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America’s Forbidden Composer: Take Two — Listening to Arthur Farwell

“America’s forbidden composer” is Arthur Farwell (1872-1952), leader of the “Indianists” movement in music. As I’ve discussed in a recent blog: politically, Farwell seems hopelessly incorrect today. But impressions of Farwell, insofar as they endure, are typically misimpressions. His significance is not merely historical. He composed some of the most original and compelling American piano, choral, and chamber music of the early twentieth century. Two new PostClassical Ensemble webcasts make it possible to actually listen to top-notch Farwell … [Read more...]

Porgy — Take Four

Curtain call for “Porgy and Bess” with Rouben Mamoulian in glasses The latest installment of Conrad L. Osborne’s indispensable opera blog takes stock of Porgy and Bess and the Met’s acclaimed new production. It also graciously plugs my own recent series of Porgy blogs in this space, my American Scholar review of the Met Porgy, and my book (“On My Way” – the Untold Story of Rouben Mamoulian, George Gershwin, and “Porgy and Bess”) about this opera’s complex and illuminating genesis. To my ears, Porgy and Bess is the highest … [Read more...]

America’s Forbidden Composer

                                               -- I -- “Arthur Farwell is probably the most neglected composer in our history. . . . At the turn of the century no one wrote music with greater seriousness of purpose or fought harder for American music. . . . He was an intellectual and spiritual giant.” … [Read more...]

Solomon Volkov on Stalin and Shostakovich

Of Joseph Stalin the culture-czar, Solomon Volkov comments:   “People underestimate the level of control that Stalin maintained. I once tried to count the number of people in the arts that Stalin controlled personally – listened to their music and read their books. It was close to one thousand. This was Stalin’s habit. So Shostakovich knew very well he was under the constant surveillance of the most powerful person in the country. Stalin’s involvement in the world of culture was extraordinary. It was something unprecedented. There is … [Read more...]

Is Porgy a “Stereotype”? — Take Three

Kevin Deas Kevin Deas, the exceptional bass-baritone who is the anonymous “Porgy” of my previous blog, has written to me at greater length about singing the part – and the importance of the view “from below.” He says: “Being on my knees for my first staged Porgy was revelatory. Not only was it the first time that I’d sung the complete role, it was that perspective that was, in particular, very profound. “I’d sung the concert version (comfortably erect) 10s of times. I didn’t fully appreciate the character. Now when I sing extended … [Read more...]

Is Porgy a “Stereotype”? — Take Two

Sidney Poitier as Porgy Of the interesting emails I received in response to my American Scholar review of Porgy and Bess, the most informative was from a singer with considerable experience doing Porgy on stage. He wrote: “As challenging as it was for me to sing most of Porgy on a cart (the rest of the time I was on my knees), there is no substitute for singing and viewing the world from that perspective.” Gershwin intended Porgy to be pulled by a goat while sitting on a cart. He is a man who cannot stand up. Today Porgy is typically … [Read more...]

Why “Porgy and Bess” and the Met Need One Another

To read my review of the Met’s new "Porgy and Bess," just posted online by "The American Scholar," click here. It begins: That the Metropolitan Opera has opened its season with a fresh production of George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess is cause for celebration. The Met came late to black America when in 1955 it engaged Marian Anderson to sing Verdi—she was already 57 years old. It came late to Porgy when in 1985 it mounted an earlier production—half a century after the opera’s premiere. More than its predecessor, the Met’s vigorous new … [Read more...]

Why Did American Classical Music “Stay White” — Take Two

William Dawson Picking up on my American Scholar piece, Tom Huizenga of National Public Radio interviewed me about the fate of black classical music – and here is his interview. Our conversation was wide-reaching, and ultimately led to this exchange: Huizenga: Near the end of your essay, you write: "Might American classical music have canonized, in parallel with jazz, an 'American school' privileging the black vernacular?" Horowitz: I don't want to sound grandiose, but really it's a question that all of us should be asking today — … [Read more...]

Why Did American Classical Music “Stay White”?

William Dawson In 1893 Antonin Dvorak, teaching in New York City, predicted that a “great and noble school” of American classical music would arise from America’s “Negro melodies.” Dvorak’s prophecy was instantly controversial and influential. But the black musical motherlode migrated to popular genres known throughout the world. American classical music stayed white. The reasons are both obvious and not. This is the topic of my book-in-progress Dvorak’s Prophecy. In the current issue of The American Scholar, I … [Read more...]

What Happened Between Vladimir Horowitz and George Szell?

George Szell “As admirers of Horowitz’s musicianship and resilience, we must face these realities remembering that, in the end, he loaded his baggage onto his back and jogged across the finish line, smiling from ear to ear. Today, the weight of Horowitz’s baggage serves mainly to accentuate the magnitude of his ultimate triumph.” Thus Bernard Horowitz on Vladimir Horowitz. These two are unrelated. Bernard, however, happens to be my son Bernie – whose obsession with Vladimir has been the topic of numerous filings in this space. It … [Read more...]

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