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Music and Politics in San Francisco

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

Leta E. Miller
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    Music and Politics in San Francisco
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95009-2
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. 1 The Paris of the West: San Francisco at the Turn of the Century
    (pp. 1-28)

    San Francisco is “a mad city,” wrote Rudyard Kipling of his visit in 1889, “inhabited for the most part by perfectly insane people.”¹ 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...


    • 2 The Politics of Class: The San Francisco Symphony, the People’s Philharmonic, and the Lure of European Culture (1911-1930)
      (pp. 31-62)

      The San Francisco Symphony opened its first season on December 8, 1911. Considering that the city was, at the time, the largest urban center west of Saint Louis (Table 1), its entry into the symphonic realm was notably tardy. Los Angeles, only three-quarters the size of its northern neighbor, had had a professional orchestra in place since 1898. (In 1920 the Los Angeles Symphony, conducted by Harley Hamilton, was driven out of business by the newly formed Los Angeles Philharmonic.) The Denver Symphony began in 1900, and even Seattle—less than a quarter the size of San Francisco at the...

    • 3 The Politics of Race: Chinatown, Forbidden and Alluring
      (pp. 63-82)

      Descriptions by white tourists of Tangrenbu (Chinatown) before the 1906 quake are marked by stark contradictions: gloomy but gaudy, dingy but quaint, crowded but colorful; an area of reeking alleys and enticing restaurants; “painted balconies . . . hung with windbells and flowered lanterns,” but “a habitat for listless idlers . . . perhaps dreaming of crime and heathen debauchery”; inscrutable inhabitants—lazy yet industrious, depraved but clever; and in the air, the “scent of sandalwood and exotic herbs . . . , the sickly sweetness of opium smoke, the fumes of incense and roast pork . . . [,]...

    • INTERLUDE 1 Two Musical Tributes to San Francisco’s Chinatown
      (pp. 83-91)

      During the most active years of the postquake Chinese opera—from the opening of the Mandarin Theatre in 1924 to the middle of the 1930s—several white composers took particular delight in watching Chinese opera performances in San Francisco.¹ Among them was Harry Partch, who attended the Mandarin soon after it opened. Although Partch rarely quoted Chinese tunes directly in his work, one manifestation of the theater’s influence on him is his 1932 “On Hearing the Flute in the Yellow Crane House,” a setting of a text by Li Po in which he used the Chinese folk song “Mo Li...

    • 4 The Politics of Labor: The Union(s), the Clubs and Theaters, and the Predicament of Black Musicians
      (pp. 92-105)

      Among San Francisco’s noisy political battles during the first half of the twentieth century, those involving labor were perhaps the most vicious—and certainly the most public. Like other union workers, the city’s musicians included some of the nation’s most vocal exponents for respectable pay, reasonable hours, and decent working conditions. We have already seen that the symphony management in the Hadley years was able to hire and fire the entire orchestra between each concert set. During Hertz’s early years, contracts for the players and for the conductor himself were rarely settled before the late spring, and were issued for...

    • 5 Musical Utopias: Ada Clement, Ernest Bloch, and the San Francisco Conservatory
      (pp. 106-130)

      The San Francisco Conservatory of Music owes its origin to a talented, determined, and energetic woman who, for a half decade in the 1920s, subjugated her own ambitions to those of a famous yet eccentric dreamer. Although she hardly knew him, Ada Clement found in this dreamer a mentor to whom she entrusted the artistic direction of a school she had nurtured for the previous eight years. The conservatory’s story is also, in part, the story of that dreamer—who envisioned a world unified through music, religious differences nullified through art, and the country brought together under a national anthem...

    • 6 Opera: The People’s Music or a Diversion for the Rich?
      (pp. 131-164)

      Christmas Eve 1910. The weather in San Francisco was a balmy sixty degrees as the city prepared for the most celebrated musical event in its history. A large, elevated platform had been erected in front o f Lotta’s Fountain at the intersection of Third, Market, Kearny, and Geary in front of theChroniclebuilding, across the street from the Palace Hotel. By 7 P.M. the platform was bedecked with flowers, brought by young and old, rich and poor, to honor the evening’s heroine and, not coincidentally, to show off the wonders of California to the rest of the country by...


    • 7 The Despair of the Depression and the Clash of Race
      (pp. 167-179)

      By the time Alfred Hertz retired in 1930 as conductor of the San Francisco Symphony, the orchestra was in serious financial trouble. Nevertheless, for two more seasons the Musical Association maintained the impressive offerings the public had come to expect. The number of concerts (thirteen subscription, eleven popular) stayed unchanged, as did the five-concert municipal series and the summer series in San Francisco and San Mateo.

      Budgetary pressures, however, became increasingly urgent. In January 1930, six months before the end of Hertz’s tenure, the manager reported that more than $100,000 was needed for the next season to forestall debt. The...

    • 8 Ultramodernism and Other Contemporary Offerings: Looking West, Challenging the East
      (pp. 180-213)

      The San Francisco Symphony’s repertory under Hadley and Hertz may have been appealing to the public, but it made few claims to adventurousness. Hadley, of course, was just getting a new organization off the ground, and, though he did conduct some works by U.S. composers (Chadwick, MacDowell, Goldmark, Edward Schneider), his most frequently programmed American composer was Hadley himself.

      Hertz inherited a more experienced ensemble, but he too approached his programming with caution, in part revealing his own preferences, but also probably reflecting his tenuous relationship with the board of governors, who were responsible for renewing his contracts. New music...

    • 9 The Politics of Work: Idealism Confronts Bureaucracy in the Federal Music Project
      (pp. 214-237)

      On May 27, 1937, San Franciscans turned out in force to launch an exuberant celebration marking the completion of a long-planned, headline-grabbing engineering marvel: the Golden Gate Bridge. Pedestrians, “like rollicking, inquisitive Lilliputians, swarmed over the steel-bound Gulliver” at a rate of about 200 per minute. By 6 P.M. about 175,000 people had crossed the “thirty-five million dollar steel harp,” preparing the bridge for its official opening to automobiles the next day and setting off a weeklong fiesta that included a twenty-two-thousand-dollar appropriation for music. A pageant depicting the history of the city featured, among others, Metropolitan Opera baritone John...

    • INTERLUDE 2 Highlights from San Francisco’s Federal Music Project: Take Your Choice and Keeton’s Concert Spirituals
      (pp. 238-246)

      It is hardly surprising that the San Francisco press covered the FMP’s musicaltheatrical collaborationTake Your Choicein depth. This original creation of 1936 represented a major undertaking by Bacon and his colleagues, with its sixteen rapidly changing scenes, eight principal actor-singers, a chorus of thirty, and an instrumental ensemble of fifty, combining a thirty-five-piece pit orchestra with a fifteen-piece swing band.

      The writers and composers ofTake Your Choicepoked fun at diverse elements of U.S. society, sparing few ethnic or religious groups or political pundits on either the right or the left. The protagonist, Eustace Jones, is a...

    • 10 Welcoming the World: San Francisco’s Fairs of 1915 and 1939-1940
      (pp. 247-265)

      In the first half of the twentieth century, San Francisco hosted two major world fairs: in 1915 and in 1939–40. A comparison of musical programming for these two enormous undertakings highlights changes in artistic taste and expression prompted, in part, by a new social awareness and an increased attention to diversity. Striking similarities in the political and economic circumstances surrounding these fairs place their cultural and sociological contrasts in even more vivid relief.

      Both fairs marked the end of difficult periods in city’s history while nominally celebrating massive engineering feats. The Panama-Pacific International Exposition (PPIE)—February 20 to December...

    • 11 Aftermath
      (pp. 266-278)

      History rarely sits comfortably in the tidy packages in which we wrap it. Retrospective analyses of musical style and cultural context typically focus on areas of commonality and overlap, leading historians to posit generalized theories and identify broad trends—which, though valuable, are inevitably oversimplifications that break down as soon as we zoom in our lens on the particular. Reality, in short, is much messier than we usually care to admit. The complexity of the economic, social, political, and cultural factors that we have seen buffeting the musical life of San Francisco in the first half of the twentieth century...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 279-314)
    (pp. 315-342)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 343-365)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 366-366)