Dangerous Melodies: Classical Music in America from the Great War Through the Cold War

Norton. Dec. 2019. 512p. photos. notes. index. ISBN 9780393608427. $39.95; ebk. ISBN 9780393608434. MUSIC
The subject of this book might at first seem obscure, even acknowledging that classical music once played a far more prominent role in American cultural life than it does today. Imagine the selection of a conductor exciting nationwide comment, as it did in 1949 when the Chicago Symphony Orchestra offered a position to Wilhelm Furtwängler. Yet it’s remarkable how much Rosenberg’s (history, Hunter Coll.; How Far the Promised Land??) detailed study applies to current events and cultural discourse. His examination turns on the tension between nationalism and universalism, without ever declaring in favor of either. Instead, Rosenberg, a Juilliard-trained musician, highlights how global events and international politics impact aspects of cultural life that seem far removed from such concerns. The author convincingly argues that art, and discourse around art, does not take place in a vacuum—and that the tension he describes will never be truly settled.
VERDICT A clear-eyed and perspicacious work for classical music scholars and fans and anyone interested in the intersection of politics and culture.

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