Howzit Howard

Warning: Howard Dicus thinks for himself and is hard to pigeonhole in our partisan world. Despite blogging, he's been known to spell words properly and use reasonably good grammar. But, more in the blogging spirit, you never know what we'll write about next.

thom-cole-the-oxbow-1836

Classical Music in the USA – 1 – Billings, Gottschalk, Foster

“The Oxbow,” by Thomas Cole, 1836. This nine-part history of American classical music will run through January and February on the HPR-2 program “Howard’s Day Off.” The essays covering the same material, which do not always accord precisely with the programs, are posted here in full. We think of rock…

winslowhomer-the-briidalpath-1868

Classical Music in the USA – 2 – Euro classical comes to America

The Bridal Path, 1868, by Winslow Homer. Early classical concerts in America were narrow in their focus. Almost every concert featured a Beethoven symphony. To be adventurous a conductor would program Liszt or even Bizet. Joseph Pulitzer (1847-1911), bequeathing a huge sum to the New York Philharmonic, made it conditional…

church-niagara-falls-from-the-am-side-1867

Classical Music in the USA – 3 – Converse, Ives, Carpenter, Griffes

“Niagara Falls from the American Side,” by Frederic Church, 1867. The next group of American composers were born several years later than most of the Boston Six, most lived much later, and in style they were more diverse. Frederick Converse (1871-1940), the son of a Massachusetts industrialist, studied in Germany,…

mary-cassatt-the-boating-party-1894

Classical Music in the USA – 4 – The beginnings of jazz

“The Boating Party,” by American-born Mary Cassatt, 1894. While the Boston Six looked to Europe for training and inspiration, American popular music embraced the music of African Americans, and the racial divide, the severity of which is difficult to imagine today, could not prevent the music of black composers from…

stonecity-1930

Classical Music in the USA – 5 – Gershwin brings everything together

“Stone City,” by Grant Wood, 1930. The same painter who did “American Gothic.” On the evidence of attempts by many composers, it is not easy to meld classical music and jazz. Syncopation was rare in classical music before the Roaring Twenties. (The first example that comes to mind is the…

john-steuart-curry-1943-ajax

Classical Music in the USA – 6 – Wide Copland spaces

“Ajax,” by John Steuart Curry, 1943. George Gershwin was in his twenties in the Roaring Twenties. He stood out from other American composers of the same age because he became famous on Broadway before adapting his talents to classical music. Standing apart from Gershwin were composers who were classical through…

pineapple-bud-1939

Classical Music in the USA – 7 – the American sound

“Pineapple Bud,” by Georgia O’Keefe, 1939. American composers born in the early 1900s, who came of age in the Roaring Twenties or during the Great Depression, were exposed to the music of Gershwin, Copland and Roy Harris while still young. American classical music already existed for them. It was big,…

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Classical Music in the USA – 8 – Minimalism versus “difficult” music

“Nighthawks,” 1942, by Edward Hopper. The biggest factors driving classical music since the 1960s are population and mass media. The U.S. population has tripled since the start of the Baby Boom. It affects everything, but because precisely because it is all around us every day, we often don’t think about…

Woman holding music player listening with earbuds home, plant in background

Classical Music in the USA – 9 – American classical music going forward

Until now, my survey of the history of American classical music has been in large part a recitation of specific composers and what they did and when. I had the luxury of reporting on history’s existing judgment, and the freedom to occasionally suggest, openly or by inference, that some composers…

Paul Hindemith

Music Post: The music of Paul Hindemith

In one of Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer mysteries, needing to reinforce his picture of a academic as an arid sort of fellow, he has the man say he and his girlfriend had a shared interest in Hindemith. Musicians who should know better also sometimes think of Paul Hindemith (1895-1963) as…