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That National Type!


We are all familiar with tine expression: “America has no literature!” We maintain a golden silence when one from across the seas remarks: “You Americans have no school of music—no national type!” Composers of merit cannot be denied us; but none has yet arisen with that distinctively national flavor which the palate of the musical epicurean demands. While the work of the last quarter of a century has done much toward refuting the idea that we are a nation of musical parasites, imbibing all our life from foreign institutions, much remains to be accomplished before the American school of music shall take its place with those of recognized musical nations.

It might be well to ask ourselves along what lines are we working—we who profess to have the musical future of our country at heart? What are we doing in our own community?

Perhaps, at first glance, the outlook may not be so encouraging as we might wish. “There is so little unity,” we lament; “so much lauding of pet theories; so much to contend with.” There is a teacher who revels in all that is ancient and as heartily despises all that is modern, whose recitals, long and dry, abound in sonatas of the Clementi, Diabelli variety, for he is an allopathist of the deepest dye, and his pills are never sugar coated. As for the development of an American school, he scoffs the idea! “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?”

Then there is his musical antipode, who fondly hopes that in the plantation-melody “we have found the distinguishing feature, the national accent, in our future American classics. Wholly unmindful is he that, while national flavor surely lends a special interest to a production, it is only as that production is a genuine musical utterance.

Fortunately, it is to neither of these that we look for the development of our national type. We have a goodly number among us, who, while building for the future on sure foundations, yet live in the glorious present. They are not looking for a musical Messiah—nor a Christopher Columbus to sail into unknown seas and discover a new continent of musical theory. They are a practical sort of people, and, first of all, endeavor to raise the musical standard in their own community. They may live in remote districts, where popular sentiment does not encourage education along the lines of higher musical culture. Laying aside petty jealousies, they seek to introduce standard musical literature, and to bring into their midst artists from abroad.

They encourage our own composers, by giving such composers a prominent place on their programs, and by forming clubs for the analysis and study of their works. Neglecting not the intellectual side, they strive to educate along the lines of true musical ideas. They learn the patient, long-suffering side of the teacher’s life; realizing that we are too near the present to get the right perspective, they content themselves with looking well to the material which each day they are putting into their structures; and leave results to the fashioning hands of the future, knowing that only the fittest can survive. That truth alone is eternal.


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