The American Mahler: Musical Modernism and Transatlantic Networks, 1920-1960

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The American Mahler: Musical Modernism and Transatlantic Networks, 1920-1960

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Title: The American Mahler: Musical Modernism and Transatlantic Networks, 1920-1960
Author: Mugmon, Matthew Steven
Citation: Mugmon, Matthew Steven. 2013. The American Mahler: Musical Modernism and Transatlantic Networks, 1920-1960. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: By the 1960s, the music of Austrian composer Gustav Mahler had become an exceptionally--and enduringly--popular part of American concert life. But for much of the twentieth century, the place of Mahler's music in America's orchestral canon was passionately debated and not nearly so secure. This dissertation proposes that the growth of transatlantic modernism--in some ways a reaction to Mahler's Austro-German tradition--went hand in hand with the developing appreciation for Mahler's music in the United States between 1920 and 1960. This study focuses on the relationship between this new appreciation for Mahler in America and a network of four influential figures in transatlantic modernism: Nadia Boulanger, the French musician who taught a whole generation of prominent American modernist composers; Aaron Copland, who would become one of the most significant and outspoken figures in American modernism; Serge Koussevitzky, the celebrated conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra; and Leonard Bernstein, the composer and conductor most recognized for having popularized Mahler’s music. These figures shared their ideas on Mahler but also developed their own distinctive ones. This dissertation argues that between 1920, when Boulanger attended and wrote about a Mahler festival in Amsterdam, possibly her introduction to Mahler’s music, and 1960, when Bernstein led the New York Philharmonic in a celebration of the Mahler centenary, these four musicians played a significant role in shaping ideas about Mahler in America, and that they did so by placing Mahler in the specific contexts of their priorities as modernists. Methodologically, this study uses archival evidence to unite two strands of recent, significant musicological inquiry: the transnational history of American musical culture, and the transmission, reception, and circulation of music in interpersonal networks.
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