Classical Music in America: A History of Its Rise and Fall

Overview

“A splendid read, at once disturbing and illuminating.”—Gramophone"An opinionated, stimulating account of how classical music failed to establish fruitful roots in America," Classical Music in America chronicles "a cultural attitude that has produced many fine artists and striking moments-but no institutional or intellectual support to sustain them" (Kirkus Reviews, starred review). "An admirable, scholarly volume" (Times Literary Supplement), this "formidable book ... shows how American classical music became a ‘performance culture,' an

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Overview

“A splendid read, at once disturbing and illuminating.”—Gramophone"An opinionated, stimulating account of how classical music failed to establish fruitful roots in America," Classical Music in America chronicles "a cultural attitude that has produced many fine artists and striking moments-but no institutional or intellectual support to sustain them" (Kirkus Reviews, starred review). "An admirable, scholarly volume" (Times Literary Supplement), this "formidable book ... shows how American classical music became a ‘performance culture,' an ersatz-European showplace for celebrity virtuosos, rather than a native-born genre" (The New Yorker). "As a comprehensive, convincing analysis of the contemporary dilemma" of reconciling European heritage with American vision "and a riveting portrait of the century and a half of events and personalities which brought it about, Mr Horowitz's account would be hard to beat" (The Economist). "Anyone seeking to understand why American classical music has come to so dead an end-and wondering how it might yet escape a final descent into cultural irrelevance-should read Classical Music in America with close attention" (Commentary).

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Horowitz (Understanding Toscanini) surveys the course of classical music in America, discussing composers, performers, conductors, managers, entrepreneurs, critics and orchestras in a wide-ranging and provocative volume. The book's first half charts the vibrant years from the late 19th century to WWI, when major orchestras, including the Boston Symphony and the New York Philharmonic, were created, composers such as George Chadwick and Amy Beach were met with wide acclaim, and the visionary conductor Theodore Thomas was thrilling Gilded Age audiences. He makes a more contentious assessment of the period following WWI-a time of decline, in his view, as conductors and performers ignored new music and concentrated on works from the European past. Horowitz singles out Arturo Toscanini, who rarely conducted anything other than "canonized masterworks"; David Sarnoff, who created the NBC Symphony as a vehicle for Toscanini; and Arthur Judson, the powerful manager who promoted the familiar, conservative repertoire. Recycling the tried and true was a sure bet, and Horowitz blames this safer marketing strategy for our contemporary quandary: most composers of classical music find American audiences have little interest in what they have to offer. Horowitz doesn't deliver a solution to the problem, though, and his critical tone detracts from what is otherwise a valuable contribution to the history of classical music in this country. Illus. not seen by PW. Agent, Elizabeth Kaplan. (Mar.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Horowitz (Understanding Toscanini: How He Became an American Culture-God and Helped Create a New Audience for Old Music) has written a splendid social history of classical music in America. Unlike John Struble's The History of American Classical Music, which follows the usual composer/ school/era format, Horowitz's book is mainly concerned with classical music as a social phenomenon, arguing that native-born composers have always been tangential to the classical music enterprise in the United States; the symphony orchestra movement was from the beginning more akin to the museum movement than an organic outgrowth of a vibrant home-grown art. Horowitz also examines the "culture of performance" that raised performance, in and of itself, to a level that often eclipsed the music. Along the way, light is shed on many topics, including the founding of the Boston Symphony Orchestra; Czech composer Dvovruk's championing of American folk materials (and the fact that this was controversial); and the influence and decline of parlor music. Horowitz believes that the "path to the future" is an informed eclecticism in the manner of John Adams or the Kronos Quartet. Whether or not his conclusions are accepted in their totality, this fascinating book is an important social history and is highly recommended for all libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 11/1/04.]-Bruce R. Schueneman, Texas A&M Univ. Lib., Kingsville Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Opinionated, stimulating account of how classical music failed to establish fruitful roots in America, from orchestral administrator and historian Horowitz (Wagner Nights, 1994, etc.). In his view, the critics, administrators, and patrons who shaped the development of "serious" music in the US made two fundamental errors: they preferred Europeans to native composers, and they favored masterpieces of the past over performances of contemporary classical works. These choices were not inevitable, Horowitz argues; in the 19th century, differing attitudes in the nation's two premiere cultural centers epitomized two potential paths. While Boston critic John Sullivan Dwight disdained "all need of catering to low tastes" and devoted himself to promoting "only composers of unquestioned excellence," New York-based conductor Theodore Thomas aspired "to make good music popular" through concerts including light music as well as such then-contemporary artists as Wagner, Berlioz, and Dvorak. (The last of whom was an enthusiastic admirer of African-American and other native musical strains.) Sympathetically yet critically assessing American composers ranging from George Chadwick and Louis Moreau Gottschalk to Steve Reich and John Adams, the author sees them generally swamped by the "culture of performance" that arose in the early 20th century and still dominates US conservatories and concert halls. Toscanini conducting Beethoven wowed the middlebrows, while Stokowski was controversial both for championing new music and for shaking hands with Mickey Mouse in Fantasia. Despite the pioneering efforts of Jeannette Thurber, who promoted opera sung in English and American musical training for Americancomposers, and the determined popularizing of Boston Symphony conductor Serge Koussevitsky (founder of Tanglewood) and his flamboyant protege Leonard Bernstein, classical music in the US remained the high-art preserve of the cognoscenti, to the detriment of its vitality and growth. Shrewd analyses of the role played by little-known managers like Arthur Judson and NBC founder David Sarnoff illuminate the commercial aspects of this unedifying tale. Unlike most lengthy texts, this one gets better as it progresses, drawing complex themes and a huge cast into a single overarching vision of a cultural attitude that has produced many fine artists and striking moments-but no institutional or intellectual support to sustain them.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393057171
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 3/17/2005
  • Pages: 624
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 1.70 (d)

Meet the Author

A former New York Times music critic, Joseph Horowitz is the award-winning author of ten books exploring the history of American music, including Classical Music in America and Artists in Exile. He lives in New York City.

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Table of Contents

Bk. 1 "Queen of the arts" : birth and growth
Introduction : a tale of two cities (1893) 5
1 John Sullivan Dwight, Theodore Thomas, and the slaying of the monster concerts 15
2 Henry Higginson and the birth of the Boston Symphony Orchestra 43
3 Building a hall, choosing a conductor 70
4 Composers and the Brahmin confinement 94
5 Anton Seidl and the sacralization of opera 121
6 Symphonic rivalry and growth 148
7 Leopold Stokowski, Gustav Mahler, Arturo Toscanini, and the gossip of the foyer 179
8 Antonin Dvorak and Charles Ives in search of America 211
Coda : music and the gilded age 242
Bk. 2 "Great performances" : decline and fall
Introduction : the great schism (1914) 265
1 The big three 273
2 More conductors 305
3 The world's greatest soloists 328
4 Opera for singers 358
5 Serving the new audience 395
6 Composers on the sidelines 433
7 Leonard Bernstein and the classical music crisis 475
Postlude : post-classical music 518
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