Music Research and Composition Works


The sound of a superpower: Musical Americanism and the cold war

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The Sound of a Superpower: Musical Americanism and the Cold War

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© Oxford University Press 2018. All rights reserved. Classical composers seeking to create an American sound enjoyed unprecedented success during the 1930s and 1940s. Aaron Copland, Roy Harris, Howard Hanson, and others brought national and international attention to American composers for the first time in history. In the years after World War II, however, something changed. The prestige of musical Americanism waned rapidly as anti-Communists made accusations against leading Americanist composers. Meanwhile, a method of harmonic organization that some considered more Cold War-appropriate-serialism-began to rise in status. For many composers and historians, the Cold War had effectively “killed off” musical Americanism. In this book, the author offers a fuller, more nuanced picture of the effect of the Cold War on Americanist composers. She shows that the ideological conflict brought both challenges and opportunities. Some leftist Americanist composers struggled greatly in this new artistic and political environment, especially as American nationalism increasingly meant American exceptionalism. But composers of all political stripes would find in the federal government a new and unique channel through which to ensure the survival of musical Americanism, as the White House sought to use American music as a Cold War propaganda tool and American composers as cultural diplomats. The Americanists’ efforts to safeguard the reputation of their style would have significant consequences. Ultimately, they effected a rebranding of musical Americanism, with consequences that remain with us today.