A former New York Times music critic demonstrates how an influx of artists, principally from Germany and the Soviet Union, forever altered American dance, classical music, cinema and theater.
Horowitz (Classical Music in America: A History of Its Rise and Fall, 2005, etc.) skillfully presents a series of case studies to illustrate and illuminate his thesis. Some of the greatest names in American 20th-century performance return to the stage here, from Balanchine to Stravinsky, Serkin, Szell, Stokowski, Toscanini, Dietrich, Lubitsch, Lang, Wilder, Reinhardt, Brecht, Stanislavsky. He also resurrects names lesser known to the general public, among them Rouben Mamoulian, innovative Armenian stage director, who worked on two landmark American musicals (Porgy and Bess and Oklahoma!), and German film director F.W. Murnau (Nosferatu), whom Horowitz praises for his “visual virtuosity.” The author also excels at providing appropriate anecdotes that enliven the text. Balanchine liked Jack Benny; Stravinsky railed against Disney (but cashed his checks); Max Reinhardt died after a violent encounter with his own dog. Although chunky block quotations from other sources appear too frequently, the author writes gracefully. Near the end, he argues (using Nabokov and Mann as exemplars) that the Russian and German immigrants brought different sensibilities to America: The former were more “culturally diverse and readier to change”; the latter, more “culturally united and prone to preach.” The author concludes with a quick look at a fairly recent (1983) defector, Georgian pianist Alexander Toradze, now teaching at Indiana University.
As erudite and scholarly as it should be, and—with cameos by Mickey Mouse and Marilyn Monroe—as entertaining as can be.