- Mavericks and Other Traditions in American Music
Michael Broyles's history of mavericks in American music attempts to document a paradox: a tradition of tradition-defying musicians in America. To do this, Broyles calls upon his considerable narrative skills and his experience with social histories of music; he has previously written Music of the Highest Class: Elitism and Populism in Antebellum Boston (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), and edited the journals of Lowell Mason's year in Europe (A Yankee Musician in Europe: The 1837 Journals of Lowell Mason [Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1990]).
A brief introductory chapter sets out Broyles's focus and plan for the book: "this book is not about mavericks themselves; it is about the maverick tradition. It is about American society's long-standing fascination with the figure of the maverick, what that means about the place of music in American culture and what that tells us about American society" (p. 2, emphasis in original).After this introduction, Broyles sets out with a series of chapters that profile various American composers who, for one reason or another, have stood outside the musical mainstream of their times. Part 1 of the book, "Pioneers," contains chapters on William Billings and Anthony Philip Heinrich, both composers who often get short-changed in music histories, even histories of American music. The source materials used in these chapters are extremely valuable resources, and it is also useful to have brief, thoroughly-researched biographical portraits of these important early American musicians. Both of these chapters have a strong focus on the relationship of the composers to their communities, and the tensions that arose as a result of their insistence on following their own personal vision.
Part 2 of the book, "New Concepts and Forces in American Culture," begins with a chapter on Charles Ives and Leo Ornstein, which resembles the two chapters on Billings and Heinrich. From there, however, the reader might be forgiven for wondering where the mavericks had gone, for in the next two chapters, Broyles takes a considerable detour. In order to set up the material on twentieth-century music in the second half of the book, he devotes a chapter (" 'Prologue to the Annual Tragedy' ") to demonstrating how isolated American music was from the modernist revolution happening in the other arts (both in Europe and America) in the first two decades of the twentieth century. The following chapter, "The Community of the Ultramoderns," returns to the mavericks, profiling Edgard Varèse, Carl Ruggles, Charles Seeger, and Henry Cowell briefly, but its real focus is on the development of self-organizing societies of musicians. Two such organizations, the International Composers' Guild and the League of Composers, the conflicts and tensions between them, and their effect on the American concert scene and the American public's acceptance of modern music in the 1920s, are the primary material of this chapter.
After setting the scene in these two chapters, the third large section of the book, "After the War," returns to the topic of mavericks. This section includes a chapter on what Broyles terms "The Serial Wars," and the debate over who was more marginalized [End Page 754] in the post-war art music scene: composers who built on the serialist innovations of the first half of the century, or those who continued in the tonalist tradition of Copland, Samuel Barber, and others. Broyles casts the debate in terms of a "fight to claim the mantle of maverick" (p. 161), and although this is one of the few mentions of the concept of the maverick in this chapter, that concept is never very far from the surface, especially in the composers' competing claims of oppression.
The next two chapters profile John Cage, Harry Partch, and Frank Zappa. By the time Broyles gets to Zappa, the trend that began in the serialists' chapter has become fully realized: composers want to be considered mavericks, and consciously style themselves in that image, as shown by Broyles's claim that Zappa...