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  • Crosscurrents: American and European Music Interaction, 1900–2000 ed. by Felix Meyer et al.
  • Joy Pile
Crosscurrents: American and European Music Interaction, 1900–2000. Edited by Felix Meyer, Carol Oja, Wolfgang Rathert, and Anne C. Shreffler. Published by the Paul Sacher Foundation. Rochester, NY: Boydell Press, 2014. [527p. ISBN 978-1-84-383900-2. $70.00]

Crosscurrents is a series of thirty-four essays and two interviews based on a conference held jointly by Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 2008 and Ludwig-Maximus-Universität, Munich, Germany, in 2009. The conference was organised by the editors of this volume, who are scholars of twentieth-century European and American music. The goal of the conference was “not only to study music-making on both sides of the Atlantic but also bring together an international roster of established scholars and emerging voices who otherwise have limited opportunities to discuss their work face-to-face” (p. 11). The binding thread of the conference and the resulting book examine more deeply those cross-cultural connections.

Michael Denning, in the keynote address for the conference at Harvard, postulates that the rapid rise of the recording industry in the early 1900s and the dissemination of recorded music ushered in the first era of “world” or global music. Suddenly the American Midwestern farmer could purchase and listen to vernacular music from South Africa or Egypt. The European middle class could and did listen to jazz played by African-Americans from New Orleans, and authentic Hawaiian music could be heard outside of the islands. The wide distribution of music with non-European rhythms, harmonies, and scales had a profound effect on both popular music and composers of art music in Europe and the United States.

Berndt Ostendorf, who opened the conference in Munich, credits Willis Conover’s program on the “Voice of America” with spreading jazz and especially bebop and other 1950s styles to Europe and in particular those countries “behind the Iron Curtain”. Listening to Conover’s program became an act of defiance for young people in Soviet-controlled countries, and resulted in great adulation and imitation by practicing musicians in Eastern Europe and Russia.

The rest of the essays in this collection are grouped in chapters by theme: Performing National Identity; Touring on the Other Side; Networks of Pedagogy and Patronage; Exile and Emigration; Wartime Concerns; Cultural Politics in the Cold War; Technological Intersections; Institutional Havens and Confrontations; Musical Languages: Convergences and Divergences; and Questioning Hierarchies, Challenging Boundaries. The chapter groupings also reflect a rough chronological timeline of the twentieth century and acknowledge political events in Europe which caused turbulence and generated the migrations which facilitated some of the cross-fertilization. Geographically, the essays cover limited regions in Europe: Germany, Austria, France, Italy, Russia, and Poland. On the American side of the Atlantic, the only essay on music outside of the United States is one on the Argentinian-born composer Mauricio Kagel. Essays on Canada and Latin America are missing in part because there is little in-depth scholarship in English that focuses on continental American music outside of the United States. Essays discussing the role of women are sparse as well.

One of the overarching themes is how much transatlantic travel and face-to-face meetings facilitated the intermingling of musical cultures. A notable essay in this section consists of selections of letters by Nicholas Slonimsky, written to his wife during his brief career as a conductor when he toured Paris and Berlin in 1931–1932. These concerts disseminated the orchestral music of Ives, Ruggles, and Cowell to European audiences. Another chapter grouping is devoted to some of the famous European teachers who taught musical composition to Americans. Among these are Nadia Boulanger, who taught in Paris and then during World War II in the Boston area, and Paul Hindemith, who spent the war years teaching at Yale. [End Page 148]

In a chapter headed “Oklahoma! and the Nazi Threat”, David Schiff argues that Laurey’s dream ballet at the conclusion of Act 1 in the musical Oklahoma! represents the psychological and political roiling in the United States in the 1940s. The show is seen as having an “American” theme, rather than just...


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