MacDowell vs. Ballard: A Comparison of American Indian Identity in Classical Music

As we discovered in our readings last week, Edward MacDowell’s “Indian” Suite for Orchestra represents a point in American music history where composers felt obligated to present the Indian identity in their compositions.  This is often referred to as the “Indianist” movement inspired by Antonin Dvorak in his use of Native American and African-American thematic elements used in his prolific Symphony No. 9 “New World.” 1 However, we look back on it today as a example in a long line of misunderstood interpretations of the American Indian identity by primarily white people at the top of a hierarchy, whether it be at the helm of a government entity or a religious, social, or cultural sphere.  To drive the point home, here is an excerpt from an article written by Henry Finck as a tribute to Edward MacDowell’s legacy.  This particular excerpt was written in response to hearing the “Indian” Suite performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra:

“The Indian suite played at this concert was interesting from many points of view, which I can touch on only very briefly.  It is based on genuine American Indian Melodies.  The introduction has almost a Wagner touch thematically, but it is note for note Indian, and there is also a curious Northern ring in some of the theme… we might say that the MacDowell suite is civilized Indian music.” 2

By presenting the notion that MacDowell refined American Indian songs to become more “civilized,” Finck asserts that American Indian music is something uncivilized or perhaps “savage.”  This perception of Native American culture by Americans was commonly accepted and was a longstanding notion in the use of programs sponsored by the United States government, with one of the many examples being the use of Indian Boarding Schools as a way of brainwashing American Indian children into becoming more “American.”

While the “Indianist” movement did portray a negative connotation of Native American music, it would later inspire other composers to counteract with their own take on how American Indian identity should be portrayed in classical music.  Take for example, “the father of Native American Composition,” Louis W. Ballard:

name

As a Quapaw Cherokee Indian, Ballard wanted to blend the styles of Western classical music with “the music and dance traditions of his culture.”  He studied with several different composers in the 1940s and 50s, such as Darius Milhaud, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Carlos Surinach, Felix Labunski, and Bela Rosza, meaning that he was very dedicated to the craft of composition in the style of Western classical music.  As a composer, he wrote several pieces of varying instrumentation from solo works like the one presented here by Italian pianist Emanuele Arciuli  (Louis Ballard: Four American Indian Piano Preludes, Emanuele Arciuli, piano,) to woodwind quintet pieces with Native American flute, ballets, symphonies, and even a chamber orchestra piece titled Incident at Wounded Knee, which was commissioned and performed by the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra in 1974.  Alongside his compositions, he also served as the National Curriculum Specialist for the Bureau of Indian Affairs from 1968 to 1979 and wrote American Indian Music for the Classroom which served as a curriculum “for teachers who wanted to incorporate American Indian music in classroom instruction.” 3

With his contributions to American music, Louis Ballard and several other Native American composers provided their unique voice from the precedents set by composers like MacDowell and Dvorak to write “Indianist” works.  Even Ballard himself accredited Dvorak’s prediction as an inspiration to compose his music, saying that “‘…[he] was in good company when [he] took up [his] pen to express the sufferings of [his] people, their regeneration and hopes for a better future life…'”

Notes
1. Blim, “MacDowell’s Vanishing Indians” 1
2. Finck, “An American Composer” 448
3. Berkowitz, “Finding a Place” 4-16

Bibliography
Berkowitz, Adam E. “Finding a Place for the Cacega Ayuwipi within the Structure of American Indian Music and Dance Traditions.” Florida Atlantic University, May 2015. 4-16
Blim, Dan. “MacDowell’s Vanishing Indians.” AMS, 2016. 1
Finck, Henry T. “AN AMERICAN COMPOSER: EDWARD A. MACDOWELL.” Century Illustrated Magazine (1881-1906), 01, 1897. 448, https://search.proquest.com/docview/125517908?accountid=35

The Reception of Edward Macdowell Throughout The 20th Century

In our studies of Native American music, I have come across the name “Edward Macdowell” several times.  Most recently in an article by Daniel Blim entitled “Macdowell’s Vanishing Indians.” This peaked my interest in the composer to see what his general reception was amongst the musical community.  Much of his music uses themes from Native Music that is fraught with problems in respect and appropriation (to modern listeners), as can be represented by the Blim article. There are two reviews of Macdowell that I will be exploring to do this, one from 1944 in the Music Educators’ Journal and one from American Music in 1987.  

The first review takes Macdowell’s Second “Indian” Suite under fire as a piece for High School Orchestra.  The full text is short and is reproduced below:

The piece is lauded for its musical accessibility and distinct “Americanness” and its ability to rekindle interest in Macdowell, who it describes as “much neglected on our present day concert programs.”  The only acknowledgement of source material in this (very short) review are that the melodies are suggested by the North American Indians. The score can be found here, for reference to the melodies that it describes.  Despite the short nature of this review, there are a few things we can safely extrapolate from it.  The first surrounds the “much neglected” comment. This shows that Macdowell was not a key facet of many, if any, concert programs in 1944, just 36 years after his death.  The reason for this is not specified, but it does go to show that the use of such Native American Melodies was not popular for composers to do, as Macdowell did with a number of pieces (he has at least two full Indian Suites as the title of the piece suggests).  This could be for a number of reasons, among them being a general disdain for non-white-sounding music (possible, but severe speculation) or a loss of interest in the music of American Composers who weren’t Aaron Copland (again, speculation).  

The second review is much longer, and is regarding a recording of several piano works by Macdowell.  For our purposes, we can just look at the material regarding the piano work itself. The reviewer, Margaret Barela, found Macdowell to be compositionally important to the development of American Music, but not because he “lacked foreign influence.”  Barela likens Macdowell’s music to that of Liszt and Chopin, although Chopin died before Macdowell was born and Liszt died when Macdowell was 26, so they were not contemporaries. Barela praises the first two sonatas of Macdowell for their narrative splendour, but had little good to say about the second two.  This might shed some light on why Macdowell was “much neglected,” even by the 1940s. Macdowell, while an important composer in the development of American music, did not do enough to revolutionize it to gain a spot on the pedestal of history that we historians reserve for the “greats.” It would indeed be ironic if the music of Macdowell “vanished” with history, just as his Indians did.

Works Cited

Barela, Margaret Mary. American Music, vol. 5, no. 2, 1987, pp. 231–233. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3052177.

Louis G. Wersen. Music Educators Journal, vol. 30, no. 4, 1944, pp. 42–42. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3386289.

The Expansion of the “Vanishing Indian”

In his paper “MacDowell’s Vanishing Indians,” Dr. Daniel Blim writes that the “Indianist” movement of using Native American inspiration for American music owes its success largely to the composer Edward MacDowell, and especially to his Indian Suite, premiered in 1896. Blim connects this to the “vanishing Indian” trope: “the Indian as a cultural figure . . . began to ‘vanish,’ and no longer a threat, could be reappropriated in the national imagination as a nostalgic figure rather than a living oppositional force.” He discusses MacDowell’s Westernization of Native American music as one way in which it aligns with this trope. Regarding MacDowell’s piece “From an Indian Lodge,” Blim writes, “the subject of this work is not Native America, but a reenactment, subtly Westernized.”1

Reviews of the Indian Suite support this view, showing a strong alignment with the “vanishing Indian” trope and praising MacDowell’s Westernization of Native American music. Blim uses the Indian Suite as an example of MacDowell’s music before it reflected the shift to the “vanishing Indian” view, still depicting Native Americans as a “living oppositional force.” However, the following two reviews, though approaching the Indian Suite from opposite directions, both project the “vanishing Indian” trope onto the piece.

In 1898, the magazine The Critic published a review (right) praising MacDowell’s ability to “weave a series of tone-pictures out of . . . purely native material.” It contrasts his suite with Dvořák’s ninth symphony, stating that MacDowell “clings to what is elemental and more thoroughly representative, . . . carefully avoiding as inappropriate a too complex treatment of native themes.”2 Rather than seeing Native Americans as a living opposition still in need of Westernization, The Critic praises MacDowell for getting to the core of what is Native American, showing the extent to which their opposition had been replaced by an opportunity for inspiration.

In 1939, 41 years later, the magazine Forum and Century also published a review (left) praising the Indian Suite, but comparing it favorably with Dvořák’s symphony: “The Suite is in no sense a sequence of Indian tunes. It is a sweeping orchestral work, symphonic in nature, that evokes auditory images of our ancestors, their mores, and their cherished aspirations and bitter frustrations.”3 For Forum and Century, rather than Westernization being an obstacle, it allows the Native American to be more effectively appropriated, so much so that they are now “our ancestors,” and the music’s frustration that Blim associates with their oppositional position now reflects the “bitter frustrations” of the Native Americans themselves.

From only two years after the premier through the following several decades, MacDowell’s Indian Suite was fully enveloped by the trope of the “vanishing Indian.” Though approaching the piece from opposite directions, both reviews celebrate MacDowell’s synthesis of Native American music. They do not make Blim’s differentiation between the suite and pieces that more explicitly align with this trope. Rather, due to the strength of the national shift spurred by MacDowell himself, they project onto this piece the concept that the Native American has vanished and transformed into fodder for American music.

1. Blim, Daniel. “MacDowell’s Vanishing Indians.” Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Musicological Society and the Society for Music Theory, Vancouver, BC, November 2016.

2. “Music: Notes of the Season.” The Critic: A Weekly Review of Literature and the Arts (1886-1898), Feb 05, 1898, 97, https://search.proquest.com/docview/124892533?accountid=351.

3. ARTHUR, WALLACE HEPNER. “THE RECORD REVIEW.” Forum and Century (1930-1940), 11, 1939, 1, https://search.proquest.com/docview/90883079?accountid=351.

(Mis)representation: The Westernization of Native American Music

It is difficult to determine exactly when influence from another culture turns into misrepresentation. Edward MacDowell, a white American composer wrote the piece Woodland Sketches, Op. 51: No. 5: From an Indian Lodge which was published in 1896. The piece begins with a fortissimo, perfect 5th interval, an interval which was often used to categorize “exotic” music. This is just one way in which MacDowell exhibits an inaccurate representation of Native American music. MacDowell’s composition undoubtedly brings up issues, both in his inaccurate, westernized representation of it, but also in his use of Native American culture without permission.

Chickasaw Composer, Jerod Tate

This conjures up the questions, is it always wrong to misrepresent a certain culture’s music by westernizing it? What if the composer is someone of that culture? Could that even be considered “misrepresentation”? Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate is a self identified citizen of the Chickasaw Nation and works to make Native American music relevant within the classical music world. One of his pieces, “Oshta”, written for the solo violin is loosely based upon Choctaw hymn 53.

Choctaw Hymn 53 came into existence as a consequence of Christian missionary work done in Native American land. Work to evangelize Native Americans was done essentially since the first Europeans came to the Americas. Religion was one way in which Europeans felt superiority, which often lead to a desire to teach Native Americans about Christianity in order to help them escape their “savagery”. Missionary work and evangelization is what lead to the creation of things such as the Choctaw Hymn Book, a bigger collection of hymns with Choctaw Hymn 53 comes from. Composed by Native American citizens, these hymns were considered a type of “hybrid music”; a combination between western hymns and a Native American style of music.

Choctaw Hymn #53 (2/2)

Choctaw Hymn #53 (1/2)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As seen in the images of Hymn #53, the words are all in Choctaw. Listening to this recording of the hymn, characteristics including the occasionally present dissonant harmonies distinguish it from traditional Christian hymnal music. The group singing is a characteristic which is also comparable to many other Native American music.

Listening to both Tate’s piece as well as the hymn it was inspired by, it is clear that they are vastly different, not only in their instrumentation, but in their melody and structure as well. Interestingly enough, Tate’s piece exhibits a perfect 5th double stop about 15 seconds in, making it possibly more similar to MacDowells’s intro than to the intro of the original hymn. Tate was clearly influenced by Native American music, much like MacDowell, but took it and made it his own.

To answer the questions I posed earlier, I would argue that no, a person like Jerod Tate cannot misrepresent his own culture, even if he is creating a sort of fusion between it and western culture. To argue with this, one might say that an implication of this fusion music is that it is a way of giving into assimilation by actively westernizing Native American culture. In reality, one cannot grow up in the United States without being exposed to western culture. I argue that even within one’s own identity, it is impossible to completely separate the western side from one’s ethnic and cultural heritage. Composers like Jerod Tate musically represent that dual identity within their work, thus making the Native American-Western fusion a presentation of pride of their culture and identity rather than a misrepresentation.

Sources:

  • Choctaw Hymn 53: Chahta vba isht taloa holisso. Choctaw Hymn Book, Richmond, Presbyterian committee of publication, 1872.
  • MacDowell, Edward. Woodland Sketches, Op. 51: No. 5: From an Indian Lodge. Barbagallo, James. Naxos 8.559010, 1994. CD.
  • Mill, Rodney, Frank Oteri, and Susan Feder. “Orchestral music.” In Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Accessed February 18, 2018. http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-1002224888?rskey=tPlwS5&result=2
  • Stock, Harry. “A history of congregational missions among the North American Indians”. The Newberry Library, 1917. http://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Details/Ayer_MS_835
  • Tate, Jerod. “About: Artist’s Biography.” Jerod Tate. Accessed February 18, 2018 http://jerodtate.com/about/
  • Vba isht Taloa #53, Choctaw Hymn Book. Chahta Anumpa Aiikhvana: School of Choctaw Language.

MacDowell’s “New England Idyls”

In Edward MacDowell’s “New England Idyls,” he combines classical European harmonic elements with titles and epigraphs that evoke a purely American setting.  The resulting character pieces are incredibly descriptive and strive towards an American musical national style equivalent to the Russian style created by Mussorgsky and the Polish style created by Chopin.

the original art featured on the cover of “New England Idyls”

European harmonic idioms of the 19th century are very prominent in “New England Idyls.”  The third piece in the set, entitled “Mid-Winter,”is particularly rich in Romantic German- and French-sounding harmonies.  Throughout the movement there is intense chromatic saturation, typical of Wagner and Strauss.  Also reminiscent of these composers is the harmonic shifts by third instead of by fourth and fifth, which MacDowell employs to very dramatic effect.  MacDowell also writes colorful non-functional harmonies that are reminiscent of Debussy (of whom MacDowell was an almost perfect contemporary).

 

one example of MacDowell’s epigrap

Complementing his Romantic harmonies are MacDowell’s epigraphs. Similar to the titles of Debussy’s piano preludes, these short snippets of text frame the colorful, descriptive music, lending a sort of program to each piece.  Unlike Debussy’s brief and cryptic inscriptions, however, MacDowell’s texts are substantial and highly specific, evoking images of the New Hampshire countryside.  Most of the movements describe natural features such as An Old Garden, In Deep Woods, To An Old Pine.  Two others describe other facets of the American experience: Native American culture is represented (for better or for worse) in Indian Idyl, and a facet of white America’s religious history is portrayed in From Puritan Days.

http://webfiles.wulib.wustl.edu/units/music/supplcat/b10311282.pdf

As we have seen, MacDowell strives to create an American classical music by adopting a European musical style and imbuing it with American textual imagery from his own personal experiences in New Hampshire.  Whether or not he succeeds in this endeavor is up to the listener to decide.

 

Sources

Crawford, Richard. The American Musical Landscape. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1993.

Dolores Pesce and Margery Morgan Lowens. “MacDowell, Edward.” Grove Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed 24 Oct. 2017.

MacDowell, Edward. New England Idyls. Boston: Arthur P. Schmidt, 1902.

 

Why don’t we talk about Arthur P. Schmidt?

While scrolling the archives of the Sheet Music Consortium to find fodder for this weeks blog post, I found myself a bit at a loss. For the past few classes we’ve begun to study early American art music and I was hoping to find some manuscript of Amy Beach’s or Edward MacDowell’s to put on display. While I did find scores from both composers, what I found more compelling was the name at the bottom of nearly every score I examined.

Canadian Boat Song by Amy Beach

No, not Mrs. H.H.A. Beach like you see on the right, but rather Arthur P. Schmidt. This name appeared on several scores of both Beach and MacDowell. Who was Arthur P. Schmidt? Why does his name get to be on an exorbitant amount of the music published in 19th-century America? And why should you care?

Musical scholarship often focuses on the narratives of performers and mostly of composers, but equally important to these artistic forces were the business people that helped create the music industry. Figures like Theodore Thomas helped define the idea of a duality between art and the free market. Arthur P. Schmidt, while not a conductor or music director, was a music publisher. The publishing side of the music industry became increasingly important as the 19th century marched on. Soon, the publishers of Tin Pan Alley would help define American musical tastes.Arthur P. Schmidt, too, became a taste-maker of sorts. In fact, Douglas Bomberger states in an article about Edward MacDowell and Arthur Schmidt that the later 19th century became known as the “Golden Age” of music publishing in America. Schmidt’s Boston based publishing company would come to publish nearly the entire compositional body of Edward MacDowell and feature several compositions by Amy Beach. In total, the Boston office had printed over 15 000 titles. The publisher Arthur P. Schmidt, when searched in the Sheet Music Consortium, comes up with over 4,000 results.

From the back page of an Edward MacDowell Composition

The guy was really popular. But why don’t we hear about him? In Richard Crawford’s American Musical Life, there is an entire chapter devoted to the music of Edward MacDowell, but it never once mentions the way MacDowell’s music got published. In the scholarship this class has read about the music industry of mid to late 19th-century American art music, there has been little discussion of the way music publishers shape the reception and transmission of famous musical works. Money and music have never been as separate as we want them to be. The influences of capitalist market demand have no doubt shaped the way we consume, study, and participate in music. According to the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, the Arthur P. Schmidt company grew so popular that it opened an office in Leipzig, Germany. What impact did the transmission of American composers like MacDowell and Beach have on American and German cultural interactions? How did these relationships develop during the first world war? How did music publishers influence understanding of American musical culture? Music publishing is still and must have been incredibly important. So why isn’t it talked about more?

Personally, I think that this hesitancy to acknowledge the codependency of music and capitalism results from our societies binary system of thinking. The notions of artists and business people are often seen as contradictory by most of the public. We don’t want our art to be infected by money. But, like everything in life, it most definitely is. A complete understanding of American musical life demands that we consider not only our beloved composers and performers,  but the hardened business people responsible for shaping our musical tastes. Including examples of music published by someone like Arthur P. Schmidt in an exhibit about America’s music, for example, could help prompt further questions about the codependent relationship between music, money, and American markets.

Sources

Bomberger, E. Douglas. “Edward Macdowell, Arthur P. Schmidt, and the Shakespeare Overtures of Joachim Raff: A Case Study in Nineteenth-Century Music Publishing.” Notes 54, no. 1 (1997): 11-26. doi:10.2307/899930.

Cipolla, Wilma Reid. “Schmidt, Arthur P..” Grove Music OnlineOxford Music OnlineOxford University Press, accessed October 24, 2017http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/24937.

 

The Melting Pot: Remington’s Chinese Figure Study and American Music

Frederic Remington (1861-1909) was an American painter, sculptor, illustrator, and writer (no relation to the rifle- and typewriter-makers, Eliphalet and Philo Remington). Although he studied for short periods at Yale’s School of Fine Arts as well as at the Art Students League in New York, he was a mostly self-taught artist. After a period traveling through the Dakotas, Montana, the Arizona Territory, and Texas, he had one of his drawings published in Harpers’s Weekly, leading to a long relationship with that publication as well as with The Century Illustrated and Scribner’s Magazine.

Due to Remington’s first-hand experience with the quickly-vanishing frontier, he grew renowned for his visual and textual depictions of cavalry, cowboys, Native Americans, and the American West:

 5042214861_ec9ed5fa5f_z 5169152407_ea99bdf4fc_z 5042171903_3c65c10bbe_z 6329189165_f7370ae467_o6332165260_ed50d9552e_o 6329996698_7396f6a42b_o

Knowing about his affinity for the American West, it might at first seem odd that while painting cowboys and campfires Remington also drew this Chinese figure study:

Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 10.14.32 AM

I promise you though, this is not odd at all.

As everyone knows, America is a land of immigrants, referred to in past years as the great melting pot (now we opt for the great salad bowl, kaleidoscope, or mosaic). Beginning in the 19th century, immigrants from China came to America, especially to the West, to work as laborers for the transcontinental railroad and the mining industry. These immigrants faced fierce racial discrimination, leading to such laws as the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, prohibiting immigration from China for ten years, and the 1892 Geary Act, extending the prohibition for another decade. Thus the presence of Chinese immigrants in the American West would not have been uncommon, and Remington would have found many study subjects as he traveled the frontier.

“That’s interesting, but why is this post in a music history blog?”

By presenting a Chinese figure in various outfits, Remington demonstrates the Americanization of immigrants: on the left is a figure in more traditional clothing, while the figures on the right take on more and more aspects of Western culture, such as replacing the tunic with a baggy shirt and the cap with a Spanish guacho or grandee. So, by including Chinese immigrants in his oeuvre, Remington was portraying other cultures as an important piece of the American pie. In similar ways, composers like Amy Beach, Edward MacDowell, and Antonín Dvořák also sought to include other cultures as members of the American family.

Take the fifth movement of MacDowell’s Indian Suite of 1892, which pulls tunes from the Iroquois tribe:

Or listen to the Largo from Dvořák’s From the New World, which, while not directly copying songs, features original melodies similar to Native American music:

Or sample Amy Beach’s Gaelic Symphony, in which she incorporates traditional Irish-Gaelic melodies, tapping into the rich heritage of a people long part of the American fabric:

Remington and these three composers are just a few of the numerous artists who rather than exoticizing other cultures sought to portray them as an essential part of the American melting pot.


Beach, Amy. Symphony in E-minor, No. 2 “Gaelic.” American Series Vol. 1. Detroit Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Neeme Järvi. Chandos CHAN 8958. Streaming audio. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VmLU1CfHcJw. Accessed April 29, 2015.

Dvořák, Antonín. Symphony No. 9 “From the New World”, Op. 95. Prague Festival Orchestra, conducted by Pavel Urbanek. LaserLight Digital 15824. Streaming audio. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2TIFEQLANpw. Accessed April 29, 2015.

Foxley, W. C. “Remington, Frederic.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press. http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/grove/art/T071404. Accessed April 29, 2015.

MacDowell, Edward. Suite No. 2 “Indian”, Op. 48. Village Festival. Bohuslav Martinu Philharmonic, conducted by Charles Johnson. Albany Records TROY 224. Streaming audio. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=efDZ100iJMQ. Accessed April 29, 2015.

Remington, Frederic. “A Mining Town, Wyoming.” Oil on canvas. Ca. 1898. Frederic Remington Art Museum Collection. https://www.flickr.com/photos/fredericremington/6329189165/in/set-72157649247951734. Accessed April 29, 2015.

Remington, Frederic. “Chinese Figure Study.” Ink on paper. Date unknown. Flaten Art Museum Collection. http://embark.stolaf.edu/Obj4142?sid=162&x=83&sort=9. Accessed April 29, 2015.

Remington, Frederic. “Recent Uprising Among the Bannock Indians — a Hunting Party Fording the Snake River Southwest of the Three Tetons (Mountains).” Wash on paper. Ca. 1895. Frederic Remington Art Museum Collection. https://www.flickr.com/photos/fredericremington/5042171903/in/set-72157651574818071. Accessed April 29, 2015.

Remington, Frederic. “The Broncho Buster #275.” Bronze cast. 1895. Frederic Remington Art Museum Collection. https://www.flickr.com/photos/fredericremington/5169152407/in/set-72157625248734897. Accessed April 29, 2015.

Remington, Frederic. “The Outlier.” Oil on canvas. 1909. Frederic Remington Art Museum Collection. https://www.flickr.com/photos/fredericremington/5042214861/in/set-72157649247951734. Accessed April 29, 2015.

Remington, Frederic. “Then He Grunted and Left the Room.” Wash on paper. 1894. Frederic Remington Art Museum Collection. https://www.flickr.com/photos/fredericremington/6329996698/in/set-72157651574818071. Accessed April 29, 2015.

Remington, Frederic. Untitled [possibly The Cigarette]. Oil on canvas. Ca. 1908-1909. Frederic Remington Art Museum Collection. https://www.flickr.com/photos/fredericremington/6332165260/in/set-72157649247951734. Accessed April 29, 2015.

Introspection Across Art Mediums

This painting found in the St. Olaf Flaten Art Museum suggests an immense feeling of age, wisdom, and timelessness.  The subject, Walt Whitman, is presented in all shades of brown and grey, most of his body in shadow and the background irrelevant.

Walt Whitman, Xanthus Russell Smith

Walt Whitman, Xanthus Russell Smith

The artist, Xanthus Russell Smith, was known to be a Civil War Painter, showcasing the battles and details of wartime.  But a quick search shows that he was also an avid landscape artist, portraying the lush beauty of the New England countryside in rich detail.

New England Landscape, Xanthus Russell Smith

New England Landscape, Xanthus Russell Smith

In fact, a closer look at the Whitman painting reveals more of the earthy tones of the artist.  Whitman is not dressed for battle, but instead maybe for an introspective walk through the forest.

It is this sense of introspection that I would like to focus on.  Many other art forms of the time, including MacDowell’s Woodland Sketches, also were introspective and communicated the viewpoint of the creator.  Nature was a huge source of inspiration for these artists, as evident in Whitman’s “Song of the Open Road.”

“Song of the Open Road,” Walt Whitman

1

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,

Healthy, free, the world before me,

The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.

 

Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,

Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,

Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,

Strong and content I travel the open road.

 

The earth, that is sufficient,

I do not want the constellations any nearer,

I know they are very well where they are,

I know they suffice for those who belong to them.

Nature provided the time and peace for artists to reflect upon their lives and their place in the universe.  Their creations presented an individualized viewpoint of the world regardless of whether or not others understood.  Smith’s painting showcases a man who knows all.  And in his own particular way, Smith portrays how he sees Whitman, as all other artists share their specialized view of the world.

Recapturing the Dignity of the American Indian

The caricature of the savage Native American is all too common in the history of American Art. This is especially true in  art of the American West, rife with its depictions of pioneers and cowboys fighting off Indians and the elements in the name of survival and Manifest Destiny.

Some turn of the century artists like Charles Marion Russell (1864-1926) and Frederic Remington (1861-1909) managed to rehabilitate this image, depicting ways in which Native Americans (and men in particular) could be pleasant to look at artistically. In the masculine world of the West, this primarily meant depicting them as active participants in the drama of uncharted territory. However, this also reinforced the notion that American Indians led a violent, uncivilized life.

Painting of a buffalo hunt by Frederic Remington

Painting of a buffalo hunt by Frederic Remington

"For Supremacy" by Charles Russell

“For Supremacy” by Charles Russell

This serves as a marked contrast to the Native American Portrait Study by Olaf Carl Seltzer (1877-1957) in the Flaten Art Museum Collection. The first word that came to mind when I saw it was ‘dignity’; the second was ‘still’.

OCS

Seltzer lived in Great Falls, Montana from the time he was 19 until his death. From that, I inferred (with the consultation of a map of Native American tribal territories) that this study is of individuals belonging to the Blackfoot tribe. A simple google image search confirmed this suspicion, as I found numerous portraits of Blackfoot members whose hairstyles and earrings strongly resemble those in the study.

BF1BF2

Of course I don’t mean to suggest through this analysis that the Blackfoot people or any other group of Native Americans needs a white man to recapture their dignity. But it is refreshing to see that there is at least one instance in American art of someone capturing the dignity of Native Americans authentically not through violence, but through still portraits. Even if it is just a study.

In studying the history of American music, we have seen multiple times how non-white cultures have been repeatedly misrepresented. The violence latent in portraits by Russell and Remington can be found in stereotypical musical depictions of Native Americans that rely on similarly simplistic and vulgar generalizations: I’m thinking especially of pulsing drums, war-whoops, and melodies that only use pentatonic scales.

Even recent depictions rely on the simplistic drum patterns and repetitive melodies that have been stuck to Native American’s since the beginning, even when the atmosphere isn’t as frenetic, violent, or (in the case of Peter Pan) partially sexualized.

Who then is the Seltzer of American music? In other words, is there anyone that we can point to as capturing the essence of Native Americans without cheap theatrics? Perhaps the closest is Edward MacDowell’s Indian Suite (1892), which utilizes (alleged) Native American melodies. Luke provides an excellent study of this depiction here.

The unfortunate truth remains that we are relying on inauthentic depictions of Native Americans by whites to explore Indian-ness. But isn’t to say that there aren’t any Native American composers trying to do the same; a simple YouTube search shows otherwise. Unfortunately, these composers don’t hold a firm place in the current music history curriculum. While articles like this are a start, we as musicologists must strive to support authentic depictions of Native American music while remaining critical of the Russell’s and Remington’s of American music.

“Note for Note Indian”: Finck’s claim on Edward MacDowell’s “Indian Suite”

Henry T. Finck wrote in Century Illustrated Magazine about Edward MacDowell’s success in creating an American sound that is a “mixture of all that is best in European types, transformed by our climate into something resembling the spirit of American literature.” In fact Edward MacDowell has become well known as the writer of the 10 Woodland Sketches, including tunes such as “To a Wild Rose.”

Finck was specifically speaking of MacDowell’s Second Suite commonly known as the Indian Suite. As Finck points out, “the introduction has almost a Wagner touch thematically, but it is note for note Indian.” However, when have you listened to any type of Native American music and thought it sounded like Wagner? Even though MacDowell’s piece sounds western to our ears, MacDowell was trying to create a savage piece. However, The fact of the matter is that Edward MacDowell used the transcriptions of Native American by Theodore Baker entitled On the Music of the North American Indians. These tunes have been written down on a western staff using western notational conventions. As you may know, Western staff notation can only speak in notes and rhythms but fails to represent all the subtle dips and bends in pitch.

Yes, I would agree that Edward MacDowell’s Indian Suite is a note-for-note representation of Theodore Baker’s transcription, but I believe that it cannot be considered note-for-note Native American. Native American music’s style is so distinctive from Western style that I think it is impossible from western music to properly represent all the Native American music has to offer.

All Quotations from:

Finck, Henry T. “AN AMERICAN COMPOSER: EDWARD A. MACDOWELL.” Century Illustrated Magazine (1881-1906) LIII, no. 3 (01, 1897): 448. http://search.proquest.com/docview/125517908?accountid=351.