Cultural and Ethnic Influences on Musical Style in the works of Ernest Bloch, William Grant Still and Samuel Barber
by J. S. Graves
I basically agree with R. S. Perry when she says that a composer’s “artistic identity is far more comprehensible when viewed against his background than when removed from it and considered solely in the context of individual genius,”1 This week I am mounting a new blog that will present some of the defining influences on the lives and music of three American Neo-Romantic composers, Ernest Bloch, William Grant Still (Little Rock, AR was his home town as a youth) and Samuel Barber.
There were creative consequences for these composers when they confronted or exploited their cultural and ethnic inheritance.2 This blog will investigate what some of those consequences were and what role the unique backgrounds of these three composers played in contributing to an American neo-romantic musical style.
I will examine important defining factors of their careers such as their social and economic circumstances, their educational backgrounds, influential persons in their lives, and the socio-political climate of the world in which they lived. I will post weekly on these subjects, starting next post with a discussion of the types of American concert music in the first half of the 20th century, followed by explorations of what Neo-Romanticism is.
Later I will discuss the seminal influence on American Neo-Romanticism of the life and works of Ernest Bloch, a European educated immigrant, considered by Walter Simmons to be the fountainhead of American Neo-Romanticism.3 Later blogs will be devoted to the lives and works of two other American neo-romantics, William Grant Still and Samuel Barber. Stay tuned!
2 Culture and ethnicity will be interpreted broadly to include race, religion and nationality.
3 Simmons, Walter. Voices in the Wilderness, Six American Neo-Romantic Composers. The Scarecrow Press, Inc., Lanham, Maryland, Toronto, Oxford, 2006, p. 44