Date Thesis Awarded
Honors Thesis -- Access Restricted On-Campus Only
Bachelors of Arts (BA)
James I. Armstrong
Chandos Michael Brown
Katherine K. Preston
In 1892, Jeannette M. Thurber, founder of the National Conservatory of Music of America, invited Antonín Dvořák to lead the artistic direction of her school. There were obvious benefits to Dvořák's selection. He was already an established composer, conductor and pedagogue and his presence would bolster the reputation of a young institution. Even more important, Dvořák was a nationalist composer, whose focus in a characteristically Czech musical vocabulary could serve as an example to young American composers. Thurber envisioned a vibrant, independent, and self-sustaining American school of composition. Dvořák could be an invaluable asset in defining the musical characteristics of that movement. There were obvious philosophical concords between the two, especially their belief in national music and a democratic access to art. But there was an equally important – albeit unexpressed – dynamic at play: As a politically disenfranchised Czech outside the Austro-German lineage, Dvořák was freed from fraught aesthetic debates. The composer drew liberally from the Absolute and Programmatic camps, and produced a varied body of work that defied easy classification. In the United States, Dvořák employed a variety of national-compositional languages, giving musical expression to complex Bohemian, cosmopolitan and American identities. And as an instructor, Dvořák exhorted his students to new, individual artistic expression. In short, Dvořák was a musical pragmatist. He was willing to draw from a variety of aesthetic and national camps, and to produce without strict adherence to any single philosophy. This unspoken reality of Dvořák's music was, in part, what made his American years so successful. Dvořák's compositional independence and predisposition to action and production strongly aligned him with the American Zeitgeist.
Reese, Matthew F., "Dvořák and James: Pragmatism and the Music of America's Fin de Siècle" (2013). Undergraduate Honors Theses. William & Mary. Paper 618.
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