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Oja is concerned not only with composers and patrons but also critics and reception history, including New York's connections with Europe. The new music organisations kept open house to new developments, enabling New York audiences to hear the latest Stravinsky, Schoenberg or Webern at a time when recordings of this repertoire had barely begun. Oja views neo-classicism as an international style associated with Boulanger and her pupils. She considers that Copland -- the most famous of them all -- made his own unique synthesis of foreign and American elements and by 1929 he was recognised as the leading spokesman for American composers. Oja regards the Piano Variations as a key work and quotes a revealing unpublished diary entry of Copland's: 'I am anxious above all things to perfect myself. I am bourgeois to the core!'

There is a chapter on Virgil Thomson, who characteristically proposed some naughty gay intepretations for the texts of Baptist hymns in an unpublished article, and then there is a chapter on group of neo-classicists which is rather surprisingly made up of Sessions, Piston, Harris and Chavez. Piston is surely the purest neo-classicist here, the vintage Boulanger pupil, an American equivalent of Lennox Berkeley in England. Sessions went on in serial directions, losing much of his public, Harris became associated with Americana and Chavez went back to his roots in Mexico. Gershwin and other composers connected with jazz form the final chapter.

The book has a generous number of musical illustrations, indicating that some of the neglected composers could be worth a hearing, and there are some forty pages listing composers and works played by the modern music societies.

Two illustrations from Vogue by Miguel Covarrubias neatly illustrate the changed New York scene. They are captioned, 'Two types of symphony orchestra -- ancient and modern. A comparison of classical and contemporary methods'. The ancient style has a bosomy singer with swooning conductor directing strings and harp: the modern style has a complete mix of instruments, including percussion and a rifle being fired, with the conductor in a frenzy. It all must have seemed strange to the old guard in New York; it was going to change after the crash of 1929 and the depression; but while it lasted it was an exciting time for new music. Now we can trace it in far more detail thanks to this diligently researched and consistently interesting account from Carol Oja.

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Copyright © 18 September 2001 Peter Dickinson, Aldeburgh, Suffolk, UK






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