MUSIC IN THE NEW WORLD by Charles Hamm

MUSIC IN THE NEW WORLD

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

Like Hamm's haphazard survey of American popular songs, Yesterdays (1979), this attempted survey of all American music and music-making through history--including pop, folk, classical, etc.--offers some intriguing research material but is confusingly organized, unpersuasive in its emphases, and rarely illuminating. As before, Harem is best in the early, simpler periods: there are sturdy pre-1800 chapters on psalms, hymns, ballads--analyzing the American changes of British models, noting the conflict between written and oral traditions; the first original US compositions are detailed; the European orientation of elite tastes is stressed; and the more native, vigorous work of William Billings (and, later, Lowell Mason) is celebrated. But once into the 19th century Harem finds no coherent way of presenting the huge variety of American musical developments; he merely gives each kind of music its own chapter--waltzes, marches, gospel, classical--and continues to be disapproving when European influences are dominant over ""national"" impulses. Then, with the 20th century, havoc ensues: a chapter on Tin Pan Alley precedes a discussion of black music since the Civil War (as in Yesterdays, Hamm seems determined--notwithstanding Arlen and Gershwin--to minimize black influences on popular song); modern US classical composers are arbitrarily divided into a nationalistic and European schools--with chapters on hillbilly and jazz separating them. And, ironically, though Hamm seems to decry the elitist and applaud the popular, he gives (typically) more space to Roger Sessions than to Copland, Barber, and Ned Rorem combined--and pitifully short shrift to popular music since 1950. (Sondheim gets half a sentence; others from Bacharach to James Taylor are unmentioned.) For knowledgeable students: a possibly valuable source, selectively used. Otherwise: an unreliable all-in-one attempt--and unnecessary, considering the availability of many superior, narrower studies.

Pub Date: Feb. 23rd, 1982
Publisher: Norton