approaches and styles were often mutually exclusive, as vernacularists stridently opposed any links with musical genres that appeared elitist and impresssionists held to a high art-low art dichotomy. Their final combination in the writings of American composers after World War I at last drew American music away from nineteenth-century norms and began an integrated American musical personality.

Edward MacDowell ( 1861-1908), who flourished with the generation of Paine and Parker, presaged tendencies toward the French and slightly toward the vernacular (or at least away from the antivernacular). MacDowell violated the custom of the time by studying first in Paris ( 1876 to 1879), then in Germany ( 1878 to 1881). He spent his Paris years at the Conservatoire, where, along with his classmate Claude Debussy, he showed reluctance to follow prescribed patterns of composition. MacDowell had begun to go his own way, especially in harmony, with experiments in seventh and ninth chords. Leaving France for Frankfort, MacDowell studied piano under Carl Heymann and composition with Joachim Raff, two of the most open-minded German music professors of the time. Raff, a composer of considerable reputation, was interested in the harmonic experiments of Liszt and Wagner.

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Musical Nationalism: American Composers' Search for Identity
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • 1 - The German Orthodoxy 3
  • Notes 12
  • 2 - Americanism and French Impressionism 14
  • Notes 28
  • 3 - Paris and Neoclassicism 30
  • Notes 60
  • 4 - Expatriates, Frivolous and Serious: George Antheil and Virgil Thomson 62
  • Notes 82
  • 5 - Roy Harris and Strident Americanism 86
  • Notes 103
  • 6 - A Nice Jewish Boy from Brooklyn 105
  • Notes 125
  • CODA 128
  • Notes 137
  • ESSAY ON SOURCES 139
  • Index 161
  • About the Author 169
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