the 20th century, "serious" music in America was shaped by
European standards and idioms. A notable exception was the music of
composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1869), son of a British father
and a Creole mother.Gottschalk
enlivened his music with plantation melodies and Caribbean rhythms that
he had heard in his native New Orleans. He was the first American pianist
to achieve international recognition, but his early death contributed
to his relative obscurity.
representative of early American music were the compositions of Edward
MacDowell (1860-1908), who not only patterned his works after European
models but stoutly resisted the label of "American composer."
He was unable to see beyond the same notion that hampered many early
American writers: To be wholly American, he thought, was to be provincial.
distinctively American classical music came to fruition when such composers
as George Gershwin (1898-1937) and Aaron Copland (1900-1990) incorporated
homegrown melodies and rhythms into forms borrowed from Europe. Gershwin's
"Rhapsody in Blue" and his opera Porgy and Bess were influenced
by jazz and African-American folk songs. Some of his music is also self-consciously
urban: The opening of his "An American in Paris," for example,
mimics taxi horns.
Harold C. Schonberg writes in The Lives of the Great Composers, Copland
"helped break the stranglehold of the German domination on American
music." He studied in Paris, where he was encouraged to depart
from tradition and indulge his interest in jazz (for more on jazz, see
chapter 11). Besides writing symphonies, concertos, and an opera, he
composed the scores for several films. He is best known, however, for
his ballet scores, which draw on American folk songs; among them are
"Billy the Kid," "Rodeo," and "Appalachian
American original was Charles Ives (1874-1954), who combined elements
of popular classical music with harsh dissonance. "I found I could
not go on using the familiar chords early," he explained. "I
heard something else." His idiosyncratic music was seldom performed
while he was alive, but Ives is now recognized as an innovator who anticipated
later musical developments of the 20th century. Composers who followed
Ives experimented with 12-tone scales, minimalism, and other innovations
that some concertgoers found alienating.
the last decades of the 20th century, there has been a trend back toward
music that pleases both composer and listener, a development that may
be related to the uneasy status of the symphony orchestra in America.
Unlike Europe, where it is common for governments to underwrite their
orchestras and opera companies, the arts in America get relatively little
public support. To survive, symphony orchestras depend largely on philanthropy
and paid admissions.
orchestra directors have found a way to keep mainstream audiences happy
while introducing new music to the public: Rather than segregate the
new pieces, these directors program them side-by-side with traditional
fare. Meanwhile, opera, old and new, has been flourishing. Because it
is so expensive to stage, however, opera depends heavily on the generosity
of corporate and private donors.