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ClassicsOnline Home » AMERICAN INDIANISTS, Vol. 1
The first two
decades of the twentieth century witnessed the inception of a substantial
musical interest in North American Indian culture. Musical compositions based
on original tribal chants which researchers, in close collaboration with extant
tribes, had made available to the public were produced in substantial numbers.
Although it might be considered an exaggeration to classify the productions of
this group of Indianists as a fully-fledged artistic movement, nonetheless it
was obvious that a group of composers, of which Arthur Farwell was the
animating spirit, aspired to free themselves from the all- dominating influence
of the German musical tradition in favour of an authentic musical idiom which
drew its inspiration from various sources of popular musical expression.. In
this sense, it was not so much the necessity to emancipate themselves from a
cultural tradition which had become stifling, as in the case of the European
primitives, but rather a quest for a typically American cultural source.
which are presented here represent a panorama of this particular aspect of
American music. From the Land of the Sky-Blue Water is an exquisite
lyric by Charles Wakefield Cadman, based on an Omaha
love- song. The allusion to the sound of the flute, which was the only lyric
instrument possessed by the Indians, is even more evident in Charles Sanford Skilton's
Sioux Flute Serenade. As a rule, these instruments were constructed by
the local medicine-man, which conferred upon them magic powers of seduction,
and were played by young Indians with remarkable dexterity. The Cheyenne
War-Dance is a telling work in which, curiously enough, there is a basso ostinato
similar to that which Chopin employs in his Polonaise Op. 53. The Kikapoo
Social Dance imitates the reiterative beat of the drums, onto which the
simple song motif is grafted. After a first exposition, the theme is
represented accompanied by vivacious figurations.
Orem's American Indian Rhapsody is one of the more brilliant and
formally developed compositions in this Indian vein. Stylistically, it is akin
to the examples of the Lisztian Hungarian Rhapsodies in that it cites, in its
long, virtuosic parabola, ten thematic allusions to chants of the Cheyenne, Kiowa, Sioux, Chippewa, Pueblo
and Cree tribes.
was among the first of the American composers to avail himself of American
Indian folklore. His Indian Suite, Opus 48, for orchestra, was completed
before Dvorak's From the New World Symphony, and shows references to
authentic Indian chants drawn from Theodore Baker's treatise, On the Music
of the North American Indians, published in Leipzig in 1882. The fourth movement of this suite, entitled Dirge, which
is included here in the piano transcription of Otto Taubmann, is a funeral
lament which anticipates Ravel's Le Gibet.
Indian Scenes is the result of a close collaboration
between Henry Franklin Belknap Gilbert and Edward Curtis, who was a renowned
photographer and lecturer. Titles of the Indian Scenes correspond to Curtis'
photographs, from which Gilbert drew his inspiration, and the music reveals the
influence of the phonographic recordings which Curtis had made in the course of
his anthropological excursions in the North American continent. The music is
quite solemn and mysterious, and follows very closely the declamatory style of
many Indian chants.
With its respect
for the original themes and its simple but effective harmonization, Lyrics
of the Red Man, by Harvey Worthington Loomis, allows us to sense the
peculiarities of Indian songs, which in many cases contain a concealed meaning,
and do not show any of the spontaneous attributes so typical of our popular
music. The themes which Loomis uses in these three pieces are derived from Omaha tribal music. The first refers to the ritual of the
sacred pipe, the second is a song of sorrow, while the third presents us a
motif from a children's game, coupled with a more lyrical motif drawn from the
Omaha Wa-Wan ceremony.
sensitivity pervades Une Jeune Indienne, composed by George Templeton
Strong during his extended Swiss sojourn on the shores of Lake Geneva. This composition is taken from his suite Au Pays
Des Peaux- Rouges, in which the composer seemingly undertakes an imaginary
voyage in the search for a vanished Indian world whose existence still lingers
in his imagination.
Arthur Farwell is
represented in this panorama by only two examples of his vast array of
compositions based on Indian sources. The first, A Song of Peace, draws
its inspirations from the Omaha Sacred Pipe ceremony, while the second, in
contrast, Navajo War Dance, evokes the more savage aspect of Indian
nature. Farwell himself writes, with reference to this contrast, that "too
many people think of the American Indian only as a savage. I have depicted
in my Indian music many phases of Indian life which were far from being savage,
but true to its quaint, poetic and picturesque aspects as well as to its
mythological conceptions. Being criticized because of these matters as being
untrue to this "savage" Indian nature, I wrote the Navajo War
Dance in the hope of gratifying my critics in this respect..."
The journey along
this Indian trail ends with Some Indian Songs and Dances by Blair
Fairchild. Perhaps reputing illusory any attempt to revive the authentic Indian
chant by means of a piano, the composer has avoided the use of illustrations in
preference to a style "in the manner or' Indian themes; with no
little success it would seem, judging from the evocative, distinctive results
obtained in the short works presented here.
translation by James Loomis)
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AMERICAN INDIANISTS, Vol. 1