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Educating American Audiences: Claire Reis and the Development of Modern Music Institutions, 1912-1930

Description: The creation of institutions devoted to promoting and supporting modern music in the United States during the 1920s made it possible for American composers to develop an identity distinct from that of European modernists. These institutions were thus a critical part of the process of modernization that began in the United States during the early decades of the twentieth century. There is substantial scholarship on these musical institutions of modern music, such as the International Composers’ Guild and the League of Composers; but little to no work has been done on the progressive musical institutions of the 1910s, such as the Music League of the People’s Music Institute of New York, which was founded by Claire Reis. This thesis addresses the questions of how and why American musical modernism came to be as it was in the 1920s through an examination of the various stages of Reis’s career. The first chapter is an extensive study of primary source material gathered from the League of Composers/ISCM Records collection at the New York Public Library, which relates to Reis’s work with the PML in the 1910s. The second chapter uses the conclusions of the first chapter to shine new light on an old subject: the 1923 schism within the ICG that led Reis and others to form the League. The traditional view that the schism was the result of a conflict in idea of style is called into question, and the role that gender and power structure played in the break are explored.
Date: August 2013
Creator: Freeman, Cole
Partner: UNT Libraries

Don Gillis's Symphony No 5½: Music for the People

Description: Don Gillis wrote Symphony No. 5½ (1947) in order to reconcile the American public with modern art music. By synthesizing jazz (as well as other American folk idioms), singable melodies, and humor, and then couching them into symphonic language, Gillis produced a work that lay listeners could process and enjoy. The piece was an immediate success and was played by orchestras across the globe, but it did not retain this popularity and it eventually faded from relevancy. This study focuses on elements that contributed to the initial efficacy and ultimate decline of the work. Due to its pervasive popular influences, Symphony No. 5½ is a crystallized representation of time in which it was written, and it soon became dated. Don Gillis did not harbor the idea that Symphony No. 5½ would grant him great wealth or musical immortality; he had a more pragmatic goal in mind. He used every musical element at his disposal to write a symphonic work that would communicate directly with the American people via a musical language they would understand. He was successful in this regard, but the dialogue ended soon after mid-century.
Date: May 2013
Creator: Morrison, Sean
Partner: UNT Libraries

Repetition and Difference: Parodic Narration in Kander and Ebb's "The Scottsboro Boys"

Description: The American musical team John Kander and Fred Ebb created many celebrated works, yet musicologists have carried out little research on those works. This study examines the role of music in the parodic narration of Kander and Ebb's final collaboration, The Scottsboro Boys. Kander and Ebb use minstrelsy to tell the story of the historic Scottsboro Boys trials with actors portraying the Scottsboro Boys as minstrels; at the same time, they employ a number of devices to subvert minstrelsy stereotypes and thereby comment on racism. Drawing on African American literary theory, sociolinguistics, and Bakhtin's dialogism, this study illuminates how Signifyin(g), a rhetorical tradition used to encode messages in some African American communities, is the primary way the actors playing the Scottsboro Boys subvert through minstrelsy. This study not only contributes to the discussion of Signifyin(g) in African American musicals and theatre as a tool of subversion, but also provides an example of non-African American creators—Kander and Ebb—using Signifyin(g) devices. They use these in the music and the book; in particular, Kander and Ebb do some Signifyin(g) on Stephen Foster's plantation melodies.
Date: August 2013
Creator: Wolski, Kristin Anne
Partner: UNT Libraries