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University of Northern Iowa

Nationalism in Music Author(s): Reginald De Koven Source: The North American Review, Vol. 189, No. 640 (Mar., 1909), pp. 386-396 Published by: University of Northern Iowa Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25106317 . Accessed: 29/03/2013 09:09
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IN MUSIC. NATIONALISM
BY REGINALD DE KOVEN.

It is a fact, as well known as it is to be regretted, that, in so far, with Music alone of all the arts and sciences, no American has struck that dominating the possible exception of McDowell, note of supreme mastership which and compels unquestioned In painting, in sculpture and in architec universal recognition. in all its varying and ture; in poetry and in general literature have won an varied moods and modes of expression, Americans entrance into the inner shrine of fame, and occupied high places in the assembly of the great ones of the earth. is the last art to develop in that Music it is admitted While also admitted must be that our civilization it any civilization, and general culture have reached a point which would predicate a degree of development in Music commensurate with our prog ress in other and kindred fields of creative activity. to set a definite bound or To find any one able or willing limit given ment, adduce which of artistic achievement in any to our national possibilities in view of existing national artistic accomplish direction, it must be possible to Hence, would, I think, be difficult.

conditions good and sufficient reasons for the existing it is the purpose of this article to consider, and for which, once assigned an intelligible cause, it may also be pos having of this sub sible to point out a remedy. In the consideration I from would advance the opinion, every varying standpoint, ject a as practically the that, given axiomatic, demand, supply will makes and that in due course necessarily follow; opportunity In apt illus the opportunity. the man more often than man of the above, it may be observed that the French Opera Comique, an institution which has perhaps done more for Music as an art than any other similar institution in the world's his tration

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tory, was not created by the school of composers which has given it glory, but was itself the creator of that school. The causes, as I see them, which may reasonably be held re for the lack of creative musical that sponsible productiveness a as a America nation to infe gives music-producing position rior to all other civilized countries, are twofold?first, those su are causes which almost any one readily recognizable by perficial more as determining; those subtle and second, and, underlying causes which penetrate to and affect the very soul and origin as an art, in its less readily appreciable of Music to relations the minds and hearts, and purely aesthetic feelings, of mankind. Foremost among the first, I would place what is a distinctive and perhaps racial tendency?that to easy adaptability which, a nervous of with is restless, gether high degree impatience, most of the salient characteristic the American perhaps people to-day. As a nation, we are only too; prone to race to a desired result with seven-league boots of impatience, which so hurriedly cross the intermediate and rounded stages as to render mature founded on the solid structure of logical training achievement, in most cases an impossibility. and development, in this country has had to of Music the Again, development contend with a decided and wide-spread inclination among our solid men to consider the study of Music as an art both trivial and unworthy. This is one of the legacies left us by those good old stiff-necked Puritans whose influence still obtains and crops up in most unexpected quarters; those sturdy forefathers of ours who looked upon Music in any form as a bedevilment and in the Evil vention of and good One, a foe alike to piety, morality manners. a man It was not so' long ago that, even in England, or a who studied Music, instrument, was played upon stringed " as a Fiddler "; and with disparagement referred to slightingly and it was a translation of this feeling into this country which the remark made to me some years ago by a gentle prompted the literary culture man, a leader of the Bar, and representing of his important that "any man who devoted any community, attention to Music was little better than a fool." The tendency inevitable in a new country, where the commercial spirit is the to measure artistic work agent of progress, controlling solely a a hindrance financial standard of value has also been to by the development of our artistic possibilities.

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388 Another

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reason for our lack of musical readily intelligible productiveness, hitherto, may well lie in the fact that America is only beginning The hurry and to develop a leisure class. the ceaseless and strenuous bustle, energy of our every activity us have left for little time day life, meditation, contemplation or the development and cultivation of the higher emotions. Music is the natural expression, the wordless language, of a part of our our which universal business and commercial being, pursuits have not only failed to foster, but of necessity have retarded and kept in the background. of mu The marked development sical taste among the general public during the last ten years has gone hand in hand with the formation of a leisure class us. can enjoy; we for We must have leisure before among intelligent properly belongs to the legiti enjoyment, speaking, mate exercise of our higher faculties. the profession of Music is not as a rule a lucrative Again, one. The musician towards fame, and towards the devel looking of his artistic is lucky indeed who opment highest possibilities, a bare living. makes Art is a hard and jealous mistress, and our us of most toil and for arduous supreme energy requires of just those artistic results which are likely to the production secure the smallest meed of public appreciation, and therefore the least material in other the maximum compensation; words, of creative energy for the minimum There of financial return. fore the desire for wealth, strenuous chase after that unending the almighty dollar which is a national characteristic, prevents a man the natural talents and aptitude from many possessing an art which, in all probability would advance his cultivating so little, and thus forms another and most material interests in an art which is, be potent cause for our tardy development yond or question, the most refining, cultivating and civil in izing any community. cause is the fact that, un Another important and self-evident if not quite, impossible til very recently, it has been almost, to obtain the neces for any one aspiring to musical proficiency in this What facilities and education sary country. training have been for for musical education we have hitherto enjoyed the most part of the wrong kind, and such training as could be As a case in and superficial. obtained was both unsystematic doubt influence

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I may state that, in a reputa point, and of personal knowledge, " so-called ble well-known of Music" in a large city College a was permitted of which shall be (both nameless), gentleman to teach singing whose and the rudiments of harmony, only a course six musical of instruction had been months' training in the same institution. What artistic results could be expected from such a system ? Like instances might be multiplied through out the length and breadth of this great country, where musical is too often instruction and so-called) (falsely incompetent often dishonest. pretence through misleading cause of existing Another conditions which must determining in its effects, has been the not be overlooked or underestimated to create and stimulate musical lack of the musical atmosphere so to the cultivation and artistic advancement necessary thought, The absence in this country of such an of the musical student. created by opportunities for constant hearing atmosphere?alone of the best music of all kinds at reasonable prices?has sent our would-be musicians are where such abroad, opportunities in numbers. thus been ever-increasing readily obtainable, Having obliged to go elsewhere for what has been hitherto unattainable musicians have naturally and unavoid here, our foreign-trained musical for the in their been, expression greater part, a ably in which of the environment their artistic reflection training has been gained; and this evident tendency brings us naturally causes above mentioned, to the underlying to which, in my judg more to than the ment, anything else, existing lack of distinctive national musical creativeness is due. National music has been defined as that music which, apper emotions and pas taining to a nation or tribe whose individual more or less certain peculiarities sions it expresses, exhibits it from the music of any other which distinguish characteristic, the Germans very appropriately nation or tribe. To such music " which term, for present of VolTcsmusik" give the designation I it be to render into English purposes may think, permissible as "Folk-Music." so The absolute lack in American music, which would called, of the characteristic peculiarities give to the expression of thought or character in music dis anything cause is to me the principal tinctive or national, underlying for the tardy development of our musical creative ability, and

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390 for
poser.

THE WORTH AMERICAN the absence of general recognition

REVIEW. for the American com

as such, must and universally recognized and the history of the art shows that the in those countries where the greatest best music has been written amount of national It is now pretty generally feeling prevails. race admitted that the Anglo-Saxon is not markedly musical in its tendencies, in and thus far the predominating race-type this country has been the Anglo-Saxon. This is fast disappearing, and we are beginning to feel the effect of the enormous immi of the last and the infusion into the original gration half-century, American The to be. Until American we stock of the blood of European nations. the American Nation people is now; is yet

Music to be great, in a sense be national;

shall finally and once for all have done away with the hyphenated and the con'sequently divided na nationalities, an tional feeling, which still exert influence on our important we a musical cannot expect to have national life, feeling which as in expression shall be distinctively American and recognizable
such.

Further than this, until this feeling is generated by the slow we can of national assimilation and process progress, hardly hope for that distinctive school of music which is the prime essential to our national musical Whoever it was that said, development. " Let me write the songs of a nation, and I care not who makes a truth having its laws," enunciated to do with the effect of national music upon a nation or people, whose im distinctively can The popular airs of a nation portance hardly be overlooked. soul utterances well unconscious be the of called almost might one the people. They grow, they develop?how, hardly knows; u for, as some one aptly remarked, Keally popular melodies Their very existence in many instances compose themselves." wave some to of national is due to some great national crisis, or At from the emotion. fiery cruci feeling times, they emerge out at other the ble of a nation's anguish; irrepressible times, an of the As them evidence burst of a nation's birth. joy gives effect, from non-productive it may be national feeling, emotions of the Civil War melodies and popular songs, a musical said that brought which, of a divided standpoint, the agitated passions and into existence a number of from their melodic contents,

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folk-songs might well rank with many of the most characteristic and yet none of these songs and popular airs of foreign nations; were taken permanently to the hearts of the people, and almost all have disappeared with the memories of that great conflict. some other great national crisis is needed to weld the Possibly, American upon which a united national people into a Nation feeling could be indelibly stamped, and thus become productive of lasting musical result. It is a curious fact that no great national music has ever been written form of among a people living under a republican The Swiss are, perhaps, the oldest example of government. a people living permanently under that regime, and there has never been a Swiss composer of any note or of even moderate De this it may be urged that the American Against ability. is unquestionably sui generis; that nothing like it has mocracy ever existed before; and that for this reason, being in a posi for ourselves, we need not necessarily tion to make precedent to musical consider Democracy per se as inimical development. are On the contrary, the very variety of the elements which now forming the American nation would argue in favor of the of a National of the foundation School of Music, possibility in in of many peoples, might the characteristics which, uniting time develop into something broader and stronger, fresher, more vital and more spontaneous than anything the world has hitherto seen. As a people to-day we have an eminently in original, ventive and constructive the when and, faculty; rapid civilizing and developing shall processes which we are now undergoing our have given us more and shall have broadened per leisure, of ceptions to the extent of enabling us to see in the cultivation one of the the arts, and more particularly of the art of Music, noblest fields for the exercise of human energy, we may reasonably composer take a place in the world expect to see the American of music more in keeping with the existing development of the country in other fields of artistic effort. But the question of the progress and development in of music this country naturally and immediately of the necessity suggests the foundation of the National School of Music above mentioned. should this, the further question at once arises, What Admitting be the basis and foundation of such a school ? If it be true, as has been said, that the best music has been

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in those countries where the greatest amount of national feeling prevails, it might be claimed that the necessary foundations of this school should be those popular airs or folk-tunes which, to a certain extent, form the basis of the so-called national music of Europe; and the question may be argued pro and con as to whether such music is the necessary basis of a national school, or whether comes to us from a this folk-music, which ordinarily undiscover past so remote that its primary origin is practically I am inclined to able, is an effect or cause of national feeling. believe that folk-music may, at one and the same time, be both an effect and a cause. That united national feeling which we as a country are yet too young to have developed, which in times of national joy or grief an finds a spontaneous as in either music, expression accompani ment to appropriate words, or as an expression of thought beyond the power of language, must first exist before the lasting foun can be laid. dations of a distinctive national school of music Otherwise, we should have had such a school in America long ago; for, as has been often observed, there is in this country an almost inexhaustible fund of folk-music of the most varied Indian and Creole?on which the American Negro, could have drawn had he been so minded. That he composer seem to indicate has not done so more generally would that neither to the composer, nor to the public to whom his work is in any way represent or suggest a feel addressed, does this music or attract that would because of any inherent proper ing inspire kind?the ties of appropriate national In which it possesses. application the rare instances where composers have sought inspiration in " " or Dvorak's music of this kind, like McDowell's Indian Suite to their music "New World" has not appealed symphony, as nor Americans been taken to their national, representatively hearts as such, for the reason that all such tunes and melodies are really exotic and in no sense indigenous. If we admit that as it is, should be and original characteristic folk-music, as a taken the proper basis of national school of music, we must also be prepared to admit that the Indian, the Negro and the Creole are the dominant is absurd. race-types of America, which Far more am I inclined to look to the popular tunes of to-day, however deficient in intrinsic musical value, which are being sung this familiarly by hundreds of thousands of people, as a possible

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for a school of music foundation thought expressive of national than to these and character and appealing as such to the Nation, indicative only of the emotions Creole, Negro or Indian melodies, to and sentiment of alien races which have had little or nothing now are fast our national and do with disap upbuilding, pearing. to be found I do not mean to infer that, because the folk-music available as the in this country may not be thought properly school of music, the careful study of it might basis of a national stu to the American not be advantageous composer and music which it con dent. The great variety of rhythm and modulation source of useful suggestion; tains affords an inexhaustible while, in many of contained from the deep and beautiful expression as models be followed excellent the melodies, profitably they may in the study of in composition. The chief advantage, however, is in most cases what lies in the fact that such music folk-music music faithful expression of feel always should be?a primarily The musician has to compose many inducements ing. professional music which he does not really feel; and therefore a familiarity in which absolute truth of expression with national or folk-music fail to be cannot beneficial to him. predominates The example of almost all the great composers who have made use of national or folk melodies, either by introducing them or their their salient character into works, by adopting bodily istics, can well be heeded in this respect; and the many instances where such folk-music has had a definite and direct influence on the style and the form of melodic of the composers expression as it be taken that such music may may justly employing proof be looked upon as a cause rather than an effect of national feel The famous furnishes composer, Grieg, ing musically expressed. a striking example of how the use of characteristic national melo dies may affect and even completely alter a composer's style. Had he not intentionally abandoned his former German manner, and so imbued himself with the form and spirit of the folk-music of his own country, Grieg could never have attained his pres as a distinctively individual and original composer. the fact must be insisted on that the melodies which he made use of bore the impress of an already existing national character and feeling, both definite and unmistakable, and that music of this class has not as yet been a possibility in America, ent rank But

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because the concrete well-defined national it feeling to produce has not been present. It may well be, as observed above, that the gradual unification into a nation of the various foreign elements which now con stitute the American people, may in time produce an undivided national feeling definite enough to find a spontaneous expression in that folk-music which, as in Grieg's case, could show definite in the upbuilding of a composer whose work might be national. in this The very existence characteristically inevitable to our various country of the differing taste in music must be held to be another underlying hyphenated nationalities, cause for the backwardness as hav of our musical development, ing to do with those foreign influences which so strongly affect our musical With Ger life, much, as I believe, to its detriment. result deemed
man-Americans clamoring for German music; with Italian-Amer

icans demanding to the extent of refusing only Italian music even to listen to music of the French school; and with Americans of all kinds apparently willing to sanction and give heed to only it is perhaps a little difficult to know such music as is European, where the audience to stimulate the activity of the American com a to he listen to what has to say musically poser by willingness may be found. I would In this connection, in quote from a recent article an the "Keview of Reviews" Arthur American Mr. Farwell, by composer who has done much to encourage native musical activity, com in which the American who, in speaking of the estimation his is held and the poser difficulty countrymen by experienced in obtaining a hearing in their own country, says: by Americans
"Artists with rare however works, high still sanctions really condition. intolerable must before loser by be the an wide-spread country entirely has may will not exceptions be their opinion that which social changed organized last found hospitality learn of and them, American perform in a society which was Here another There works, the not

only A and at liberal

is necessary. of American performance that it is the gainer and to the work of Americans."

is European. attitude

for hearing music, which have grown and opportunities in recent years, have increased not only exceedingly multiplied the attention paid to music and the enjoyment to be derived there in which from by all classes of people, but also the consideration music as a factor in social life is held. The

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has reached a point It is now said that the American musician no This statement has been, and may where he needs apology. com that the American be, taken in two ways. If, as meaning a the technical poser has arrived at point where, having mastered to details of his calling, he is now in a position as a craftsman rank with the best and to be judged by his honest qualifications and merits and not by any sentimental standard of mere nation If, however, this dictum be taken to ality, it is all very well. mean that the American musician, with all the difliculty he has had and still has to contend with, is considered strong enough to meet single-handed, and without the definite support from his countrymen which a larger confidence in his ability would give, with the musical the competition of nations centuries products his older than It is that lack of own, it is, I think, misleading. in national ability, from which the manifold national confidence difficulties the American composer encounters in obtaining a hear cause of our is also a principal ing spring, which underlying in the field of musical creativeness. of public performance More frequent opportunities the Amer ican composer at this time both sadly lacks and urgently needs; for how can the work of any composer be properly judged un are essential as an after result of heard? Such opportunities creative effort not only in giving the public the opportunity of a com his but also in the composer by work, judging supplying retarded development poser with the needed stimulus and incentive of popular recog nition and appreciation, and in enabling him to estimate his own with greater clearness and accuracy. accomplishment It has been recently steted by a writer on musical topics that it is incredible, and impossible to suppose, that a worthy musical work by an American composer would be refused due and proper by the American recognition public because of its American and it is therefore and unprofitable to that unnecessary origin, musical before the works American composers by bring public of unknown or doubtful merit. Of what good to any one are silent scores and unpublished that gather dust on library manuscripts own shelves? has taught me that the personal experience My the of American to accept native musical unwillingness public works because of their American is neither incredible nor origin to suppose. Our youth as a musical nation, which impossible makes us diffident about expressing a definite opinion unsupported

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by previous foreign criticism, is largely responsible for a condition of affairs as undoubted as it is unfortunate. It is national that begets feeling pride as well as national national art?that Nationalism in Music, which we need to become seem to point nation that our natural characteristics the musical as more a to than something possibility. As bearing on the above, it is indeed much to be deplored that the terms of the competition for a prize for the best American as Grand Opera, Opera by the Metropolitan recently announced an idea admirable in affording in its conception the Company, needed opportunity for the American composer to be heard, are such as to render the whole plan nugatory and indeed almost far con cical. Through the i]liberality and injustice of its financial a sum to for the composer, ditions, whereby barely adequate is com compensate him for the time spent in its construction, pelled to give his successful work for nothing for a period of five years, and whereby they carefully reserve to themselves the right not to award any prize at all, the Metropolitan Opera Company evidence of their entire have, in my judgment, given conclusive inability to appreciate existing conditions, as well as of the usual lack of confidence in the ability of the American composer to outcome of at all?a direct musical work meritorious produce any the foreign and retard our national influences which hamper progress and development. That is to-day the centre of the art-producing world. France she is so is largely due to the fact that the French people pre fer to hear French music, to see French pictures and statuary, in each and go to the theatre to hear French plays?meaning, na the of other of Frenchmen?than those works any instance, un a in is confidence national Such national tionality. ability the greatest possible incentive and stimulus to artistic doubtedly once we are willing do to admit, as the French effort. When can in regard to themselves, and of Americans is that the work be of itself good and worthy, and if found equal to the works of others when should be pre standards, judged by similar ferred to them, we shall stand a better chance than we have to as an in this country a musical art which, day of developing shall of national feeling, outgrowth national because supported by national be furthermore distinctly confidence and pride. de Koven. Reginald

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