THE APHORISM that “music is a universal language” which knows no national boundaries is countered by the obvious fact that music history is peppered with references to the “national idioms” of Spain, Hungary, Bohemia, Norway, Russia, and nearly every other country that has ever made any contribution to that noble art. There is no question that musicians and composers, like businessmen, tourists or just plain citizens, often think nationally, cultivate biases in favor of their own regions, and utilize the resources of their own land and culture in their compositions, which then become objects of sentiment not shared by members of alien faiths.
This sense of nationalism is conventionally thought to have germinated during the nineteenth century, and in the field of music is usually associated with the Romantic movement. Like all pat generalizations, this one can be accepted only with reservations. However, especially on the continent, music has tended to attach itself to political and literary ideologies, and to rally around the center of dominance of the national culture. This is a kind of mild totalitarianism which a motley population in a relatively traditionless country such as the United States may find difficult to understand or appreciate.
There are many ways in which these emerging national sentiments are awakened and manifested. Possibly the most important is the creation of a Wet^nschauung, which is designed to confer ^ upon the national group the sanction for its separate existence. Intellectual and political leaders of European peoples have mobilized regional legends, exalted local geography and language, and glorified the heroes of war, history, and the arts. All these ingredients are nebulously but inspiringly amalgamated into the folksoul, or national spirit, which endows national life and all its products, including the arts, with their native characteristics, and constitutes a sharp focus of national pride. Such concepts give the incipient nation a past history, a present status, and a future destiny, as well as a geographical and cultural boundary line which separates it from neighboringgroups, who are either inferior and to be despised, hostile and to be feared, or at least different, from whom they are to be distinguished.
But an abstract ideology, powerful as it may be, is not always a potent tool to gratify the national pride of ordinary people. Something more tangible and easily grasped is required for the bulk of the population. Accordingly, after the old feudal aristocracy had been destroyed, most European nations, large and small, turned to the musical forms of the simple folk, their songs and dances, as well as their myths and legends, which were viewed as grass-root emanations of their national spirit. These were then appropriated as the basic elements of their new art forms. Musical “entomologists” from Glinka to Bela Bartok beat the bushes of the backwoods for rare specimens of peasant songs, dissected them for structure, and mounted them in imposing collections. These were either presented “straight” or more commonly incorporated and absorbed into standard forms of song, symphony, and opera, on which they bestowed a national flavor. Weber’s Der Freischiitz was an early product of this movement. When Dvorak came to the United States (1891) to preside for a few years over the American Conservatory, he had already been so completely indoctrinated in that school of thought that he was ready to apply it to polyglot America. To the great consternation of certain American critics, he asserted that America, too, could turn to its “primitive” peoples—the Negro—for its national music. To illustrate the procedure, he composed a string quartet and a symphony “in the spirit” of the Negro folktunes which, however, Americans have innocently enjoyed ever since without any reference to their supposed derivation.
Such musical ethnology naturally turned up a great repertoire of tunes, rhythms, dances, and folktales that, in the minds of their enthusiastic devotees, were the incarnation of the folksoul, which constituted the presumable source from which they originally derived. Folksong is alleged to be more spontaneous, fundamental, and therefore a more valid and genuine expression of national character than the artificial and adulterated high art forms of civilized ‘ music.
Ethnologists well know that these national forms, although often the objects of intense loyalty, differ from one another not because of any inherent racial predisposition, but because they developed in cultural isolation in response to innumerable local conditions and circumstances. Because in some instances their local origin was more apparent than real, they sometimes became the mistaken subject of patriotic fervor—as in the case of the gypsy tunes that Liszt and Brahms passed on in their “Hungarian” rhapsodies and danbes. Occasionally these aboriginal motifs have had an appeal even to other nations as quaint and exotic themes. Indeed, it has been said that the best “Spanish” music has been written by Frenchmen: Debussy, Ravel, Lalo, Bizet, Chabrier, who did much to popularize the Spanish idiom. Spain furnished the rhythms, France the technical and professional equipment to incorporate them into more pretentious forms.
In addition to this primitive material, nations have also turned to their less remote literary and musical histories for inspiration. There are numerous occasions of such reinforcement of group ego. Military defeat and oppression, which ordinarily is productive of deeply wounded pride, commonly seeks compensation in its own national traditions. German nationalism, stung by the Napoleonic defeats, contributed its bit to the revival of Bach; and France, after her defeat of 1871, unwrapped many of her musical heirlooms (Rameau and Couperin) to reshape significantly her subsequent musical tastes. Hungary, Poland, Bohemia, and the smaller European nations evinced the same preoccupation with their glorious past to console them for the inglorious present.
A third manifestation of nationalistic feeling, which influences the repertoire of a nation, is the disposition toward loyal preferential cultivation of its own music, whatever its forms, to the relative exclusion of foreign art. This type of “protective tariff” has been practiced by all countries, including the United States. The Russian Music Society, founded in 1859 by Anton Rubinstein, the London Philharmonic Society, the French Societe—all had written commitments favoring the cultivation of native works and binding them to a certain quota of performance, while conductors like Koussevitzky have voluntarily given generous opportunities to native American composers who would most certainly have been ignored had they carried foreign labels. In times of national crises such sentiments are, of course, intensified, when “Buy British,” and “Buy American” become patriotic slogans which apply to art and ideas, no less than to material goods.
This unfolding of the national spirit is not to be construed as a succession of rational or chronological steps. Although a people may be maneuvered into a nationalistic frenzy by Hitlerian calculation, more usually there is a sincere, spontaneous, slowly ripening group consciousness of which the aforementioned elements are important components.
Although there is an abundant literature on the general subject of “national” music, there is certainly no clear consensus on how the term can be defined; for the varieties of music produced within the boundaries of a nation are numerous, to say nothing of the difficulty of identifying the “nation” itself. Those who view the national boundaries as temporary historical solutions of physical struggles between peoples are more likely to abandon the mystical notion of the Volksgeist and its musical emanations, and to turn in the direction of the simple and forthright declaration that French music, for example, is simply the music written by composers resident in France. A national music idiom, insofar as it exists, is like the national flag, language, or other symbols in that it whips up powerful sentiments through habits of association and of planned and persistent indoctrination. After all, the sense of nationality does not reside in the germ plasm, but is an overlaid state of mind acquired, unconsciously or consciously, by a kind of cultural osmosis. As cultural patterns change from time to time, national music will also display varied patterns, and its classification into nationalistic pigeon-holes will necessarily give rise to strange incongruities, as in the case of Debussy and Saint-Saens. Both were intensely national in sentiment, but quite incompatible with each other personally and musically. Truly, nationalism is only “culture” deep.
Such detached and cold analysis does scant justice to the sentiments which in part determine the popularity of the national composers, but they are among the many nonaesthetic factors which ultimately condition the taste of the public. If the assumption is correct that nationality factors do influence repertoire selections, the extent to which they do so may be measured by identifying and tracing the national sources of the repertoire and by tracing the occasion and origins of these influences. Accordingly, it will be necessary to split up, prismlike, the American repertoire into its nationalistic bands and measure the width of each in the musical spectrum.
But the difficulty of setting up “true” political boundaries and the ease with which they are crossed by the mobile musician, make national classification of some composers almost impossible. The simplest criterion of nationality would be, of course, birthplace. This criterion has the advantage of being at least unambiguous, for it would seem self-evident that no composer could have been born in two places at the s’ame time. But this, too, turns out to be an oversimplification that does not reckon with vacillating geographical boundaries. Dvorak was either Bohemian or Austrian according to the sentiments consulted. Everyone knows that Chopin was born in Poland, though Warsaw was then a second capital of Russia.
But the real inadequacy of birthplace as a criterion of nationality is exposed by the fact that most of the important things happen to a person after he has been born. A rigid adherence to birthplace would ignore the remainder of the composer’s life during which, of course, his compositions were conceived. French opera was founded by the Italian Lully; Cherubini, Offenbach, and Meyerbeer composed their best work in France; Clementi lived in England, and Spontini in Germany. Theodore Thomas and Walter Damrosch came to America as children. Handel offers a genuine dilemma, for he was born in Germany, wrote his operas in the Italian style, settled in England at the age of twenty-seven, was naturalized in 1726, anglicized his name by dropping the umlaut (he was less successful in shaking off his thick accent), developed the oratorio into an English classic form, and was finally buried in Westminster Abbey. Loath to abandon such a “national” ornament, the Germans include him among the Deutsche Tonkilnstler with the umlaut restored. Still more confusing is the case of Frederic Delius who was born in Yorkshire of German and Dutch parentage (for many years he called himself “Fritz”), was a wool salesman in Scandinavia, managed an orange grove in Florida, studied in Leipzig, paid a few brief return visits to his “native” England, spent forty-five years of his life in France, but was buried in England, according to his own last wish.
In general, unless there are strong reasons to the contrary, a composer is allocated for present purposes to the country in which he has produced his major works, and in whose culture he has shared and participated. For those reasons Handel is counted as British; Chopin as French; the conductors Theodore Thomas and Walter Damrosch, as American. Stravinsky, Schoenberg and others, who migrated with mature reputations to the United States, are assigned to their respective European origins.
In peace as well as in war, weaker countries are usually “invaded” by the stronger. Unless interfered with by political decree or other barriers, the ordinary exchange of material and spiritual goods will normally seek a competitive level. That simple generalization epitomizes the complete conquest of America by Austro-German music.
This dominance of Teutonic music can be ascribed to a combination of several factors. In her early history, the three hundred German principalities, competing with one another in splendor by aping the court of Versailles, cultivated music as one of the principal adornments of courtly life. They thereby decentralized and increased the demand for skilled performers and composers. Catholic and Protestant churches likewise patronized the musical arts and encouraged widespread appreciation. Most German cities maintained a small band of Stadtmusikanten which were called out on civic and festive occasions, expanding their occupational opportunities. After 1800, nationalistic sentiments further nourished competition with Italian music, ultimately reducing the latter’s influence and inflating the pride of the Germans in their own musical achievements. These circumstances did not prevail to the same degree in France, England, and Russia, and were therefore all the more effective toward raising the musical trademark “Made in Germany” to its high distinction.
Although the dominance of German music !in the American repertoire is well known, its near monopoly in the early years is not so obvious. It still accounts for more than half of all the music played today in American orchestras.
For present purposes, Austria and Germany have been thrown together because they represent a cultural entity that could not be broken with impunity. Beethoven and Brahms, born in the North, and certainly considered German by everyone including themselves, passed practically their entire careers in Vienna. Though the Protestant North and the Catholic South are separable, there is no such distinction apparent in the national consciousness of the composers themselves, nor made by the world in general. One may note, however, a shift of musical supremacy from Catholic Vienna to the Protestant North in the course of the century—that is, to Leipzig, Berlin, and Weimar, and the intermediate city of Munich. Wagner, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Liszt, and Strauss represent the new generation succeeding Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert of the Vienna orbit. The dying imperialism of Vienna was partially super-seded by the vital commercialism of Leipzig and the royal setting of Berlin.
The pre-eminence of German music in the American repertoire is hardly a revelation to even the casual observer, though its overwhelming degree has probably not been so obvious. In 1875, when the New York Philharmonic was still the only resident professional orchestra in the country, German music constituted eighty per cent of its repertoire. Though this proportion has declined, the German repertoire in 1950 still equaled fifty per cent of the total of all nationalities. The disturbances of the two World Wars were but ripples in the general flow. Although the surface was agitated by public excitement during the first war, it hardly penetrated to the solid depths, and therefore left the old standard composers practically untouched.
During World War I, patriotic hostility toward German composers was slow to develop in America because of our phlegmatic nationalistic sentiments and the geographic remoteness of the war. Since the American government itself had distinguished between the German people and its rulers, it was at first not quite clear what German music had to do with the war and its outcome. In fact, America, with its traditions of freedom, was rather sentimental and self-consciously proud of its professions of tolerance. In the spring of 1917, shortly after the American declaration of war, the Chicago orchestra closed the season with an all-German program consisting of Beethoven, Brahms, Strauss, and Wagner, to show the “folly of banning German music because we are at war.”1 Another critic averred that “intolerance of German music is, of course, absurd. . . . France bans Wagner, Strauss and the moderns, but France has been despoiled, and she is proudly bitter. Her case is not ours.”2 It was not until January, 1918, almost one year after the declaration of war, that the Philharmonic of New York announced that it would not play contemporary German music (this was directed principally against Richard Strauss, who was accumulating royalties in this country). The following month Stransky took out first citizenship papers and in March, 1918, presented an all-Wagner orogram.
Anti-German sentiment was, however, slowly being kindled. The sinking of the Lusitania in 1915, in which a Vanderbilt youth was among the one hundred American casualties (the family was active in Metropolitan Opera support) aroused much indignation. With the draft, casualties, and atrocity stories, a feeling of repugnance toward things German did eventually gain headway. It became not only a question of public sentiment, but also one of public safety against possible demonstrations and disturbances. Fritz Kreisler, a wounded Austrian soldier, who had been touring freely since 1915, had been forbidden by local authorities, in the fall of 1917, to appear in concerts in Pittsburgh and St. Louis because of possible incitement to riot. He thereupon tactfully announced the can cellation of all of his contracts.
Among our Allies, England likewise banned the playing of contemporary German music, to which the Germans flippantly retorted that they would like to “retaliate, were there any British music to boycott.” Germany, where Puccini was very popular, had banned Italian opera since 1915.
This period witnessed the passing of the Teutonic near-monopoly on the position of conductor. The succession of Austro-German conductors had been an illustrious one. Henschel, Gericke, Nikisch, Muck, Paur, and Fiedler in Boston; Scheel and Pohlig in Philadelphia; Oberhoffer in Minneapolis; Bergmann, Seidl, Mahler, and Stransky, in New York; Stock in Chicago; Kunwald in Cincinnati; Zach in St. Louis; and Hertz in San Francisco had all had their origins and training in Central Europe. But for many reasons, both political and cultural, the great tradition had finally been dissipated, and only an isolated few—Fritz Reiner, Bruno Walter, and Otto Klemperer—were subsequently called to delay the complete passing of the glorious era.
Orchestral music had never reached the high development in France it had attained in Central Europe, and French conductors before World War I are not much more than names even to the informed American. In instrumental specialization, however, France had achieved a reputation for its woodwinds, and several of them, notably Georges Longy (oboe) in Boston (1898-1925), and Georges Barrere (flute) with the New York Symphony (1905-28) contributed greatly to American musical life in performance and teaching.
Aside from the war period, French music shows a stable twelve per cent of the total American repertoire. In the earlier years, the principal composers were Berlioz and Saint-Saens. As they receded, Debussy, Franck, and still later Ravel and numerous moderns rose to compensate for the losses of the older generation.
For some time before the American entry into the first World War, France had made an effort to gain friends in this country. The eighty-year-old Saint-Saens paid a visit in 1915, and other musical missions were knocking at our doors. In 1916 a committee of prominent New York financial leaders, which included Kahn, Vanderbilt, and Rockefeller, was formed to encourage the propagation of French music. With the declaration of war, April, 1917, that trend grew to flood tide, climaxing in 1918, when Andre Messager toured the United States with his celebrated Conservatoire orchestra.
The orchestras which led the patriotic procession in the United States were the Boston Symphony with Rabaud and Monteux, the New York Symphony with Walter Damrosch, who had already evinced a Francophile disposition some years previously, and Cincinnati, which, like Boston, had sacrificed its conductor to the war, and had placed the Belgian Ysaye on the podium.
The New York Philharmonic has been consistently timid in its espousal of French music; at the other extreme San Francisco, under Monteux, successor to Hertz, has accorded the French at least a short period of glory with twenty per cent of the repertoire during the first five years of his tenure.
Beginning modestly with the prolific Anton Rubinstein, and later with the melodious Tschaikowsky and the sumptuous Rimsky-Korsakoff, the Russians have climbed to second place in the nationality competition in recent years, with twenty per cent of the repertoire. This resulted from the unusual popularity of several modern composers, Shostakovitch, Prokofieff, and Stravinsky, together with smaller increments of Rachmaninoff and Miaskowsky. This dramatic upsurge was not effected without a series of political interventions, of which Russia has been the beneficiary.
Early in the first World War, when Russia was the ally of Britain and France, any news from that mysterious country was good copy. More and more reports on Russian music began to seep into the columns of the American musical journals, and some of our symphony orchestras were only then discovering names which are today familiar and respected. Borodin, Glinka, Moussorgsky, and a dozen others were accorded belated recognition, and Glazounoff, Scriabin, Stravinsky, Miaskowsky followed: The Russian Revolution elicited considerable intellectual sympathy in America, which redounded to the profit of Prokofieff and Shostakovitch and was climaxed in the almost hysterical patriotic esteem of World War II.
Of all the nationalities, however, Russia has contributed most conspicuously to modern trends. The recent composers, together with a backlog of Tschaikowsky and Rimsky-Korsakoff, assure that country for a period, at least, a substantial representation. All orchestras have shared in this upswing during the war years, though Boston, with Koussevitzky, has outrun them all, and Minneapolis, with Mitropoulos, has been most indifferent.
The universal vogue of Italian musical terminology alone would be sufficient evidence of the early dominance of Italian music in Europe and America, analogous to the world-wide prevalence of the English language in the commercial world. This Italian control was bitterly resented by the German nationalists, who, as the volume of their own music accumulated, vented their protests by the use of a competitive German musical vocabulary. This chauvinistic precedent was not generally emulated, however, for the advantage of an international professional vocabulary is obvious, even though it must be Italian. It has been the eager refuge of many a guest conductor in a foreign land for whom that slender but expressive lexicon was the only verbal contact.
It was with opera, of course, that Italy had conquered the world; until recently, her contribution to symphonic literature has been meager. As late as 1870 the Beethoven symphonies were unknown in Rome. Since Sgambati, who produced his first symphony in 1881 under German influence, is usually credited with being the first Italian symphonic composer, others have modeled after their Teutonic neighbors. Although the emergence of Italian symphonic patronage synchronizes with the careers of Respighi, Casella, Pizzetti, Malipiero, Tommasini, and others, the revival of the older schools—Vivaldi, Rossini, Boccherini, and Scarlatti—shares in the rising national fortunes in America. Of those responsible for that growth, none were so energetic in promulgating Italian tastes as Toscanini between 1926 and 1936—a devotion to his countrymen for which he has received some censure. In recent decades many of the gains of Italy’s late renaissance have been cancelled, and she has returned to the insignificant position she previously held.
England, like the United States, has been an importer rather than a producer of music. Nevertheless, in recent decades she has gained a modest place in the American repertoire. Elgar, Delius, Handel, Vaughan Williams, and more recently William Walton, have been responsible for her appreciable position in the world’s music. The New York Philharmonic and the Cincinnati orchestras were for a number of years under the direction of Barbirolli and Goossens, British-born conductors. In the thirties Barbirolli accorded the British six per cent of his program time while Goossens gave them four per cent. Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Minneapolis trailed with a more normal one per cent.
Although economically and politically the United States is quite emancipated from its European ancestry, in cultural pursuits her line of sight has always been, and still is, over her shoulders Europeward. Such a psychological stance tends to exclude Latin America from her vision. Recently, however, orchestral institutions, organized similarly to those in Anglo-America, have arisen “south of the border.” This has led to a flourishing musical life with the attendant production of composers and conductors. Mindful of common political, economic, and social interests in this hemisphere, the United States government has contributed its influence toward the cementing of cultural ties with her southern neighbors. In the threatening days of the i94o’s both Toscanini and his NBC orchestra and Stokowski’s Youth Orchestra toured the Latin American countries. The Latin American conductors Eleazor de Carvalho and Carlos Chavez have presided over various orchestras in the United States. Among the composers, Villa-Lobos of Brazil is the most noted and enjoys a statistically perceptible rank in the repertoire. Others, principally from Brazil and Mexico, are: Gomez, Guarnieri, Revueltas, Mignone, Pinto, Siqueira, Tavares, Braga and Fernandez. Although their contributions to the United States repertoire may be infinitesimal, they are comparable to the American contribution to the orchestras of Europe.
When a new country does not possess the means for producing the goods that satisfy its consumer wants, it may import these goods from other nations. This the United States has done in the case of French wines, Irish linens, English china, Greek and Roman architecture, British political ideas—and German music. There is nothing humiliating in such a course, nor is it necessarily a symptom of national weakness. Quite to the contrary, cultural exchange between nations is a normal phenomenon which promotes amicable relations and contributes to the larger gratification of their citizens.
If such international exchange of goods and services is conventional and salutary, it is on the other hand no less normal for the rising young industries themselves to enter the competition in furnishing such goods and services, and to appeal to national loyalty to support that purpose. During the first half-century of the life of this country, this nativistic feeling had not yet been awakened in the realm of music. The colonists of the eastern seaboard had brought their tastes in their bag and baggage, and had re-established themselves here in their accustomed style and manner, so far as pioneer conditions would permit. In the concert halls of America, as in Europe, Haydn, Handel, Mozart, Pleyel, Gyrowetz, Vanhal, and Stamitz were the staples, later superseded or supplemented by Hummel, Kalliwoda, Beethoven, and a score of others without much thought of interpolating compositions by the few American composers who might have aspired to challenge their priority.
That the possibility of American compositions was condescendingly acknowledged at the time of the founding (1842) of the New York Philharmonic Society, can be deduced from the guarded commitment in Article VII of its by-laws:
If any grand orchestral compositions, such as overtures or symphonies, shall be presented to the Society, they being composed in this country, the Society shall perform one every season provided a committee of five appointed by the government shall have approved and recommended the composition.
There is no doubt that the conception of its function entertained by the Philharmonic Society was to propagate the taste for the great classics, and that any contemporary music worthy of such high purposes was hardly likely to emerge on the American frontier.
The earliest recorded protest, and by far the most vigorous, against the assumed supremacy of foreign music was voiced by the composer-critic William Henry Fry and the composer-violinist George Bristow, in the early 1850’s. They were the first Americanborn operatic and orchestral composers of any pretension. Born in New York one year after the arrival of his immigrant father from England, Bristow was a leading member of the New York Philharmonic Society for the first forty years of its existence, and it accorded him single performances of three of his symphonies and two of his overtures at its regular public concerts. But the Philharmonic’s ninety per cent German repertoire elicited from Bristow a protest against the “systematized effort to extinguish American music,” and he punctuated his conscientious convictions by a brief withdrawal from the society (1854).
Neither Fry, who precipitated the controversy in a series of public addresses, nor Bristow, who echoed it, were of a temperament to belittle their own talents. Says Bristow:
Who are the men who told you that Americans cannot write up to the standard of the New York Philharmonic Society? They are the same style of illuminati that in the London Philharmonic, after attempting to rehearse it, kicked Beethoven’s C Minor Symphony under their desks and pronounced the composer a fool or a madman.3
Fry, composer of operas and symphonies which were repeatedly performed in Philadelphia and New York, was still more frenetic in his indignant challenge:
I have no fear of having my symphonies played side by side with Beethoven’s. . . . It is just what I ask. It has been done here repeatedly and I am satisfied with the result. . . . If you will cause a symphony of mine in four movements to be played by the New York Philharmonic . ; . I will undertake to produce one in from four to six days, though some composers give four to six months to the task; and I have no objection to have a symphony so performed sandwiched between any two classical symphonies played on the same evening.4
In retrospect, it has seemed to some that these gestures were merely a misguided and quixotic outburst of wounded pride and frustrated ambition unworthy of a balanced personality. But it would be too much to state that they were exclusively so. The problem takes on another hue when viewed in its historical context. Fry and Bristow were the specialized manifestation of a comprehensive antiforeign sentiment that made itself felt in the arts as well as in the economic, political, and religious realms. They spoke not only for themselves, but for a large segment of the native American population, which constituted an understanding audience. It is doubtful whether even such self-willed temperaments as Fry and Bristow would have sallied forth so vehemently without a bracing atmosphere which could invigorate them with self-confidence.
During the period of the early 1850’s, the United States was in the throes of a violent nativistic, anti-alien movement. The rate of immigration had greatly accelerated in the forties with the Irish wave following their potato famine in 1846, and the German wave that began with the disturbances of 1848 and endured through the next decade and beyond. This enormous increase in immigration alarmed many Americans who viewed it as a threat to their democratic institutions. They feared the destruction of American enterprise, the substitution of European culture, and even the control of the government by these alien forces. A pinpoint quotation of mere population data will tend to explain their unrest. For in 1850 New York City, which was the center of the nativistic movement, had a total population of about 500,000, of which 241,000 were foreignborn.5 If one considers that almost one hundred per cent of the foreign-born were adults, and that about fifty per cent of the nativeborn were adults, it can be calculated quickly that the foreign-born adults (workers and potential voters) outnumbered the native-born adults roughly two to one! To this must be added their discrepant social ideologies and cultural traits, which were downright repulsive to many native Americans to a degree that is difficult to reconstruct in the modern cosmopolitan age. All the Irish, and some of the Germans, were Roman Catholic, which aroused great apprehension in a predominantly Protestant country. The Germans, many of whom were free-thinkers, drank beer, violated the Sabbath, cultivated and preserved their own language, newspapers, and schools, maintained these cultural traits with obnoxious pride, and were alarmingly successful in their infiltration of many occupations, of which music was only one of the most conspicuous instances.
Here was enough to offend every taste. Native-born workers, the professions, small business, and patriotic Americans in general resented mightily the transplantation of the institutions of monarchic Europe onto the free soil of America. While not lacking in a certain respect for the old world, aspiring American musicians found themselves overwhelmed by foreign traditions that threatened to stifle their own embryonic attempts to establish an indigenous culture. Said Bristow:
... From the commencement there has been on the part of the performing members and the direction of the Philharmonic Society little short of a conspiracy against the art of a country to which they have come for a living; and it is very bad taste for men to bite the hand that feeds them. If all their artistic affections are unalterably German, let them pack up and go back to Germany, and enjoy the police and the bayonets . . . where an artist is a serf to a nobleman.
Although both Bristow and Fry were no doubt interested in the success of their own compositions, their philosophy ran somewhat deeper; to promulgate a national school. Bristow, therefore, continues:.
What is the Philharmonic Society in this country? Is it to play exclusively the works of German masters, especially if they be dead? ... Or is it to stimulate original art on the spot?
America has made the political revolution which illumines the world, while Germany is still beshrowded with a pall of feudal darkness.
Musicians were not the only protestants. A similar sentiment of emancipation was expressed by Ralph Waldo Emerson in his famous Phi Beta Kappa address, “The American Scholar” (1837):
Our day of dependence, our long apprenticeship to the learning of other lands, draws to a close. The millions around us . . . cannot always be fed on the sere remains of foreign harvests.
And in his essay on Self-Reliance (1841), he announces a cultural declaration of independence:
Our houses are built with foreign taste; our shelves are garnished with foreign ornaments; our opinions, our tastes, our faculties lean and follow the Past and the Distant. . . . And why need we copy the Doric or the Gothic model? Beauty, convenience, grandeur of thought . . . are as near to us as to any, and if the American artist will study with hope and love the length of the day, the wants of the people, the habit and form of the government, he will create a house in which all these will find themselves fitted, and taste and sentiment will find themselves satisfied also.
The rebellion of Fry and Bristow could not, of course, escape without rebuttals. They drew return fire not only from the “government” of the Philharmonic, but also, from the universalists who viewed art, like Jiumanity, as being “above all Nations.” The running disputations were carried in the columns of various publications. Richard Storrs Willis, editor of the Musical World and Times, took strong issue with the nationalistic conception of music: “This is a wrong view of art—decidedly so. It is one-sided and contracted. Let us strive for art—universal art.” He insisted, however, that Germany was the “land of real music.”
This period saw the crest of the nativist movement. Its intensity was fated to subside with the approach of the great sectional conflict of 1861-64. Realistically, of course, music was one of the “infant industries”; but Bristow, Fry, and their colleagues, in the very nature of the case, were not in a position to slap a protective tariff on the competing importations as the manufacturers of material goods, with the aid of a friendly government, had successfully done. If one concedes the legitimacy of a campaign for an American school, Bristow’s diagnosis was absolutely correct. It is interesting, if not profitable, to speculate whether the spark of American national music could have been shielded by any arbitrary method from the suffocating competition of European art, or whether the disparity between the merits of American and German music and the technical superiority of German executants would in any case have been sufficient to tip consumer demand toward the foreign product.
American musical interests have, however, never relinquished the militant nativist ideology, though their sentiments are now usually expressed in less virulent form. Recently, an American composer, much more successful than Fry or Bristow, paraphrased exactly their earlier lamentation and despairingly inquired: “What chance have we of producing an original native school of composers?” and then interjects the diplomatic reservation that
I have no quarrel with the masterpieces. I think I revere them and enjoy them as well as the next fellow. But when they are used, unwittingly perhaps, to stifle contemporary effort in our own country, then I am almost tempted to take the extreme view and say that we should be better off without them.6
Another distinguished American, a member of a celebrated line of native musicians and pedagogues, directed his barbs particularly against
the starvation diet in contemporary music . . . the fashion-enslaved, prestige-hypnotized minds that guide the rich and reactionary Philharmonic-Symphony ... so totally devoid of any American loyalty to match the Italian loyalty (Toscanini) that is, after all, rather likeable in him.7
Before attempting an estimate on how well the American composer has actually competed in the American repertoire, it will be necessary to define a few terms and make a few basic assumptions. Reduced to question form:
(1) What is the definition of American music, and which composers should be included? ‘
(2) What is the norm of “fair’’ competition with European composers?
Whether there exists a characteristic American idiom and, if so, what its earmarks may be, are not problems to be solved within the scope of the present study. However, the American repertoire has been frequently affected by the urge to develop a native musical dialect.
Of all the traits which American composers have explored—Negro tunes, Indian folksong, Puritan hymns, and jazz rhythms—the last-named has gained the greatest notoriety. Ragtime, its antecedent manifestation, had been successfully excluded from the genteel arts for two decades. Until then considered the aesthetic preoccupation of the proletariat, it became, after the first World War, a subject of controversy and even crashed the recondite pages of the Musical Quarterly. Critics began to inquire whether, after all, jazz might not be capable of serious emotions. Was not America overlooking a kind of musical resource whose significance Russia and other European countries had long ago discovered in their own more primitive social strata?
From the standpoint of the serious orchestral repertoire, the high point in the history of jazz in this country may be scored in the concert of Paul Whiteman’s orchestra in Aeolian Hall, New York, February, 1924, when George Gershwin, late of. Tin-Pan Alley, performed the premiere of his Rhapsody in Blue. The program opened with the Livery Stable Blues. Everybody of note was there, including Walter Damrosch, who forthwith commissioned the twenty-six-year-old artist to compose a piano concerto in the same genre. Damrosch gave it a hearing in 1925, as well as the same composer’s An American in Paris in 1928.
Nearly every serious conductor professed a polite interest in the new trend of “symphonic jazz.” It was the thing to do. Although Gershwin was not invited to Boston until January, 1932, when he performed his Second Rhapsody under the baton of Koussevitzky, all orchestras performed the Gershwin items at least once. But no major orchestra, except Philadelphia, from whom the world had learned to expect an occasional bizarre gesture, went so far as to invite the “king of jazz,” Paul Whiteman, as guest conductor. In November, 1936, when much of the flurry had already subsided, Whiteman and his twenty-four-piece band merged with the Philadelphia Orchestra for the eighth subscription pair in which, of course, the Rhapsody in Blue was again featured.
The normal direction of migrant music now for once reversed itself, and jazz became an exportable item. Not only did Whiteman undertake a successful tour of Europe in 1926, but jazz bands became popular in England and France during the twenties. Looking for novelty to suit the mood of the restless postwar epoch, European composers were intrigued by the pungent rhythms and quickly, but briefly, absorbed them into their own styles. Auric, Milhaud, Stravinsky, Ravel, Tansman, “spiked” their music with the new intoxicating motifs, while Krenek created a sensation in Germany with the opera, Jonny Spielt Auf. A host of Americans were similarly imbued. Carpenter, Copland, j^ntheil, Gruenberg, Bennett, Gould, and others flirted with the new “national” idiom.
But in the perspective of 1950, it turned out to be a passing fad. Whether the strictures of this idiom were too confining, whether the strings, which are so important in the symphonic band, were not given enough to do, whether it was just plain fatigue from the overstimulating rhythms, or whether jazz itself gave rise to newer forms that made the original inspirations seem archaic, it is still true that interest soon played itself out.
If it is difficult to characterize American music, it is equally difficult to identify the American composer. The native-born American composer offers few dilemmas; for, after a training period in Europe, he returns to America to produce his most important works. However, since about 1920, many foreign-born composers have been making their home in the United States. This was a novel turn of events which could hardly have been predicted before the collapse of European economy. Before World War I, it was well known that conductors and performers were attracted to these shores by the liberal economic returns in this rich and resourceful country. In fact, it was the accepted practice to recruit orchestral musicians and to entice soloists and conductors with fabulous fees, which were justified by the public acclaim for the artists. It was, however, not so reasonable to expect composers to seek a home in this country where there existed no mechanism to reward them in comparable measure.
But composers behave very much as do persons of more humble callings: when their environment threatens them, they assemble their paraphernalia and migrate to a safer place where they may ply their profession. Therefore, after each of the two World Wars and the intervening Russian revolution, the general depression and the persecution in Germany, emigration was greatly accelerated. In addition to the “push” from decayed Europe, there was the “pull” of Hollywood, as well as of the music schools and universities that were prepared to employ these composers, to say nothing of the “free air” and other liberal inducements of democracy.
Not all of these adopted sons have the same valid claim on the formal American appellation. Counted as Americans, for present purposes, are only those foreign-born who have made a substantial portion of their contribution while living in America.
It might at first glance seem simpler to label as American all music composed in America. This would, indeed, be very simple if some composers did not migrate in mid-career. Since, for practical purposes, it is composers, not musical titles, which are classified, all works of a given composer must go into the same pigeonhole. A second solution would be to count as American all music composed by musicians now permanently domiciled in the United States. This would result in the classification of Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite as foreign in 1920, and as American in 1950. But it does not seem fair to inflate spuriously the “American” contribution to the repertoire by a heavy listing of compositions that were composed in Europe, attained prestige for their authors in Europe, and then by the happy accident of migration counted posthumously “American.”8
For the purpose of this tabulation, therefore, composers who have produced their major works in Europe, whose career was well established there, are assigned to their native country: Hindemith, Stravinsky, Alban Berg, Rachmaninoff, Bartok, Schoenberg, and others. Those born in Europe, but who have migrated to this country young enough to establish their careers in the United States, are called American. A sample list, with ages of arrival; Berezowsky (21), Loeffler (21), Wagenaar (27), Bloch (36), Fuleihan (15), the conductors Theodore Thomas (10) and Walter Damrosch (9). Composers like Tansman, Prokofieff and Dvorak, who spent only a few years in this country and subsequently returned to Europe to continue their careers where they had initiated them, are, of course, counted as foreign.
Previous to 1900, the American contingent in the symphonic repertoire was small. In its regular concerts, the New York Philharmonic Society accorded single performances to Paine (1890) andChadwick (1895) and two to MacDowell (1894, 1897), in addition to the aforementioned Bristow. More hospitable was the Chicago orchestra under Thomas. This foreign-born conductor, who had acquired all his training in America, extended commissions to John Knowles Paine on the occasion of the Philadelphia and Chicago Expositions, offered all-American programs at these expositions in 1876 and 1893,° and performed diverse works of Paine, Chadwick, MacDowell, Foote, Gleason, H. W. Parker, and other Americans during the regular seasons of the Chicago orchestra beginning in 1891. His American programs at the Philadelphia Centennial, July, 1876, and the Chicago Summer Concerts of August, 1882, were the first of their kind by an established American orchestra.
The Texas-born Van der Stucken, who had received all his training abroad, gained a reputation in the late eighties (1885-87) for his free-lance “novelty” concerts in New York, among which he likewise included American programs.
Boston was, of course, the early musical capital of the United States. The pioneer work of Lowell Mason in the public schools of Boston, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the New England Conservatory of Music, Harvard University, which established the first chair of music in 1875—all were fertilized by a proud regional tradition, and reinforced one another in producing an indigenous musical culture that survives to the present day. With its prewar Teutonic conductors consecrated to the classics, Boston was, and still is, also the most enthusiastic exponent of native works. To be sure, the native New England group of Paine, Chadwick, Foote, Converse, Gilbert, Whiting, and Buck, many of whom composed “with a German accent,” has largely given way to a more modern national representation, but the adventurous policy of the Boston orchestra remains.
This first all-American orchestral program by an established American orchestra was played in Philadelphia during the Centennial of 1876. Although the objective of the American orchestras was to perform the standard classics9, Theodore Thomas presented a number of all-American programs in New York and Chicago.
Since 1900, external circumstance and the growing maturity of our own musical resources have contrived to favor a general expansion of American participation in the repertoire. However, when viewed in relation to the total repertoire, the American contribution may still seem somewhat less than impressive. After two world wars, with the attendant inflation of national enthusiasm, the proportion of American music in the symphonic repertoire of all orchestras has attained in 1950 less than seven per cent. In the case of other nationalities, even such a percentage would allow several composers to show a significant position on the popularity pyramid, but American patronage is so diffused among innumerable composers that almost no one achieves a discernible fraction of the repertoire.
In the twenty-five-year period 1925-50 the names of 280 American composers appeared on the regular subscription programs of the ten oldest major symphony orchestras. Of these, 136, or fifty per cent, have been played by only one orchestra each, while only eighteen composers, or six per cent, have been heard in nine or ten orchestras. It is therefore apparent that most of the quota of American composers is consumed in purely token performances of local and regional interest. However, by volume of music, as measured in frequency of performances and length of compositions, this top six per cent of composers accounts for forty-five per cent of all American music played in that period. These eighteen composers not only appear in more orchestras, but are represented by more compositions, and are given repeated performances. If we arbitrarily establish a more liberal criterion of national prestige at a minimum of seven out of ten orchestras, we may conclude that thirty-four of the 280 American composers, or thirteen per cent, achieved national status at some time during the twenty-five-year period under review, and that they account for sixty per cent of all American music performed in that period by the ten major orchestras.
The turnover in American compositions in the repertoire is so rapid that there is not yet an established, standard, American repertoire in the accepted sense of the term. The repertoire life of American compositions is still very short. If this continues, the ranking of American composers will show further violent changes in the next decade. As American are counted those composers who were born in America or who have done at least a considerable portion of their composing in this country.
The foreign-born American has made a significant contribution to the American portion. Of the American music that has achieved national recognition, one-third was produced by the foreign-born element, and two-thirds by the native-born. Of the foreign-born, Bloch, Loeffler, and Berezowsky must be credited with the largest individual contributions.
Although the individual American composer is minuscule in proportion to the giants of the repertoire, the American group may be viewed as forming a little kingdom of its own in which a definite hierarchy quite naturally emerges. It is true, this ranking is not very stable. The tendency to perform principally contemporary and living American composers results naturally in quick turnover and brief life spans. By the time these pages are read, their relative positions may have undergone further alterations.
In their hospitality to American music, Boston and Chicago have been the most generous. But this statement, like every other statistical generalization, must be tempered by analysis and interpretation. If the strictly local contingent of their American repertoire is measured for the quarter century 1925-50, nearly forty per cent of the American music performed by the Chicago orchestra is contributed by composers of the local metropolitan area. If more subtle personal ties were considered, this percentage would probably be increased. To be sure* some of the Chicago music did enjoy performances outside of that city, but not much of it; for the Chicago contingent of American composers represented only 5.7 per cent of the total American music played by the remaining nine orchestras/The Chicago orchestra’s reputation for generous patronage of American music is therefore to a significant extent—i.e., at least forty per cent—attributable to the fact that Chicago is a rather important musical center, with a number of local* composers.
Boston similarly illustrates the fundamentally regional definition of Americanism, though in somewhat lesser degree. “Local” compositions in Greater Boston comprise thirty per cent of the volume of American music, while these same “Boston-American” compositions constitute nine per cent of the American music of all other orchestras.
One may conclude, therefore, that if certain orchestras seem to be apathetic toward “American” music, it is at least partially indicative of the lesser prominence of their cities as musical centers without the opportunity to fatten their American averages on local composers. That a simple unanalyzed enumeration is inadequate can be shown by the hypothetical case of an orchestra that apportions, say, fifteen per cent of its repertoire to local composers, and another orchestra that devotes five per cent of its total repertoire to a well-screened nationally recognized American repertoire. The “fifteen per cent orchestra” would carry off the prestige of being the most generous in the cultivation of “American” music, although in the larger perspective this prestige would be spurious because based exclusively on regional patronage. As a matter of fact, that is exactly what has occurred. During the decade of 1935-45 San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Cleveland topped Chicago in their cultivation of a well-selected nationally American repertoire, exclusive of purely local patronage.
The foregoing argument does not imply that “local” renditions are necessarily a financial and musical waste. Since most reputations begin on the local level, this sort of experimentation is important—to say nothing of the calculated benefits of such performances to both composer and orchestral society. Furthermore, man does not live by masterpieces alone, and “lesser” works, even immature ones, furnish the critical perceptive background so necessary for the appreciation of “greater” works. It is the nature of human judgments, and of individual and national aesthetic development, that requires many to be called before the few are chosen.
The volume of American music in the repertoire of the symphony orchestras does not quite eqaal the volume by foreign contemporaries.
As has been stated, ever since the days of Fry and Bristow, conductors of American orchestras, nearly all of foreign birth and training, have often been charged with unduly preferential treatment of foreign composers, and disloyal, unjustified neglect of American composers. Does the admittedly small percentage of American music constitute unfair discrimination? It is not a simple matter to appraise the justice of that charge. Obviously, some measurable standard of comparison must be established before the question can even be discussed.
In spite of an occasional argument to the contrary, one could hardly claim the total orchestral repertoire as the monopolistic province of the American composer. Furthermore, the established repertoire, foreign though it be, has become so firmly rooted for good or ill in the expectations of the audience that it would imperil the very musical institution itself to make drastic encroachments upon it.
There is, therefore, everything to be said for a preliminary hypothesis that the American composer could not assert the right to compete on equal terms with the staples of Beethoven, Bach, Strauss, and Wagner, and that the volume of repertoire accorded to such established masters should not be used as a criterion against which the competitive success of the American composer should be measured. It is rather with the foreign coittemporary composer, who is in an analogous competitive position, that the comparison must be made. Therefore, in order to exclude the inappropriate comparison with the standard classics, the more or less arbitrary birth date of 1890 was set for the selection of comparable American and foreign composers.
It requires some temerity to set a norm for equitable treatment for these two groups—the American and the contemporary foreign composers. How is one to weigh such imponderables as the quality of music, the aesthetic traditions of the audience which must be respected, and the national pride to be indulged? Should the American quota be equal to, or exceed, the most favored single nationality? Or should it match all Europeans put together?
On the basis of the 50-50 criterion (i.e. Americans equal all other nationalities put together), it can be stated that the American composer competed rather unsuccessfully during the twenty-five years from 1925 to 1950. All contemporary music shared a substantial growth during this period, but foreign music enjoyed a somewhat more rapid acceleration in patronage. Of foreign contemporaries, perhaps Shostakovitch and Prokofieff, for reasons both political and aesthetic, constitute such special cases that even they may be considered by some as “unfair” competition. If one agrees to their elimination, there is no question that American music, in all but two of the orchestras, did enjoy a patronage as great as, or greater than, all other foreign contemporaries put together, as measured by proportion of total playing time.
American composers were played in an amount approximately equal to all foreign contemporaries combined if Prokofieff and Shostakovitch are omitted.
The increase in American music during the decade 1935—45 may be ascribed to several factors, of which war enthusiasm is naturally the first to come to mind. Undoubtedly national patriotism directs attention to all national resources, material and nonmaterial, and contributes to a desire for self-sufficiency as well as the cultivation of national pride. There is, too, the obvious fact that the American composers were ten years older in the second decade and had had an opportunity to mature and develop their music. Again, European sources were drying up, arid therefore offered diminished competition to American works. Undoubtedly, the conductors who were abandoning their European homes, were beginning to consider America as a more permanent abode. They were even eliminating their European vacations, which in the old days always included a “search for new scores”—a standard part of management’s fall advertising blurb up to a quarter of a century ago. In short, orientation toward things American was more pronounced, thereby creating a favorable psychology for the adoption of American works. Of course, not all orchestras were equally zealous in following this trend. Boston, as usual, was the more enterprising, while Chicago and Minneapolis seemed to be the least affected.
If there was any hope that American composers would finally overtake their foreign contemporaries, such hope received a jolt during the five postwar years, 1945-50. The statistical reason for this condition can be very simply attributed to the oft-reiterated quick turnover in American performances, which has its corollary in their short musical life spans and their regional concentration. Few American composers achieve national representation. More of their foreign contemporaries do. While ten per cent of the foreign contemporary composers born since 1890, representing seventy-five per cent of the foreign music played, appeared in nine or ten orchestras, only six per cent of the contemporary Americans, representing forty per cent of all American music played, appeared in nine or ten orchestras. A recital of the names of the contemporary foreign composers will easily clarify these data. Appearing in nine or ten orchestras were the following in order of volume: Shostakovitch, Prokofieff, Hindemith, Milhaud, Honegger, Tansman, Walton, Khachaturian, Weinberger, Ibert, Britten, Chavez, and Kabalevsky—nearly all well-authenticated composers.
It is only logical to expect that foreign composers, who are included in the American repertoire, would have come to international notice, thus assuring them wide representation in America. A few of them have no doubt profited by their permanent migration to the United States. However, most of their performances consist of their older works composed on the European scene. Most of the “singleorchestra” foreigners are either the choices of guest conductors from abroad, or represent certain favorites of permanent conductors who had close professional ties abroad previous to assumption of their duties in this country. This, of course, includes practically ninety per cent of active conductors. There is hardly a permanent foreignborn conductor in this country, from Toscanini down to the youngest, who has not at some time or other provoked the critical jibe, “He plays the pieces of his [fill in the nationality ] friends.”
The “problem” of all contemporary music is not only a problem of nationalism, the foreign-born conductor, and the imponderables of merit and quality, but also a problem of “modernism.” The relative force of these factors cannot be readily estimated because they are inseparable: it is almost impossible to play American music without at the same time playing “modern” music.
This dilemma of the modern composer is not of his own making, but is the product of the social circumstances into which he has been born. As compared with the composer of Mozart’s day, he is beset with many discouragements. In addition to normal competition with one another, modern composers must compete with a long accumulation of hallowed works that are entrenched in prestige; and musical archeology is constantly adding to the already glutted supply. Consequently the modern composer encounters a saturated market that is inhospitable to the new entrant, and places on him the burden of aesthetic proof for crashing the established repertoire. Instead of being able to take it for granted that his music will be played, the young composer sees the conductors reaping special rewards for their enterprising courage in bestowing their attention upon him.
In these forbidding circumstances, the American composer cannot emulate the successful works of the past, adding a slight increment of individuality for pleasing effect, as Bach, Mozart, and even Beethoven and Wagner did at the beginning of their careers. The established masters are now so familiar to the audience that “derivative” qualities are easily detected and generally disparaged.
Finally, the romantic principle of composing for the future, as the old masters unintentionally did, is so well established that compositions too readily understood are critically received. Thus, the assignment of writing nonderivative, yet interesting, music of certain durability imposes a strain on the modern composer that was not felt in 1800. Small wonder that he often oversteps the bounds of comprehensibility and makes unappreciated flights into the unknown in a desperate effort at a distinctive contribution.
The problem of the historical shift from the concert of 150 years ago when nearly all music was “new,” to the present time when nearly all music is “old,” is a larger sociological and psychological problem. A standard of, equity for new music cannot be established in a vacuum, but must be appraised in terms of the economic status of the orchestra, the social function of the orchestra, the constitution of the membership of the audience, and all the other forces which comprise life itself, in terms of which the diverse, and often incompatible, wishes and desires seek satisfaction. These are the subjects of the following chapters.