American Music and the Mythology of the American West
Publication Year: 2012
Published by: University of California Press
Title Page, Series Page, Copyright, Dedication
Table of Contents
List of Illustrations
For decades, artists and thinkers have approached the American West with a mixture of nostalgia and excitement–as if simultaneously returning home and embarking on an adventure. So perhaps it should come as no surprise that I have found both comfort and challenge in writing this book. ...
Introduction: The Course of Empire
The turn of the twentieth century came early to America. Still a young country by international standards, the United States seemed determined to celebrate its coming of age in 1892–93 with a cluster of events marking the four-hundredth anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s fabled transatlantic voyage and so-called discovery of the New World. ...
Part One: Arthur Farwell’s West
1. The Wa-Wan and the West
If on the afternoon of 27 April 1919, you found yourself seated at the Greek Theatre on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley, you would have witnessed and most likely been asked to participate in California: A Masque of Music. With musical numbers and libretto crafted by Arthur Farwell ...
2. Western Democracy, Western Landscapes, Western Music
On his western sojourns, Farwell saw himself as an evangelist bringing the gospel of good American music to such remote locations as Kinsley, Kansas. But he also returned to the East in evangelical mode, ready to discourse about Indians and to spread the word about composition in the American hinterlands. ...
Part Two: Western Encounters: Charles Wakefield Cadman and Others
3. Encountering Indians
Farwell never wrote an opera. Nor did he complete a full-fledged music drama in anything approaching a Wagnerian sense. While his preference for the miniature surely dissuaded him, turning to opera would also have seemed at odds with his vision of the community pageant as the real “music of the future.” ...
4. Staging the West
Cadman’s was a scenic imagination. Before his career came to an end in the 1940s, he had written operas or operettas set in Puritan New England, Arizona, California, the upper Mississippi Valley, Mexico, Cuba, and Japan, as well as pageants for Colorado and Portland and a small assortment of film music. ...
Part Three: American Pastorals
5. West of Eden
Given Cadman’s geographic imagination and his substantial catalog of operas and operettas, it is striking that none involves a farmer, a homestead, or a family of settlers. The emigrant Hurds in The Golden Trail intend to put down roots once their journey is done, but when we meet them they are still traversing land that is pointedly not their own. ...
6. Power in the Land
Foss’s cantata reinforced the idea that the prairie has a voice of its own. But in his sixties, the composer looked back with a more introspective understanding of the prairie allure. “The Prairie is still a favorite work of mine,” he told Vivian Perlis in 1986. “I’m not ashamed of it even now . . . it did a lot for me.” ...
7. Harvest Home
Thomson’s oeuvre is remarkably free of cityscapes. Perhaps the most important near-exception lies in the ballet he wrote for Lincoln Kirstein’s Ballet Caravan, Filling Station. Here, a gas station attendant vies for attention with two truck drivers, a highway patrolman, and a gangster. ...
Part Four: Roy Harris: Provincial Cowboy, White Hope
8. How Roy Harris Became Western
“Born in a log cabin on Lincoln’s birthday in Lincoln County, Oklahoma”—this is the inevitable and emblematic opening of any biography of Roy Harris. From the beginning of his career until the present, these phrases have encapsulated crucial aspects of the composer’s life: his humble but self-sufficient beginnings, ...
9. Manifest Destiny
Marking the apex of Harris’s career was his Third Symphony. Though many listeners single out the Fifth or the Seventh as his finest symphonic achievement, it is the Third and only the Third that remains in the standard repertory. At the time of its first performances, it seemed to represent the fulfillment of all the quasi-messianic hopes that had been vested in the composer. ...
10. The Composer as Folk Singer
At the same time Harris was experimenting with autogenesis in Farewell to Pioneers, he was also making forays into a more accessible musical language based on folk song. In response to a commission by RCA Victor—apparently the first American work commissioned specifically for recording— ...
Part Five: Aaron Copland: From Orient to Occident
11. The Saga of the Prairies
Late in September 1936, the Columbia Broadcasting System offered Aaron Copland his first radio commission. Along with five other composers—Louis Gruenberg, Howard Hanson, Roy Harris, Walter Piston, and William Grant Still—Copland crafted a piece to fit the network’s basic guidelines for length (less than thirty minutes) and instrumentation (fewer than thirty-seven players).1 ...
12. Communal Song, Cosmopolitan Song
At a time when Russian-Jewish immigrants were considered America’s most likely Bolsheviks, Copland’s voluntary association with the left probably came as no surprise. Elizabeth Bergman Crist has detailed the prevalence of communist and socialist ideals among Copland’s associates and has persuasively situated Copland’s own activities within the purview of the Popular Front.1 ...
13. Copland and the Cinematic West
Alienation and self-discovery (sexual or otherwise) are major themes in all of Copland’s western scores. Billy the Kid and Rodeo made these themes visible through dance, but they withheld definitive answers about Copland’s own attitudes. His authorial voice is even harder to tease out of his western film scores: ...
Conclusion: On the Trail
Along his path from orient to occident, Aaron Copland shed old identities and invented new ones. It is this symbolic flexibility that best identifies him as a hero of the mythic West we still know today— a world in which aspirations toward authenticity so often dissolve into souvenirs and simulacra. ...
Further Reading, Production Notes