There are some who love the idea of jazz borrowing from classical and there are some who hate it. I’m not sure which camp I personally fall into, but I love to see what arrangers and other instrumentalists do with older ideas that seem taboo to touch.
On this record titled Desecration Rag (A Classic Nightmare), Felix Ardnt takes us through several rags that use themes from western classical canon composers like Dvorak, Chopin, and Liszt. The record is a 10-inch vinyl pressing so it doesn’t have that many tracks, but the ones that are there are intriguing. The above listening selection is one of the tracks from the record and unfortunately the source doesn’t say which one it is. My best guess as a listener is that this track is the Dvorak track.
Recently, topics of discussion in class have revolved around how certain kinds of music grow and change to stay with the times and the benefits and drawbacks that has. With our recent discussions of what makes up the American Music Canon, I think this is a great artifact with which to tango.
This record raises some questions – is this music truly American or is it an Americanized interpretation? Is the music being transformed here truly European or were there some American elements in it? In the case of Dvorak specifically, that was the case.
Ragtime was one of the early stepping stones of jazz and to bring composers who didn’t write jazz into that realm of music through sampling their melodies likely raised some eyebrows in the audience that heard this record. At the time, there might have been a few that were familiar with the names of Dvorak and Liszt, but for those at the time who were purist of musical forms, they probably didn’t think very high of the sampling that was done on this record. Be that as it might have been, I think transforming music like this can make certain pieces that might seem stuffy to some more accessible and enjoyable – not everyone who likes jazz likes classical music and vice versa. This record could’ve been a cool way to bridge that gap and start conversations that might not have been had previously.
This recording from YouTube is a more recent recording that I thought would be cool to put beside the record. You can hear much more of Dvorak’s original sample in the YouTube recording, but the question remains the same: is this “American Music?” I think in the case of Dvorak in particular, it’s hard to not call his music American (at least what he wrote while in the country) because he was taking themes from local music that he heard and used it for his compositions. I think there are arguments for both sides, but with this being a ragtime jazz interpretation of a theme Dvorak wrote, I’m more inclined to call it American music than to try and call it something else.
Arndt, Felix, and Felix Arndt. Desecration rag A classic nightmare. 1914. Audio. https://www.loc.gov/item/jukebox-134701/