BILL McGLAUGHLIN’S AMERICAN MASTERS, WEEK FIVE
Dominique-René de Lerma
Exploring music appears to be the only regular music series offered each weekday on National Public Radio. On the week of August 8, Bill McGlaughlin made a fifth visit to those he has selected as major American composers. Its importance and influence is thus substantial.
For this week attention was given Julia Howe, Robert Russell Bennett, Jerome Moross, Robert Ward, Elliott Carter, William Bergsma, Lucas Foss, Henry Brant, and Ned Rorem.
Since I had not ever voluntarily elected to listen to any music of Carter, this was an educational opportunity. It also provided additional proof that Mr. MGlaughlin does not shy away from works that are not “audience-friendly,” although we do get some less welcome oldies. Carter has enjoyed high ratings in academia. On hearing his exemplars, I feel confident that attention is justified by score analysis rather than audition, thus being fodder for the diet of graduate-level music theorists, not for the experienced ears of a serious listener. Minor seconds do not trouble me, but I do expect that music to add to my listening repertoire should at least have initial sonic attraction; I am not interested in music one respects only after penetrating score analysis to discover its quality, which I find deserving of works that win attention in advance of score reference. Carter has not made it to my list, but I am glad I can now take that stand.
One work of these figures that I’d recommend is Jerome Moross’ Frankie and Johnny, based on a true event from the Saint Louis waterfront, commemorated as blues. The cantata might be offensive to the Salvation Army, and the text was thought too strong for my radio audiences sixty years ago; I had to terminate its broadcast because of reference to the “crib.” Surely no problem today.
The series is obviously open-ended, so naturally I began to visualize what Black composers ought to be termed American Masters in the future. While integration is possible here also, there could be a whole week of works by George Walker, T. J. Anderson, Adolphus Hailstork, Ulysses Kay, Hale Smith, David Baker, and William Grant Still for starts, and the repertoire would be varied in style and performance forces. But I thought also of those African Americans whose output is not yet as richly represented on CD, who with at least one work, would delight listeners: Primous Fountain, Julia Perry, Daniel Roumain, Talib Rasul Hakim, Michael Abels, James Furman, Dorothy Rudd Moore, Roger Dickerson. Then there are those whose attention was not always given to the piano or chorus: R. Nathaniel Dett, Undine Smith Moore, William Dawson, John Work.