America's Musical Life: A History

Richard Crawford, Author W. W. Norton & Company $45 (976p) ISBN 978-0-393-04810-0
In 1846, the director of the Paris Opera told American composer William Henry Fry that Europeans ""looked upon America as an industrial country--excellent for electric telegraphs, but not for Art."" Over a century and a half later, Crawford (The American Musical Landscape), a professor of music at the University of Michigan and former president of the American Musicological Society, has thoroughly debunked that myth, at least in regard to music. In this ambitious, comprehensive history, Crawford speaks with equal authority on colonial psalmody and ragtime, minstrelsy and Gilded Age classical, and in an effort to highlight forgotten history, sketches biographies of influential individuals and the movements in which they participated. Through 40 chapters, he firmly roots each song, symphony or hymnal in its era, showing the political, environmental and social forces that have shaped composers and musicians, both professional and amateur. From an examination of Native American music to the church-centered song of the Puritan colonies, from the wildly popular minstrel shows to jazz and rock, the reader gets a fuller understanding of the America that produced and listened to the widely varied musical forms of our past. Crawford's book is egalitarian and accessible, and the occasional appearance of musicological jargon won't deter lay readers. This definitive history of music in the U.S. is sure to delight music aficionados and history buffs alike, and is a must for anyone interested in what music has meant to America and what America has meant to music. B&w photos and illus. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 02/01/2001
Release date: 02/01/2001
The Best Books, Emailed Every Week
Tip Sheet!