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Dvorak’s Prophecy, the CIA, and More

My two-hour conversation with Kirill Gerstein, who hosts an indispensable weekly “webinar” dealing with musical issues, mainly focused on my new book Dvorak’s Prophecy and the Vexed Fate of Black Classical Music.

But – as in my book (yesterday named one of the best of the year in The Financial Times) – many other topics were broached.

If you’re interested in sampling our exchange, here’s a handy Listener’s Guide:

8:00 – The saga of Aaron Copland as a parable about the fate of the American artist. 

12:00 – Dvorak’s American legacy and Black Classical Music.

20:00 – Dvorak’s bluesy American style in the American Suite and Humoresques

28:00 – George Gershwin as the great hope of 20th century American classical music. “The Gershwin threat” of the interwar decades. “The Gershwin Moment” today. 

38:00 – What to do right now? Curate the American past. How art museums get it right.

40:00 – Arthur Judson vs. Otto Klemperer and Dmitri Mitropoulos: how a “salesman of great music” displaced forward-thinking conductors as an arbiter of taste. 

46:00 – Why American orchestras need scholars on staff. The critical lack of “symphonic Dramaturgs.”

54:00 – The debate over “cultural appropriation” and how it penalizes composers of consequence.

58:00 – Today’s big find in Black Classical Music: William Levi Dawson’s Negro Folk Symphony.

1:06 – A huge topic: Charles Ives as a victim of the modernist “Standard Narrative.” Why his music must become better known. The Housatonic at Stockbridge.

1:16 – The comparable neglect of Mexico’s Silvestre Revueltas.

1:23 – The CIA, the cultural Cold War, and the modernist Standard Narrative – a glimpse at my forthcoming book The Propaganda of Freedom: JFK, Stravinsky, Shostakovich, and the Cultural Cold Warrior [Nicolas Nabokov]

1:30 – Why the US Government needs to play a bigger and more proactive role in support of the arts. How Richard Goodwin nearly became an influential arts advisor to JFK. 

1:34 – The erasure of the arts from the American experience. We forget how much the arts once mattered more, as in the Gilded Age. 

My thanks to Kirill. 


  1. Why do so few arts journalists write about the larger cultural contexts of the arts in America?

    Regarding the erasure of the arts from American experience, and the changes since the Gilded Age, there could be no better study than the demise of opera in America, including the literal destruction of most of our opera houses roughly between 1930 and 1960. In this brief comment which includes photographs, I discuss three examples in Boston, Philadelphia, and Detroit:

    One could write similar histories about the loss of opera and the destruction of opera houses in many other American cities large and small. It was a cultural cataclysm and yet it has been erased from our memory.

    There are probably few interested, but my wife and I have tried to respond to this history with our art in this music theater work. For a proper lead in, the link is set to begin a couple minutes before an obviously relevant section:


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