AMERICA’S MUSICAL LIFE by Richard Crawford
Kirkus Star


A History
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A superb, all-encompassing survey of music in America.

The US has the most diverse and complex musical culture in the world, mostly because all the rest of the world is its source. Over the last 150 years in particular, countless varieties of music have been brought here by immigrants and have made their way into the mainstream, often combining with other varieties and creating a new art form. Crawford (Music/Univ. of Michigan) has assembled an extremely impressive single-volume reference that tells this history in a most readable and pleasurable way. His approach is similar to that of Arthur Loesser in his classic Men, Women and Pianos: Crawford tells the story of American music from the larger point of view of American history. He maintains a scrupulous objectivity and avoids the problem endemic to other works of this sort, namely, the application of 20th-century mores to an earlier culture. Overall, his breadth of knowledge is astonishing. He is facile in every genre, whether it is 17th-century New England psalmody, 19th-century musical theater, 1950s rhythm-and-blues, the British invasion, etc. Because his expertise and interest are so broad, his work lacks the “us vs. them” quality found in musical surveys by more parochial scholars. When he delves into controversial subjects (e.g., “performance art”), he treads the careful path, presenting both sides. When venturing an opinion, he is considerate of the opposing view. One of his best chapters concerns what he refers to as “the Gap,” the separation of contemporary composers from their audiences. While fair-minded as always, he presents a damning picture of the “university music school composer” whose near-complete isolation from the concert-going public results in music that is often unplayable. The prose is invariably engrossing, if not scintillating, and the only complaint some readers may have is over the fairly scanty consideration of rap and hip-hop, which seems appended. To others, of course, that brief treatment may be an advantage.

The best one-volume history yet on the subject for musicians and enthusiasts, professional or amateur.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-393-04810-1
Page count: 923pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2001


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