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Mavericks and Other Traditions in American Music

Mavericks and Other Traditions in American Music

Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 400
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  • Book Info
    Mavericks and Other Traditions in American Music
    Book Description:

    From colonial times to the present, American composers have lived on the fringes of society and defined themselves in large part as outsiders. In this stimulating book Michael Broyles considers the tradition of maverick composers and explores what these mavericks reveal about American attitudes toward the arts and about American society itself.

    Broyles starts by examining the careers of three notably unconventional composers: William Billings in the eighteenth century, Anthony Philip Heinrich in the nineteenth, and Charles Ives in the twentieth. All three had unusual lives, wrote music that many considered incomprehensible, and are now recognized as key figures in the development of American music. Broyles goes on to investigate the proliferation of eccentric individualism in all types of American music-classical, popular, and jazz-and how it has come to dominate the image of diverse creative artists from John Cage to Frank Zappa. The history of the maverick tradition, Broyles shows, has much to tell us about the role of music in American culture and the tension between individualism and community in the American consciousness.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12789-8
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. CHAPTER 1 We, the Rebels
    (pp. 1-10)

    This book is about us. It is about who we are, or more precisely who we think we are. It is the story of fantasies and illusions as well as of some extraordinary individuals in American cultural history. It is about being marginalized and persisting. It is about dissonance, a dissonance between a collection of maverick artists and the world in which they lived. Above all, it is about what that dissonance tells us of that world.

    Is there an us? Many still think there is; many are convinced there is not. Differences may matter, but the people introduced in...

  5. PART 1. Pioneers

    • [PART 1 Introduction]
      (pp. 11-12)

      To want to be a composer in eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century America, one had to be a maverick simply because the idea itself was so alien.

      A colonial or early Federal musician, invariably an émigré, was a journeyman, at best an artisan. He usually settled in a city and pieced together a variety of jobs: he would play in the occasional concerts that were offered, in the theater if one was active, and possibly in church. He would teach several instruments, organize singing schools, sometimes offer dancing classes, and often run a music store selling instruments, music, and generally other goods....

    • CHAPTER 2 William Billings: Rebel with Many Causes
      (pp. 13-38)

      The Boston into which William Billings was born in 1746 could hardly have been less friendly to music. Music had little status, and job opportunities for musicians ran from bleak to nonexistent. There were of course no courts of the nobility to play for, and few churches could afford the luxury of a professional musical appointment. In any case the strictures of Puritan doctrine, which limited music to unaccompanied psalm singing, made the issue moot for the prevailing denominations. There were no musical events on stage because in 1750 the General Court of Massachusetts outlawed theaters, a ban that lasted...

    • CHAPTER 3 The Log Cabin Composer
      (pp. 39-68)

      In 1822 Lowell Mason, a banker in Savannah, Georgia, published his first collection of sacred music under the sponsorship of the Boston Handel and Haydn Society. Unlike the collection of William Billings, little of it was original. Most of the tunes were pilfered, but the sources were new. For his melodies Mason went to the European classics, to Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven.

      Mason was riding a wave of religious fervor that had been growing since 1801, and he did what he did with a purpose. In 1801 a group of evangelical leaders gathered in Cane Ridge, Kentucky, then on the...

  6. PART 2. New Concepts and Forces in American Culture

    • [PART 2 Introduction]
      (pp. 69-70)

      With the aesthetic revolution of mid-nineteenth-century America, the notion of a pure, edifying music, typified by the larger abstract forms, had spread from coast to coast. A vital and buoyant concert circuit extended to almost every burg in the country, including such unlikely venues as Colorado mining towns. Orchestras, virtuosi, and even opera companies appeared all across the continent. And an elaborate support mechanism, ranging from individual patrons to concert societies, grew out of the wealth of the Gilded Age. Such music was supported as much for its perceived moral value as for the intrinsic pleasure it gave.

      By 1900...

    • CHAPTER 4 Precursors: Charles Ives and Leo Ornstein
      (pp. 71-91)

      With the establishment of the musical canon in the Gilded Age, American music settled into a lengthy status quo, which continued well into the second decade of the twentieth century. Many of the late romantic composers, including George Chadwick, Amy Beach, and Horatio Parker, continued active, their styles little changed. A few younger composers, such as Charles Martin Loeffler and Charles Tomlinson Griffes, had some quietly new ideas, and a stronger sense of national pride was apparent in others. Otherwise an observer landing in the American musical world in 1914–15 could easily have thought he was still in the...

    • CHAPTER 5 “Prologue to the Annual Tragedy”
      (pp. 92-111)

      Change may be inevitable, but most humans crave stability, or, barring that, at least continuity. Historians try to oblige. As they sift through the shards of the past, they seek that continuity, usually by searching for connections with the present. An explanation of origins, sources, and causes can serve a mediative as well as an intellectual function.

      Continuity and connections thus become part of our world, ubiquitous, fundamental to the modern mind-set. They span television programs as well as books; they are an assumed, inevitable element of our thought. But unfortunately reality does not always cooperate. Sometimes change comes suddenly...

    • CHAPTER 6 The Community of the Ultramoderns
      (pp. 112-150)

      From the time of the earliest settlers, America has been shaped by the idea of community, a concept to be distinguished from society. People participate in a society out of self-interest, and only to the extent that the organization satisfies their needs or that they must. A society can be a golf club, a group of football fans, an entrepreneurial venture, or a governing body. Not all societies are voluntary: everyone lives in a state or nation and not everyone can choose which. Very few can opt out of society entirely.

      A community is a closer-knit unit, in which individuals...

  7. PART 3. After the War

    • [PART 3 Introduction]
      (pp. 151-152)

      After World War II we enter a period as unsettled and surreal as any in American musical history. The aftermath of the war, new connections between Europe and America, the breakdown of traditional patterns of patronage, and, not at all least, new technology inaugurated a revolution in musical thinking, a period of extreme experimentation in which composers of art music challenged not only all the accepted parameters of music but the very concept of the art itself. It was one of the most febrile and paradoxical times in American music. It was also one of the most consistent, for underlying...

    • CHAPTER 7 New Directions: The Serial Wars
      (pp. 153-175)

      Although musical activity in the 1940s by no means came to a standstill, it was nevertheless eclipsed by the war effort, the most total mobilization of American society since at least the Civil War. Yet World War II and the events leading to it had a major effect on American composers. Before the war, American composers went to Europe to learn their craft. After World War II the transatlantic road became two-way. This had begun in the 1930s when many European musicians came to the United States because of events in Europe. Arnold Schoenberg and Béla Bartók were only two...

    • CHAPTER 8 Postwar Experimentalism: John Cage
      (pp. 176-204)

      How many people in America or even the world know who John Cage is? Probably many. John Cage has become a familiar name, and only a slightly less familiar face. But how many people have actually heard music by John Cage? Probably few. John Cage exemplifies a trend of late-twentieth-century culture: the artist as icon has become separated from the art itself.

      Such may not be happenstance. Cage himself had much to do with that. With his ideas, his life, and his music, he redefined much of how we see things. He also understood our times and particularly our media....

    • CHAPTER 9 The Maverick Core
      (pp. 205-242)

      Harry Partch: A Biographyreads like a great mystery,” says David Harrington, first violinist of the Kronos Quartet, on the dust jacket of the book by Bob Gilmore. “How did one of America’s truly visionary composers, instrument builders, and rough-hewn individualists survive and persevere through horror at a young age, homelessness in the prime of his life, and nearly constant rejection and alienation by our culture?” Harrington’s comment reads like the American myth: “rough-hewn individualist,” the “horror at a young age,” homelessness, rejection, alienation, and finally the vision. An outsider who turned his back on Western music, to develop in...

    • CHAPTER 10 Minimalism and Strange Bedfellows
      (pp. 243-268)

      While Cage and the academic serialists were pursuing their apparently contradictory aesthetics on the East Coast, another compositional wave was forming on the edge of the Pacific. Early swells appeared in the Bay area of California, particularly at the University of California, Berkeley. Stirrings began with a student who, like many young composers, was writing serial music, only La Monte Young’s time frame was different. In 1958 he composed hisTrio for Strings,a work that in pitch content fit the prevailing academic mold: it was serial, and it was dissonant. It was also static. The three instruments, violin, viola,...

  8. PART 4. The Legacy of the Mavericks

    • CHAPTER 11 Looking Back: Puritanism, Geography, and the Myth of American Individualism
      (pp. 271-296)

      By the 1920s Americans had come to terms with change. The world of the nineteenth century was but a distant memory. The village had given way to a larger social organization, but by the time Warren Harding was elected president in 1920 Americans had made it clear that such structures stopped at national boundaries. Technology was to be celebrated, not feared. The automobile, the radio, the phonograph, the telephone, electricity, had been around for years, in some cases decades, but only in the 1920s did they weave fully into the fabric of Americans’ lives. The stock market was only one...

    • CHAPTER 12 Looking Forward: “The End of the Renaissance?”!
      (pp. 297-336)

      When I was a graduate student, then a young professor, the music appreciation business was in its heyday. Courses like “Listening to Music,” “Introduction to Music,” or “Music Appreciation” proliferated on every campus, large and small, and as a graduate student I was assigned to teach several. There was no question about the purpose of this enterprise. Our job was to educate listeners to the specific point of view that music of the Western fine arts tradition was pure, abstract, and nonreferential. While most of us in the field believed that fervently, this was not, unfortunately, how most concertgoers experienced...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 337-362)
    (pp. 363-376)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 377-387)