The subtitle of this book gives its theme: How American Culture Changed European Music
. Beginning with the touchstone New World
symphony of Dvorák (which author Jack Sullivan believes celebrates the African American and Native American strains in American music), Sullivan, a professor of English at Rider College, takes readers on a tour of music history right up to the present day. His study centers on the American writers, poets, and styles that have influenced the Old World, using such examples as the impact of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow on Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, of Walt Whitman on Ralph Vaughan Williams, and of Edgar Allan Poe on a host of composers. Sullivan also takes up Frederick Delius's stay in Florida and Edgar Varèse's love affair with America and even includes the careers of expatriates such as Erich Korngold and Kurt Weill. The book ends with a long consideration of the effects of jazz, which Sullivan views as the
American classical music.
Sullivan has done his homework very well, and most of the expected names and relationships are here. Yet his highly opinionated tone and habit of compartmentalizing and strictly categorizing the music (atonalists and serialists are "bad," as are British musical-theater composers) can limit the scope of his arguments. There is no doubt, for instance, that jazz has had an influence on European music, but can one really say, as Sullivan does, that it has changed that music? Did Vaughan Williams's love for the poems of Whitman alter his music any more than his love for John Bunyan did? Did Poe's "The Bells" redirect Rachmaninoff in ways the composer never suspected? What we have here is a book that is an interesting elaboration of an idea perhaps better confined to an evening around the fire with friends. --Patrick J. Smith
From Publishers Weekly
Sullivan, an English professor at Rider University (Words on Music: From Addison to Barzun), offers a brief but far-reaching book about cross-cultural influences. Dealing with literature, music, even mythology, Sullivan opines that the influence of America on the Old World was more profound than vice versa, and this assertion makes his book different from the usual Euro-originated views of the phenomenon (such as Wilfred Mellers's Music in a New-Found Land). Sullivan offers many detailed examples of New World-Old World cultural interrelations: Longfellow's influence on Dvor k and Poe's on Debussy and Ravel; how jazz inspired Stravinsky and Bart?k; and how Hollywood and Broadway worked their magic on Weill, Korngold and Britten. Based largely on secondary sources, the book is composed of fairly leisurely chapters of straightforward narrative, uniting a variety of familiar informationAparticularly the last two chapters, about the influence of Broadway musicals and jazz on European music. Probably the best chapter is the one in which the author's past as a horror anthologist (he edited the Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural) is put to good use: "New Worlds of Terror: The Legacy of Poe." Sullivan ends the book with a discussion of jazz, sidestepping the greatest musical factor dominating European music in the last 35 years or soAAmerican rock music. This oversight, however, detracts only little from an otherwise agreeable read.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.