Musical Americanisms

Around the turn of the 20th century, Dvorak famously gave his predictions about the repertoires that would be the wellspring of an American national style. Though a hopeful prediction, it also served as a stinging reminder that no such style yet existed, something that American composers were well aware of. Between the wars, several candidates arose to fill the vacancy.

Would it be the uniquely American “folk” music, jazz? Copland and Gershwin, not to mention Duke Ellington (Taruskin, in fact, doesn’t mention him), all wrote concert pieces in “jazzy” styles. Jazz also made the leap across the pond and became a short-lived vogue, especially with French composers. Would it be the wild, free, “self-made” musical language of Roy Harris, symphonist and later film composer? (IV, 640) Was it in the expanse of the prairies? the folklore of the Appalachians? the spirit of the American working man?

There is no answer to this question, per se, no “natural essence” of American music (IV, 673). The only “answer” we can claim is the discourse of artistic creativity that such a question ignites.

(More music after the jump.)


  1. Bodie says:

    Thank you for mentioning Ellington, especially when RT omitted him. That’s a disappointment. What about the other forgotten giant of American music, John Philip Sousa?

  2. Mark Samples says:

    Bodie: I had been considering doing a post about Sousa, and your comment inspired me to go ahead with it! Just posted it on the main page, with a tip of the hat to you.

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