Neoclassical Music in America

Voices of Clarity and Restraint

By (author) R. James Tobin

Hardback - £57.00

Publication date:

02 July 2014

Length of book:

300 pages


Rowman & Littlefield Publishers

ISBN-13: 9780810884397

From the 1920s to the 1950s, neoclassicism was one of the dominant movements in American music. Today this music is largely in eclipse, mostly absent in performance and even from accounts of music history, in spite of—and initially because of—its adherence to an expanded tonality. No previous book has focused on the nature and scope of this musical tradition. Neoclassical Music in America: Voices of Clarity and Restraint makes clear what neoclassicism was, how it emerged in America, and what happened to it.

Music reviewer and scholar, R. James Tobin argues that efforts to define musical neoclassicism as a style largely fail because of the stylistic diversity of the music that fall within its scope. However, neoclassicists as different from one another as the influential Igor Stravinsky and Paul Hindemith did have a classical aesthetic in common, the basic characteristics of which extend to other neoclassicists This study focuses, in particular, on a group of interrelated neoclassical American composers who came to full maturity in the 1940s. These included Harvard professor Walter Piston, who had studied in France in the 1920s; Harold Shapero, the most traditional of the group; Irving Fine and Arthur Berger, his colleagues at Brandeis; Lukas Foss, later an experimentalist composer whose origins lay in neoclassicism of the 1940s; Alexei Haieff, and Ingolf Dahl, both close associates of Stravinsky; and others. Tobin surveys the careers of these figures, drawing especially on early reviews of performances before offering his own critical assessment of individual works.

Adventurous collectors of recordings, performing musicians, concert and broadcasting programmers, as well as music and cultural historians and those interested in musical aesthetics, will find much of interest here. Dates of composition, approximate duration of individual works, and discographies add to the work’s reference value.
With his subtitle, Tobin describes the traditional nature of the musical neoclassicism. Inspired by Harold Shapero's Symphony for Classical Orchestra and by his own listening over the last half century, Tobin hopes to champion American 'classical' music as an alternative to current programming. The chronology of composers ranges from Edward Burlingame Hill to Aaron Rabushka and in degree of familiarity from Walter Piston and Lukas Foss (and perhaps Louise Talma, the only woman) to unknown and/or neglected composers writing between the 1920s and 1950s under the influence of Stravinsky and Hindemith. Tobin writes for the listener from a listeners point of view, and many pieces are available, using Spotify, to listen to while reading his overviews. Recognition of the limits of the tonal system presaged the end of the movement, even though, as John Lessard, one of the composers, writes: 'Everybody does it differently.' Notes, bibliography, and selected discographies are appended. Those interested in the . . . Second Boston School and musical activity at Harvard will find much material here, as will any reader interested in this aspect of 20th-century music. Summing Up: Recommended. All readers.