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Classical Music Was Multicultural Long Before Multiculturalism Existed

  Unfortunately , many people who know little or nothing about classical music think that it's a hopelessly outdated and "Eurocentric" art form  in this day of multiculturalism and political correctness .  But no one condemns the music of Africa for being "afrocentiric", so why shouldn't classical music ,which had its origins in Europe centuries ago ,  be concerned with matters European ?

   However ,  many leading European composers have been  interested in non-western music from  all over  for  more than two centuries .  Mozart  made use of  Pseudo Turkish and middle eastern  elements in some of his works ,such as the opera "The Abduction From The Seraglio , which takes place in  Turkey and is the story of  a Spanish nobleman who rescues his beloved from  captivity in the harem of a Turkish Pasha .

   The Ottoman empire's  attempts to invade and conquer Europe in the 18th century  made  Turkish culture and music all the rage in  parts of Europe ,  and  so  Mozart wrote the famous "Rondo Alla Turca " movement  in one of his piano sonatas ,immitating the Janissary mkusic which Europeans  heard  during  the  Ottoman  invasions ,  and other composers  such as  Gluck ,wrote  operas  with  Turkish or middle eastern stories . 

   Great opera composers such as Verdi ,Rossini  and  others also wrot operas with exotic  subjects , and attempted to use local color in the music .  Verdi's Aida is set in ancient Egypt ,  Rossini wrote an opera called "The Turk In Italy" in which a Turkish Pasha  visits Italy and falls in locwe with  a spirited young Italian woman ,  etc . 

    Later ,  when the great Czech composer Antonin Dvorak  spent a few years in America  as the head of a new school of music in New York which no longer exists , he became very interested in  tghe folk music of America , especially  African American  and Native American .  His  beloved ninth and last symphony is known as the "New World " symphony , and was written in America .  Although it does not quote actual American popular songs , it is  written  so as to evoke the spirit of  the  diverse musical  folk traditions of this nation .

   The   main theme of the second movement was  used  to  make the famous  spiritual  "Going Home "   Dvorak spent a considerable amount of time studying  spirituals and the music of the various American Indian tribes , and  traveled around America meeting  black musicians and  people from  the various tribes .

   Composers such as Claude Debussy , founder of  impressionism in music ,became fascinated with  the music of China ,Japan and Indonesia  when  Asian musicians appeared in Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries ,  and you can hear  this in more than of few of the works  he wrote  ,such as  his  piano works ,where there are imitations of Gamelan music and  asian pentatonic (five note) scales .

   In the early 20th century ,many European composers became interested in Jazz when Jazz musicians appeared in Europe  or after  visitning America themselves .  Elements of Jazz   appeared in the works  of  composers such as Maurice Ravel , Darius Milhaud  of France ,  and   many other composers .  The Austrian composer Ernst Krenek  (1900-1991) ,wrote a once popular opera called  "Jonny Spielt Auf " (Jonny strikes up ) ,which is the story of the exploits of an African-American Jazz musician in Europe .It was all the rage in Europe until Hitler and the *** took power in the 1930s  and banned it and  other Jazz-influenced and  atonal works as  "Degenerate Music " .  Jonny Spielt Auf  was even performed at the Metropolitan opera . 

   It fell out of the repertoire  until  a few revivals in Europe in recent years ,and was recorded by Decca records  in the 90s as part of its  "Degenerate Music " project to record music by composers  banned by the *** .  I have that  CD , and it's a most interesting work .   So don't believe those who  sneer at classical music for being  allegedly "Eurocentric ! "
Posted: Apr 22 2011, 08:52 AM by the horn | with no comments
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