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ClassicsOnline Home » AMERICAN INDIANISTS, Vol. 2
The American lndianists Vol. 2
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. The works recorded here complete our panorama of this particular aspect of American music which we initiated with the publication of the Marco Polo CD 8.223715.
Charles Wakefield Cadman owes his renown chiefly to his opera Shanewis of
The Robin Woman, performed with great success in 1918 at the New York Metropolitan
Opera. In addition to this important work, there are many other pages of his
compositions which derive inspiration from Indian themes. Before the Sunrise
and Wolf Song are taken from the stage music written for Norman Bel Geddes'
Indian drama Thunderbird. The Sadness of the Lodge is the penultimate
of the four Idealized Indian Themes and refers to an Omaha supplication
which Alice Fletcher catalogued under the title Appeal for Clear Sky in
her publication Indian Story and Songs.
In a more intimate and personal vein, the two works by Carlos Troyos, Lover's
Wooing (or Blanket Song) and Zunian Lullaby are more ample than a
simple cradle-song; the Lullaby, for example, being divided into two
parts, Incantation upon a Sleeping Infant and Invocation to the Sun
God. An extremely unusual and totally authentic work is the Kiowa-Apache
War Dance, to which, in the foreword to his publication, the author adds
the following, interesting comments:
The Apaches having planned a night attack upon the Navajos, who were reported
to be fleeing and seeking a hiding place in a secluded canyon, to deposit their
plunder obtained from a raid on the Pimas, sought the aid and counsel of their
more powerful allies, the Kiowas, whose superior skill and cunning has often
been of great service to the Apaches.
Scouts were stationed upon numerous hilltops, and fires lit to signal the
approach of the fleeing Navajos while in an opposite direction they were holding
a war council and tribal war-dance in a low ravine. The greatest secrecy was
exercised to prevent discovery of their design upon the Navajos, and to exclude
entirely any sounds from their war-dance, they brought into use the constant
whirling of their "howling whizzer" (a concaved boomerang) which produces a
very close imitation of roaring thunder, the object of which was to drown out
the noise their dance and music might create.
Their music, though of a wild, turbulent character resembling in its constant
rise and fall, the moaning bark of the Coyotes and the shrieks of excited vulture
owls, and scintillating with the vibration of chime-plates - was kept throughout
in a semi-subdued sound, while their voices chanted generally in low tones.
The instruments they used were crude, yet exercised with marked precision,
and consisted of snake-drums, long trumpets, reed-flutes, gongs, rattles etc.
which, however, were offset in a measure by the swinging of the howling whizzer.
(Note: The Record of this War-dance was obtained incidentally, while on
a visit to the Santa Clara Zuni Indians of northern New-Mexico, to witness a
tribal Rabbit-hunt. Being detained and late, we were cordially invited to remain
over night at the Solesta Trading Station by the government agent. I played
a number of cowboy and negro melodies on the Violin, when about 11 o'clock we
were startled by a prolonged, distant Apache-whoop. Lights were immediately
extinguished. The signals, however, were for a friendly parley. Two Kiowa scouts
dismounted from their ponies and came on foot, asking for ammunition in exchange
for skins. I played some Indian tunes for them and was assured of a safe escort
to view and listen to the war dance on a covered ridge near the canyon, which
was gladly accepted, and in company with the government agent we enjoyed seeing
a three hour war-dance to the finish.)
Edward MacDowell composed the two following works, based on thematic material
drawn from Theodor Baker's thesis On the Music of the North American Indians
published in the year 1882. The plaintive From an Indian Lodge centre
around a Brotherton tribal motive, preceded and followed by a motif tied in
with the shamanic rites of the Walla-Walla tribe. Indian Idyll offers
us an illustration of a Dakota Evening Song.
The piano accompaniment which underscored the first silent films made ample
use of themes relating to the American Indians. Lily Strickland's Sun Dance
is a case in point. Possibly because of the simple, yet incisive use of the
Cherokee theme it contains, the Sun Dance was included in a music album
employed by pianists who accompanied the projection of these films.
In its observance of the original themes and the simple but effective harmonic
elaboration, Lyrics of the Red Man by Harvey Worthington Loomis is a
commendable work which gives us an insight into the idiomatics of Indian song.
While the Scalp Dance and Evening at the Lodge relate to the Omaha
repertory, The Chattering Squaw is of Cree origin. The delicate nocturne
Evening at the Lodge, in which the drums are silent, well illustrates
several of the characteristics of Indian Song, the total absence of the use
of half-tones a début on the highest note and a limited extension.
Stimulated by the photographic images taken by the renowned ethnologist and
photographer Edward S. Curtis, Harvey Franklin Belknap Gilbert composed a series
of five Indian Scenes, the final one of which, On the Jocko, with
its three-note motif, the regular rhythmic pattern and the over-all buoyant
mood might seem to indicate it was intended for use as a rowing chant.
In addition to the majestic and martial Song of the Deathless Voice,
and the playful Pawnee Horses, two other works of Arthur Farwell, here present,
present aspects which extend well beyond the simple exposition of the original
chant. Referring to "Ichibuzzhi" a famed mythical warrior, and equally famed
for his love of practical jokes, Farwell writes:
"...Into this composition is introduced a "Rallying Song in the Face of
Death," which requires especial comment. "Ichibuzzhi" may be regarded as a scherzo,
in which this song appears as the trio. Dramatically, it dignifies our hero
by placing him in a situation requiring an exhibition of the greatest courage.
This "Rallying Song" is sung by an Indian on the war-path when immediate death
is, or seems, inevitable. It begins with a call of great power and virility,
which the Indian sustains, that the announcement of his fearlessness may be
carried far across the plains. This is followed by two other calls of similar
import. Great care must be taken to subordinate the effect of echo or reverberation
at pp after each of the three calls. Then follows a passage of great tenderness,
in which the Indian reminds himself that even at his birth he was pointed out
as "a man", and therefore one who must never shirk danger or fail in courage.
The original words of the song are, "My brother, there he lies, - a man," the
speech being attributed to a supposititious older sister, and designed to inspire
the singer with that courage (even in the face of death) which must invariably
be an attribute of one whose duty should frequently demand an exhibition of
such courage. Following this passage in the song is a final call of great dignity
and sonority ..."
Dawn utilizes two Omaha themes which had already appeared in Farwell's
American Melodies, Op. 11, with the titles The Old Man's Love Song
and Choral. The work alternates a dreamy, idyllic contemplation of the
Creation with a more assertively religious Wa-Wan ritual.
The excitement of the hunt, activity of pre-eminent importance in the daily
life of the Indians, is well present in the Shawnee Indian Hunting Dance
of Charles Sanford Skilton. The obsessive repetition of the basic theme would
seem an attempt to achieve a state of trance.
(English translation by James Loomis)
Dario Müller was born in Switzerland in 1946 and studied in Milan with Ilonka Deckers-Künzler and at the Zurich Musikhochschule with Jürg von Vintschger, embarking on a career as a pianist in Switzerland and then throughout Europe, with recordings in Italy for Dynamic and Nuova Era. The present recording of music drawing inspiration from American Indian culture is the result of research undertaken with Mary and James Loomis and Ellen Frau-Ferry.
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AMERICAN INDIANISTS, Vol. 2