9780300072310 / 0300072317

New World Symphonies: How American Culture Changed European Music


Publisher:Yale University Press



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About the book:

The subtitle of this book gives its theme: How American Culture Changed European Music. Beginning with the touchstone New World symphony of Dvorák (which author Jack Sullivan believes celebrates the African American and Native American strains in American music), Sullivan, a professor of English at Rider College, takes readers on a tour of music history right up to the present day. His study centers on the American writers, poets, and styles that have influenced the Old World, using such examples as the impact of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow on Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, of Walt Whitman on Ralph Vaughan Williams, and of Edgar Allan Poe on a host of composers. Sullivan also takes up Frederick Delius's stay in Florida and Edgar Varčse's love affair with America and even includes the careers of expatriates such as Erich Korngold and Kurt Weill. The book ends with a long consideration of the effects of jazz, which Sullivan views as the American classical music.

Sullivan has done his homework very well, and most of the expected names and relationships are here. Yet his highly opinionated tone and habit of compartmentalizing and strictly categorizing the music (atonalists and serialists are "bad," as are British musical-theater composers) can limit the scope of his arguments. There is no doubt, for instance, that jazz has had an influence on European music, but can one really say, as Sullivan does, that it has changed that music? Did Vaughan Williams's love for the poems of Whitman alter his music any more than his love for John Bunyan did? Did Poe's "The Bells" redirect Rachmaninoff in ways the composer never suspected? What we have here is a book that is an interesting elaboration of an idea perhaps better confined to an evening around the fire with friends. --Patrick J. Smith

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