Music was at once one of the most idealized and one of the most contested art forms of the Victorian period. Yet this vitally important nineteenth-century cultural form has been studied by literary critics mainly as a system of thematic motifs. Angelic Airs, Subversive Songs positions music as a charged site of cultural struggle, promoted concurrently as a transcendent corrective to social ills and as a subversive cause of those ills. Alisa Clapp-Itnyre examines Victorian constructions of music to advance patriotism, Christianity, culture, and domestic harmony, and suggests that often these goals were undermined by political tensions in song texts or “immoral sensuality” in the “spectacle” of live music-making.
Professor Clapp-Itnyre turns her focus to the novels of Elizabeth Gaskell, George Eliot, and Thomas Hardy, who present complex engagements with those musical genres most privileged by Victorian society: folk songs, religious hymns, and concert music.
Angelic Airs, Subversive Songs recovers the pervasive ambiguities of the Victorian musical period, ambiguities typically overlooked by both literary scholars and musicologists. To the literary critic and cultural historian, Professor Clapp-Itnyre demonstrates the necessity of further exploring the complete aesthetic climate behind some of the Victorian period’s most powerful literary works. And to the feminist scholar and the musicologist, Clapp-Itnyre reveals the complexities of music as both an oppressive cultural force and an expressive, creative outlet for women.
Ever since Bessie Smith’s powerful voice conspired with the “race records” industry to make her a star in the 1920s, African American writers have memorialized the sounds and theorized the politics of black women’s singing. In Black Resonance, Emily J. Lordi analyzes writings by Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Gayl Jones, and Nikki Giovanni that engage such iconic singers as Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Mahalia Jackson, and Aretha Franklin.
Focusing on two generations of artists from the 1920s to the 1970s, Black Resonance reveals a musical-literary tradition in which singers and writers, faced with similar challenges and harboring similar aims, developed comparable expressive techniques. Drawing together such seemingly disparate works as Bessie Smith’s blues and Richard Wright’s neglected film of Native Son, Mahalia Jackson’s gospel music and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, each chapter pairs one writer with one singer to crystallize the artistic practice they share: lyricism, sincerity, understatement, haunting, and the creation of a signature voice. In the process, Lordi demonstrates that popular female singers are not passive muses with raw, natural, or ineffable talent. Rather, they are experimental artists who innovate black expressive possibilities right alongside their literary peers.
The first study of black music and literature to centralize the music of black women, Black Resonance offers new ways of reading and hearing some of the twentieth century’s most beloved and challenging voices.
Difficult Rhythm examines E. M. Forster's irrepressible interest in music, providing plentiful examples of how the eminent British author's fiction resonates with music. Musicologist Michelle Fillion analyzes his critical writings, short stories, and novels, including A Room with a View, which alludes to Beethoven, Wagner, and Schumann, and Howards End, which explicitly alerts readers how fiction can adopt musical forms and ideas. This volume also includes, for the first time in print, Forster's notes on Beethoven's piano sonatas. Documenting his knowledge of music, his musical favorites and friends, and his attitudes toward various composers, performances, and competing musical theories, this engaging book traces the musical influences of luminaries such as Wagner, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and Britten on Forster's life and work.
A multidisciplinary exploration of the ways that African American “hot” music emerged into the American cultural mainstream in the nineteenth century and ultimately dominated both American music and literature from 1920 to 1929
Exploring the deep and enduring relationship between music and literature, Hot Music, Ragmentation, and the Bluing of American Literature examines the diverse ways in which African American “hot” music influenced American culture—particularly literature—in early twentieth century America. Steven C. Tracy provides a history of the fusion of African and European elements that formed African American “hot” music, and considers how terms like ragtime, jazz, and blues developed their own particular meanings for American music and society. He draws from the fields of literature, literary criticism, cultural anthropology, American studies, and folklore to demonstrate how blues as a musical and poetic form has been a critical influence on American literature.
Hot Music, Ragmentation, and the Bluing of American Literature begins by highlighting instances in which American writers, including Herman Melville, Stephen Crane, and Gertrude Stein, use African American culture and music in their work, and then characterizes the social context of the Jazz Age, discussing how African American music reflected the wild abandon of the time. Tracy focuses on how a variety of schools of early twentieth century writers, from modernists to members of the Harlem Renaissance to dramatists and more, used their connections with “hot” music to give their own work meaning.
Tracy’s extensive and detailed understanding of how African American “hot” music operates has produced a fresh and original perspective on its influence on mainstream American literature and culture. An experienced blues musician himself, Tracy draws on his performance background to offer an added dimension to his analysis. Where another blues scholar might only analyze blues language, Tracy shows how the language is actually performed.
Hot Music, Ragmentation, and the Bluing of American Literature is the first book to offer such a refreshingly broad interdisciplinary vision of the influence of African American “hot” music on American literature. It is an essential addition to the library of serious scholars of American and African American literature and culture and blues aficionados alike.
James Weldon Johnson’s Modern Soundscapes provides an evocative and meticulously researched study of one of the best known and yet least understood authors of the New Negro Renaissance era. Johnson, familiar to many as an early civil rights leader active in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and an intentionally controversial writer on the subject of the significance of race in America, was one of the most prolific, wide-ranging, and yet elusive authors of twentieth-century African American literature.
Johnson realized early in his writing career that he could draw attention to the struggles of African Americans by using unconventional literary methods such as the incorporation of sound into his texts. In this groundbreaking work, literary critic Noelle Morrissette examines how his literary representation of the extremes of sonic experience—functioning as either cultural violence or creative force—draws attention to the mutual contingencies and the interdependence of American and African American cultures. Moreover, Morrissette argues, Johnson represented these “American sounds” as a source of multiplicity and diversity, often developing a framework for the interracial transfer of sound. The lyricist and civil rights leader used sound as a formal aesthetic practice in and between his works, presenting it as an unbounded cultural practice that is as much an interracial as it is a racially distinct cultural history.
Drawing on archival materials such as early manuscript notes and drafts of Johnson’s unpublished and published work, Morrissette explores the author’s complex aesthetic of sound, based on black expressive culture and cosmopolitan interracial experiences. This aesthetic evolved over the course of his writing life, beginning with his early Broadway musical comedy smash hits and the composition of Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912), and developing through his “real” autobiography, Along This Way (1933). The result is an innovative new interpretation of the works of one of the early twentieth century’s most important and controversial writers and civil rights leaders.
Jazz in the Time of the Novel argues that a culture’s understanding of the concept of time plays a central role in its economic, social, and aesthetic affairs and that a culture arrives at its conception of time through its artistic practices.
Bruce Barnhart, in Jazz in the Time of the Novel, shows that American culture of the first three decades of the twentieth century was shaped by the kindred rhythms and movements of two particular art forms: jazz and fiction. At the beginning of the twentieth century, widespread changes in America’s social, demographic, and economic norms threatened longstanding faith in a unified and inevitable movement towards a better future. As Barnhart shows both jazz and novels of the period address these temporal uncertainties, inserting themselves into arguments about the proper unfolding of an affirmative American future. Barnhart proposes that these two aesthetic forms can be viewed as co-participants in an ongoing discussion about the way in which the future should be imagined and experienced—a discussion symptomatic of the broader exchanges taking place within the many trajectories comprising early twentieth-century American culture.
This book includes in-depth approaches to numerous examples of jazz and the novel, including performances by James P. Johnson, Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington, and Ethel Waters, and novels by James Weldon Johnson, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and Nella Larsen, among others. In addition to the details of specific musical and literary works, Jazz in the Time of the Novel offers careful consideration as to how these works impact their social context.
Following his investigation into experimental music and sound recording in Records Ruin the Landscape, David Grubbs turns his attention to the live performance of improvised music with an altogether different form of writing. Now that the audience is assembled is a book-length prose poem that describes a fictional musical performance during which an unnamed musician improvises the construction of a series of invented instruments before an audience that is alternately contemplative, participatory, disputatious, and asleep. Over the course of this phantasmagorical all-night concert, repeated interruptions take the form of in-depth discussions and musical demonstrations. Both a work of literature and a study of music, Now that the audience is assembled explores the categories of improvised music, solo performance, text scores, instrument building, aesthetic deskilling and reskilling, and the odd fate of the composer in experimental music.
Restages fundamental debates about the relationship between poetry and music
Orphic Bend: Music and Innovative Poetics explores the impact of music on recent pioneering literary practices in the United States. Adopting the myth of Orpheus as its framework, Robert L. Zamsky argues that works by Charles Bernstein, Robert Creeley, John Taggart, Tracie Morris, and Nathaniel Mackey restage ancient debates over the relationship between poetry and music even as they develop work that often sharply diverges from traditional literary forms. Opening each chapter with a consideration of the orphic roots of lyric, Zamsky integrates contemporary debates over the prospects and limitations of humanism, the meaningfulness of gesture and performance, and the nature of knowledge with the poetics of the writers under consideration, grounding his analysis in close readings of their work.
The myth of Orpheus is used as a lens throughout the book, its different facets illuminating sometimes dramatically different aspects of the shared framework of poetry and music. In the case of Bernstein, for instance, Zamsky highlights Ezra Pound’s meditations on the relationship between poetry and music (the ground upon which Pound seeks to recapture the lost possibilities of the Renaissance) and Bernstein’s incisive critique of Pound. For her part, Morris emphasizes the performative power of spoken language, foregrounding the fact that all spoken language bears cultural, communal, and personal marks of the speaker, improving an ensemble self even within the most elemental features of language. Meanwhile, in Mackey’s work, the orphic voice of the poet powerfully reaches toward an order of knowledge in which poetry and music are nearly indecipherable from one another. In this sense, music and the musicality of poetic language are the gateways for Mackey’s Gnosticism, the mechanisms of initiation into a realm, not of secrets to be learned, but of visionary knowing that continuously unfolds.
The text explores a range of musical influences on the writers under consideration, from opera to different iterations of jazz, and underscores the variety of ways in which music informs their work. Many of these writers effectively present a theory of music in their invocations of it as an inspiration for, or as an analog to, poetic practice. Zamsky’s focus on poetry and music echoes important interdisciplinary studies on literary modernism, a period for which the importance of music to literary practice is well established and extends that discussion to the contemporary context. In doing so, Orphic Bend provides an important opportunity to consider both the specific legacy of modernism, and to situate contemporary writers in broader historical contexts.
Intrigued by "texted" sonorities—the rhythms, musics, ordinary noises, and sounds of language in narratives—Julie Huntington examines the soundscapes in contemporary Francophone novels such as Ousmane Sembene's God's Bits of Wood (Senegal), and Patrick Chamoiseau's Solibo Magnificent (Martinique). Through an ethnomusicological perspective, Huntington argues in Sounding Off that the range of sounds —footsteps, heartbeats, drumbeats—represented in West African and Caribbean works provides a rhythmic polyphony that creates spaces for configuring social and cultural identities.
Huntington’s analysis shows how these writers and others challenge the aesthetic and political conventions that privilege written texts over orality and invite readers-listeners to participate in critical dialogues—to sound off, as it were, in local and global communities.
Examining American realist fiction as it was informed and shaped by the music of the period, Sounding Real sheds new light on the profound musical and cultural change at the turn of the twentieth century.
Sounding Real by Cristina L. Ruotolo examines landmark changes in American musical standards and tastes in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries and the way they are reflected in American literature of the period. Whereas other interdisciplinary approaches to music and literature often focus on more recent popular music and black music that began with blues and jazz, Ruotolo addresses the literary response to the music that occurred in the decades before the Jazz Age.
By bringing together canonical and lesser-known works by authors like Theodore Dreiser, Kate Chopin, Harold Fredric, James Weldon Johnson, Willa Cather, and Gertrude Atherton, Ruotolo argues that new, emerging musical forms were breaking free from nineteenth-century constraints, and that the elemental authenticity or real-ness that this new music articulated sparked both interest and anxiety in literature: What are the effects of an emancipated musicality on self and society? How can literature dramatize musical encounters between people otherwise segregated by class, race, ethnicity, or gender?
By examining the influence of an increasingly aggressive and progressive musical marketplace on the realm of literature, Sounding Real depicts a dynamic dialogue between two art forms that itself leads to a broader discussion of how art speaks to society.