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New World Symphonies

New World Symphonies: How American Culture Changed European Music

Copyright Date: 1999
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 282
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  • Book Info
    New World Symphonies
    Book Description:

    This groundbreaking book shows for the first time the profound and transformative influence of American literature, music, and mythology on European music. Although the impact of the European tradition on American composers is widely acknowledged, Jack Sullivan demonstrates that an even more powerful musical current has flowed from the New World to the Old. The spread of rock and roll around the world, the author contends, is only the latest chapter in a cross-cultural story that began in the nineteenth century with Gottschalk in Paris and Dvorák in New York.Sullivan brings popular and canonical culture into his wide-ranging discussion. He explores the effects on European music of American authors as diverse as Twain, DuBois, Melville, and Langston Hughes, examining in particular Dvorák's fascination with Longfellow, the obsession of Debussy and Ravel with Poe, and the inspiration Whitman provided for Holst, Vaughan Williams, and dozens more. Sullivan uncovers the African American musical influence on Europe, beginning with spirituals and culminating in the impact of jazz on Stravinsky, Bartók, Walton, and others. He analyzes the lure of Hollywood and Broadway for such composers as Weill, Korngold, and Britten and considers the power of the American landscape-from the remoteness of the prairie to the brutal energy of the American city. In European music, Sullivan finds, American culture and mythology continue to resonate.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14857-2
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xx)

    Michael Wood once pointed out that it is possible to practice idolatry for a country other than one’s own. Indeed, that is what other countries are for; it is why people travel—to celebrate freshness, otherness, foreignness, as ideal states of being.¹ Calling this need a “necessary exotic,” the narrator of Julian Barnes’s short story “Tunnel” goes so far as to say, “It is unhealthy to be idealistic about your own country, since the least clarity of vision quickly led to disenchantment. Other countries, therefore, existed to supply the idealism: they were a version of pastoral.”²

    Since the mid-nineteenth century,...

  5. CHAPTER ONE The Legacy of the Sorrow Songs
    (pp. 1-46)

    Shortly after arriving in America in 1892, Antonin Dvořák declared that the most distinctive folk music in the United States came from black America: only through a recognition of this fundamental fact, said Dvořák, could America realize itself musically.¹ Now a commonplace argument in the post-jazz, post-rock era, this assertion was hugely provocative in its time. That it was articulated by a white European made it more so. That the gospel of black music then spread to other Old World composers before it took root in America seems equally odd—but perfectly in tune with Europe’s embrace of subversives such...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Hiawatha Fever: The Legacy of Longfellow
    (pp. 47-60)

    Like the great Iroquois tribes whose vanishment it chronicles, Longfellow’sSong of Hiawatha,once one of the most beloved Romantic poems in any language, has sunk into virtual oblivion. At its publication in 1855,Hiawathawas a best-seller, widely translated and admired by both intellectuals and the larger public. It influenced music as well as poetry, becoming the vehicle for a cantata by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor that, with the exception of Handel’sMessiah,was the most popular choral work in England. W. C. Berwick Sayers, Coleridge-Taylor’s biographer, wrote, “As is usual with young people for whom poetry has any attraction at...

  7. CHAPTER THREE New Worlds of Terror: The Legacy of Poe
    (pp. 61-94)

    The profound influence of Edgar Allan Poe on Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, and other European composers is one of the most fascinating instances of one art nourishing another in modem culture. It involves not just musical settings of literary texts but a literary philosophy shaping a musical one—something far more intricate and mysterious.

    European composers revered Poe in a way that his fellow Americans, whether writers, musicians, or critics, never did. Ignored in his own short lifetime and vilified immediately afterward, Poe is treated by many contemporary American scholars and artists (Harold Bloom and Thomas Disch, to name two...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR New World Songs: The Legacy of Whitman
    (pp. 95-130)

    For a poet often accused of being unmusical, Walt Whitman has inspired an enormous amount of music. Whitman settings span both sides of the Atlantic and take in an astonishing variety of musical styles, even though his own musical tastes were peculiarly narrow, confined mainly to Italian opera.¹ From modernist orchestral works such as Carl Ruggles’sPortalsto romantic epics such as Ralph Vaughan Williams’sSeaSymphony, the catalog of Whitman-inspired pieces is as huge and variegated as Whitman himself; it includes works by Delius, Burleigh, Gustav Holst, Charles Villiers Stanford, Hamilton Harty, Hubert Parry, Elinor Remick Warren, Kurt Weill,...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Beyond the Frontier: New World Landscape
    (pp. 131-160)

    The idea of open sound defining American music is one of those persistent clichés that is annoying because it is so true. From Puritan hymns to Copland’s cowboy scenarios, American composers do indeed tend toward sonorities associated, in the popular imagination, with the vastness of the prairie and the lonely integrity of the pioneer spirit.

    Some of the earliest American landscapes in symphonic music come from New World Europeans, who were as guilty as anyone of inaugurating this myth. Europeans broadened the horizons of American landscape considerably, but they began for the most part where Americans did. Indeed, it was...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Broadway, Hollywood, and the Accidental Beauties of Silly Songs
    (pp. 161-190)

    Thus far, this book has explored the lure of the New World as idea and ideal. Commercially, America proved felicitous as well. When Erich Korngold discovered Hollywood in the 1930s and Weill conquered Broadway in the 1940s, they reversed more than their artistic fortunes. Suddenly American greed and materialism—even the dreaded leveling effect of democracy—seemed not so bad after all. In spite of its notorious philistinism, America became the place where commerce could become art, as well as the reverse. These two artists and their émigré colleagues converted the crassly commercial genres of American culture into a new,...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN New World Rhythm: The Spread of Jazz
    (pp. 191-238)

    In 1995, Bill Clinton, America’s sax-playing president, declared that jazz was “America’s classical music.” Whatever consternation this remark caused among America’s “real” classical composers, as well as those invested in the myth of jazz as eternally avant-garde, it was an idea taken for granted by European composers for nearly a century. Europeans ignorant of or indifferent to America’s “serious” composers were entranced from the beginning by jazzmen from Jelly Roll Morton to Duke Ellington, whom they indeed regarded as America’s classical composers. As Carol Oja has noted, “Any gangplank interview with European luminaries visiting the United States during the 1920s,...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 239-250)
  13. Index
    (pp. 251-262)