Cover image for Making music modern : New York in the 1920s
Making music modern : New York in the 1920s
Oja, Carol J., 1953-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Oxford University Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
xii, 493 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Reading Level:
1420 Lexile.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
ML200.8.N5 O43 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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New York City witnessed a dazzling burst of creativity in the 1920s. In this pathbreaking study, Carol J. Oja explores this artistic renaissance from the perspective of composers of classical and modern music, who along with writers, painters, and jazz musicians, were at the heart of earlymodernism in America. She also illustrates how the aesthetic attitudes and institutional structures from the 1920s left a deep imprint on the arts over the 20th century. Aaron Copland, George Gershwin, Ruth Crawford Seeger, Virgil Thomson, William Grant Still, Edgar Varese, Henry Cowell, Leo Ornstein, Marion Bauer, George Antheil-these were the leaders of a talented new generation of American composers whose efforts made New York City the center of new music in thecountry. They founded composer societies--such as the International Composers' Guild, the League of Composers, the Pan American Association, and the Copland-Sessions Concerts--to promote the performance of their music, and they nimbly negotiated cultural boundaries, aiming for recognition in WesternEurope as much as at home. They showed exceptional skill at marketing their work. Drawing on extensive archival material--including interviews, correspondence, popular periodicals, and little-known music manuscripts--Oja provides a new perspective on the period and a compelling collective portraitof the figures, puncturing many longstanding myths. American composers active in New York during the 1920s are explored in relation to the "Machine Age" and American Dada; the impact of spirituality on American dissonance; the crucial, behind-the-scenes role of women as patrons and promoters of modernist music; cross-currents between jazz andconcert music; the critical reception of modernist music (especially in the writings of Carl Van Vechten and Paul Rosenfeld); and the international impulse behind neoclassicism. The book also examines the persistent biases of the time, particularly anti-Semitisim, gender stereotyping, andlongstanding racial attitudes.

Author Notes

Carol J. Oja is Margaret and David Bottoms Professor of Music and Professor of American Studies at the College of William and Mary.

Reviews 1

Library Journal Review

With this superb exploration of the classical music scene in New York City during the 1920s and early 1930s, Oja (music and American studies, Coll. of William and Mary) adds to her list of well-received music titles, including the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award-winning Colin McPhee: Composer in Two Worlds. She profiles a variety of composers, both well known (Aaron Copland) and little remembered (Dane Rudhyar), analyzing a composition and placing the musician within the context of the overall artistic and social milieu. Her ability to show how styles such as neoclassicism and the use of technology or dissonance combined to form a new genre of "American" music is a distinguishing feature. Women patrons, the influence of jazz, and music criticism are discussed, and there is a useful appendix of programs of modern music societies. One hopes that Oja will now focus on another decade or locale to complement this work. Exhaustively researched and written in an intelligent, engaging style, this book is highly recommended for academic collections and for public collections with a sophisticated clientele.DBarry Zaslow, Miami Univ. Libs., Oxford, OH (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Modern Music Shopp. 3
Enter the Moderns
1 Leo Ornstein: "Wild Man" of the 1910sp. 11
2 Creating a God: The Reception of Edgard Varesep. 25
3 The Arrival of European Modernismp. 45
The Machine in the Concert Hall
4 Engineers of Artp. 59
5 Ballet Mecanique and International Modernist Networksp. 71
Spirituality and American Dissonance
6 Dane Rudhyar's Vision of Dissonancep. 97
7 The Ecstasy of Carl Rugglesp. 111
8 Henry Cowell's "Throbbing Masses of Sounds"p. 127
9 Ruth Crawford and the Apotheosis of Spiritual Dissonancep. 144
Myths and Institutions
10 A Forgotten Vanguard: The Legacy of Marion Bauer, Frederick Jacobi, Emerson Whithorne, and Louis Gruenbergp. 155
11 Organizing the Modernsp. 177
12 Women Patrons and Activistsp. 201
New World Neoclassicism
13 Neoclassicism: "Orthodox Europeanism" or Empowering Internationalism?p. 231
14 The fransatlantic Gaze of Aaron Coplandp. 237
15 Virgil Thomson's "Cocktail of Culture"p. 252
16 A Quartet of New World Neoclassicistsp. 264
European Modernists and American Critics
17 Europeans in Performance and on Tourp. 285
18 Visionary Criticsp. 297
Widening Horizons
19 Modernism and the "Jazz Age"p. 313
20 Crossing Over with George Gershwin, Paul Whiteman, and the Modernistsp. 318
Epiloguep. 361
Selected Discographyp. 365
Appendix Programs of Modern-Music Societies in New York, 1920-1931p. 367
Notesp. 407
Selected Bibliographyp. 459
Indexp. 469