Music of a more perfect union: symphonic constructions of American national identity, 1840-1870 Public Deposited

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  • March 22, 2019
  • Shadle, Douglas
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Music
  • The genre of the symphony has long been recognized as a medium for constructing national identities in German, French, and Russian culture, yet little is known about the genre's history in the United States. Between 1840 and 1870, the era of the first generation of American orchestral composers, it served as a potent means of expressing American national identity. During this period of American cultural history, two separate processes shaped conceptions of national identity: decolonization from Great Britain and a nascent sense of imperial expansionism. This dissertation explores how mid-century American symphonic composers musically constructed national identities reflecting these conceptions and argues that this practice continued well into the twentieth century. Composers who focused on decolonization generally employed one of two separate strategies. The first was emulation, or copying European symphonic models with the intention of continuing the symphonic tradition. George Frederick Bristow (1825-1898), for example, wrote symphonies that might be mistaken for music by Mendelssohn or Schumann. The second strategy was exceptionalism, or selectively omitting traditional stylistic elements in order to pave new musical pathways. The exceptionalist William Henry Fry (1813-1864) developed an idiosyncratic style that eclectically blended progressive symphonic aesthetics, Italian opera, and American popular song. Each composer's symphonies answered the question of how the United States should define itself with respect to the Old World. The composers who focused on expansionism were more concerned with how the United States should define itself with respect to the rest of the Western Hemisphere. Anthony Philip Heinrich (1781-1861), for example, constructed a national identity built on the precepts of Manifest Destiny. His symphonies assimilate an exotic musical style intended to represent Native Americans and the aura of the American landscape into the fabric of European classicism and American popular music. Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1869) painted musical portraits of nations in Latin America that were heavily laced with continental American musical styles. These symphonies promoted the blossoming imperialist agenda of many Americans at mid-century.
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  • Bonds, Mark Evan
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  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
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