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Dvorak’s Prophecy — “Essential Cultural History”

Kirkus Reviews, which previews books for booksellers, critics, and others in the know, has just previewed my forthcoming Dvorak’s Prophecy and the Vexed Fate of Black Classical Music.

It’s been accorded a star (good news) – and the review itself grasps my book whole.

In summary: “Horowitz closes with a clarion call for American classical music to ‘acquire a viable future, at last buoyed and directed by a proper past.’ His chronicle of ‘a failure of historical memory’ is feisty and opinionated but always backed by solid evidence. Essential cultural history.”

The publication date is Nov. 9, 2021. Naxos will concurrently release six documentary films I’ve produced, exploring the “new paradigm” for American classical music that Dvorak’s Prophecy proposes. For more information, click here. 

Here’s the full Kirkus review:

DVOŘÁK’S PROPHECY [STARRED REVIEW] 
And the Vexed Fate of Black Classical Music
Author: Joseph Horowitz
Publisher: Norton

Why is American classical music so White?

In 1893, visiting Bohemian composer Antonin Dvořák predicted that a “great and noble school” of American classical music would build upon the nation’s “negro melodies.” Instead, writes music historian Horowitz, classical music in America became “a Eurocentric subsidiary,” while African American melodies and rhythms were segregated in popular music. Yet Dvořák’s prophecy encouraged Black composers, including his assistant, Harry Burleigh, and mixed-race Englishman Samuel Colridge-Taylor, to compose classical works steeped in African American folk music that were widely performed and discussed at the turn of the 20th century. The villains in Horowitz’s indictment are modernists Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, and Virgil Thomson, who all “maintained that there was no American music of consequence before 1910.” White outliers such as Charles Ives, who unabashedly quoted from popular songs in his symphonies and sonatas, and George Gershwin, who wrote an opera with African American protagonists, were dismissed as eccentrics or sentimentalists. At the same time, African American composers William Grant Still, Florence Price, and William Levi Dawson, though taken seriously in the years between the world wars, plunged into obscurity because they didn’t fit into the modernist narrative. Horowitz is unafraid to tackle the third-rail issue of cultural appropriation, coming down firmly on the side of artists’ freedom to draw on any traditions that speak to them. He covers his back by enlisting African American tenor George Shirley to make the most forceful defense in a foreword: “I have no right to tell anyone they cannot perform the music of Black folk if they have the desire and ability to do so with proper respect for its content and distinctiveness.” Horowitz closes with a clarion call for American classical music to “acquire a viable future, at last buoyed and directed by a proper past.” His chronicle of “a failure of historical memory” is feisty and opinionated but always backed by solid evidence.

Essential cultural history.

Comments

  1. Rick Benjamin says

    I look forward to reading this. Thank you.

  2. Mack Richardson says

    Congratulations and bravo, Joe, for finally putting into print what has needed to be said for a very long time.

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