Modern Times pp 309-348 | Cite as

The Americas, 1945–70

  • William Brooks
Part of the Man & Music book series (MAMU)


At the end of World War II, composers of art music in Western cultures found their craft radically affected in three different but related ways. The first was historical: composers had to face, in their own domain, the shattering consequences (geopolitical, economic, ideological) of the largest and most horrific war in history. The second was technical: the burst of industrial growth which accompanied and followed the war fundamentally altered both the tools of the composer’s trade and music’s economic and social position. The third was institutional: the postwar conviction that specialization is prerequisite for progress provided composers with a new means of support, while deeply altering their relationship to their audience. These three domains are central to the understanding of all postwar music; in the Americas their impact has been especially keen.


Modern Time Postwar Period Popular Music Experimental Music Concert Hall 
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Bibliographical Note

  1. For the period 1945–70 the three most essential sources for the USA, Canada and Latin America respectively are all more general references: The New Grove Dictionary of American Music, ed. H. W. Hitchcock and S. Sadie (London, 1986);Google Scholar
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  4. Several other standard texts, though covering a broader domain than that discussed in this chapter, are of considerable use: N. Slonimsky, Music Since 1900 (New York, 4/1971);Google Scholar
  5. J. Machlis, Introduction to Contemporary Music (New York, 2/1979);Google Scholar
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  12. Also outdated but useful are several books on technology: The Development and Practice of Electronic Music, ed. J. Appleton and R. C. Perrera (Englewood Cliffs, 1974);Google Scholar
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  16. Four recent volumes are primarily concerned with later music but contain important discussions of the period 1945–70: J. Rockwell, All American Music: Composition in the Late Twentieth Century (New York, 1983);Google Scholar
  17. P. Garland, Americas: Essays on American Music and Culture, 1973–80 (Santa Fe, 1982);Google Scholar
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  20. An important series of Canadian biographies published by the University of Toronto Press includes Barbara Pentland, R. Murray Schafer and others. Threejournals occasionally address this period in articles of high quality: American Music, the Yearbook of the Inter-American Institute for Musical Research and the Inter-American Music Bulletin.Google Scholar
  21. Contemporaneous periodicals offer a rich spectrum of opinions and aesthetics. The two best-known are Source: Music of the Avant-Garde and Perspectives of New Music [PNM]; articles from the latter were reprinted in two collections edited by B. Boretz and E. T. Cone: Perspectives on American Composers (New York, 1971)Google Scholar
  22. and Perspectives on Contemporary Music Theory (New York, 1972).Google Scholar
  23. For a representative picture, however, these journals should be supplemented with others like Soundings (whose editor, P. Garland, also produced important occasional volumes), The Composer (California; not to be confused with the British periodical Composer), Numus West, and the Proceedings of the American Society of University Composers. Many other periodicals presented special issues on contemporary music during the 1960s; often overlooked and especially valuable are the November 1968 issue of Music Educator’s Journal, devoted entirely to electronic music, and the 1970 special issue of Arts in Society, edited by G. Chase and called Sounds and Events of Today’s Music.Google Scholar
  24. Arguably the best sources are the composers themselves. Contemporary Composers on Contemporary Music, ed. E. Schwartz and B. Childs (New York, 1976),Google Scholar
  25. continued in the tradition of The American Composer Speaks, ed. G. Chase (Baton Rouge, 1966).Google Scholar
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  27. and W. Zimmermann, Desert Plants (Vancouver, 1976).Google Scholar
  28. Books and articles by composers are far too numerous to be fairly represented here; an interesting sample might include, for entirely different reasons: R. Reynolds, Mind Models: New Forms of Musical Experience (New York, 1975);Google Scholar
  29. G. Rochberg, The Aesthetics of Survival: a Composer’s View of Twentieth-Century Music (Ann Arbor, 1984);Google Scholar
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  32. B.Johnston, ‘On Context’, Proceedings [of the American Society of University Composers] (1968);Google Scholar
  33. and S. Reich, Writings about Music (New York, 1974).Google Scholar
  34. Babbitt’s writings, surprisingly, have not been anthologized; a complete bibliography appears in PNM, xv/1 (1976), which is devoted to Babbitt’s work, and a recent series of lectures by the composer has been published as Words about Music, ed. S. Dembski and J. N. Straus (Madison, 1987).Google Scholar
  35. Cage has written, contributed to or been interviewed in hundreds of publications; his first book, Silence (Middletown, Conn., 1961), remains a starting-point for (some would say the death of) postwar music in the Americas.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1993

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  • William Brooks

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