The New York Composers' Forum Concerts, 1935-1940

November 2013
5 black and white, 28 line illustrations
302 pages
9x6 in
Eastman Studies in Music
ISBN: 9781580464260
Format: Hardback
University of Rochester Press
BISAC MUS020000, MUS000000

The New York Composers' Forum Concerts, 1935-1940

Melissa J. de Graaf

The first detailed narrative of the Composers' Forum, documenting the vast array of composers, musical styles, ideologies, and audience responses in New York in the 1930s.
The New York Composers' Forum was a weekly series of new-music concerts sponsored by the Federal Music Project and Works Progress Administration. It showcased the music of modern American composers such as Aaron Copland, Amy Beach, Henry Cowell, and Ruth Crawford Seeger, and included question-and-answer sessions between the composers and audiences. These sessions led to discussions, arguments, and sometimes even riots, all documented in nearly complete transcripts.
This book is the first to tell the story of the Composers' Forum. Following the fascinating threads of dialogue from the transcripts, Melissa de Graaf explores the remarkable diversity of composers and musical styles represented, including numerous composers who have since been ignored or forgotten. She also examines the composers' and listeners' attitudes toward modernism, politics, gender, race, and American identity. In this important study of a unique and overlooked American institution, de Graaf shows that "modern" aesthetics in the 1930s comprised far more diverse styles and thought than we imagine today.

Melissa J. de Graaf is Associate Professor of Musicology at the University of Miami.

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Significance of the Composers' Forum
The Composers' Forum in Context: Modernism and Diversity in the 1930s
Reactions to Modernist Style and Ideas
The Gendered Reception of Modern Music
Orientalism, Jewish Music, and the Search for Spiritual Authenticity
White Composers and Representations of Race: The Forum as Battleground over Issues of Authenticity and Appropriation
Creating American Identity: Folk Song and Nationalism
Conclusion: The Demise and Impact of the Composers' Forum
Composers and Works
Student Composers and Works
Composers' Forum Selection Committees
Selected Bibliography


Thoroughly grounded in primary source research, including meticulous work with the Composers' Forum archive. Provides a case study of many intersecting strands of U.S. cultural and political life. . . . [De Graaf's] work offers a model for scholarship and teaching that probes into systems of privilege and oppression [and] invites scholars and teachers to construct courses exploring various musical styles from the classical, folk and popular traditions and the connected social issues that will resonate with and inspire the people we teach to take action. JOURNAL OF THE SOCIETY FOR AMERICAN MUSIC

An unusually engaging and stimulating account. . . . The abundant issues she raises intersect with some of the most elusive, yet central topics to have shaped modern music, . . . namely race, politics, nationalism, gender, and sexuality. Brings much previously untouched archival evidence to light, with unprecedented emphasis on the Forum's audiences as they confronted a challenging range of contemporary music. A "who's who" of twentieth-century American music, with Roy Harris, Charles Ives, Otto Luening, Walter Piston, Randall Thompson, and Virgil Thomson among the many prominent participants. Highly readable, critically apt, and well documented. That nearly every chapter has music examples must be commended, along with the author's apposite observations about scores. By helping to focus the dissonance and din of that unusually fervent decade [the 1930s] during the great creative ferment of its latter half, Melissa J. de Graaf provides exemplary service. MUSIC & LETTERS [Daniel E. Mathers]

De Graaf analyzes the spectrum of modern music styles and the audiences/ reactions to them. . . . A stimulating array of related topics such as gendered reception of modern music, the melting pot of American musical identity, and the search for authenticity in voice. MIDWEST BOOK REVIEW

A lively and engaging presentation of the urban American "new music" scene during the late 1930s. De Graaf's book provides a fascinating examination of New Yorkers' musical opinions -- both enthusiastic and hostile -- in copious and vivid detail. This is a superb study of the genuinely diverse character of "modern" musical life in 1930s New York, which deserves to be widely read. --Thomas L. Riis, Director, American Music Research Center, University of Colorado, Boulder

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