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Reflections of an American Composer$
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Arthur Berger

Print publication date: 2002

Print ISBN-13: 9780520232518

Published to California Scholarship Online: May 2012

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520232518.001.0001

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(p.21) 2 Nationalism
Reflections of an American Composer

Arthur Berger

University of California Press

This chapter discusses the views of American composers on the national character of music in America, and the development of nationalism in American music. Since about the mid-1920s American composers had been advocating that it was time for American music to “come of age,” and the cultivation of a new form of music with American character was a major concern. Charles Ives was very much involved in developing the American character in music and his music is larded with folksong including hymns, patriotic anthems, marches, and the like. Roy Harris insisted on the American style and content of his music. The employment of folksong is, of course, no guarantee that a national character will be embodied in the music. What is required if a truly national character is to be achieved is that the entire texture be impregnated with what we recognize as indigenous to the compiled material. If a certain manner of exploitation of rhythmic devices is to be taken as a distinguishing feature of American music, it is inevitable to assume that it must have a great deal to do with jazz, pop, and rock. There are elements other than those provided by folk music that define the American character, elements along the lines of immobility, but it is not too clear what they are. There are some things, for example, Henry Cowell's tone clusters, more concrete things that serious American music has contributed to the whole world, though it would be hard to identify them as American unless their geneology was known.

Keywords:   American composers, nationalism, Charles Ives, Henry Cowell, national character of music, folk music, America, tone clusters, jazz

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