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Modern Music

(New York, 1924-1946)

Prepared by Richard Kitson

The quarterly journal Modern Music was first published in New York under the title League of Composers Review from February 1924 through January 1925. In April 1925 the title was changed to Modern Music and publication continued uninterrupted under this name until the fall issue of 1946. The purpose of the journal was to inform American professional musicians and the American (and European) public about the new idioms and styles of twentieth-century music. According to the editor Minna Lederman, “Modern Music had no fixed editorial position about any composer, any movement. Its pages recorded derogatory opinions about, as well as homage to, even the greatest figures of the age—Schoenberg and Stravinsky, who were under its most constant observation.”

Each issue of the journal is divided into two parts. The first contains a series of informative articles dealing with the promotion and concerns of contemporary music in the three decades of the journal’s publication: biographies of the leading composers and analyses of their principal works; explanations of contemporary compositional procedures; reports on conditions for music performance and publication in Europe, the Soviet Union and the Americas; the politics of music brought about by the threat and reality of various forms of fascism. The second part contains reviews of contemporary compositions performed in the major musical centers of the United States and in the capitals of Europe and South America. The interpretive and technical skills of performers are not the subjects of these reviews. Rather, Modern Music’s reviewers deal almost exclusively with specific compositions and the analysis of compositional methods. These reviews are followed by the “Scores and Records” column in which the production, growth and availability of contemporary music, both recorded and in print, are examined. Thereafter follows the “Over the Air” column that chronicles both the rise and fall of modern music in radio broadcasting, and the growth of the network giants in the United States, such as the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), the National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC), the Mutual Broadcasting System (MBS), and the American Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

Motion pictures with sound are dealt with in the “On the Film Front” column, as are methods of composing for film, and scores written for films produced in the United States, Europe and the Soviet Union. Interest in contemporary dance is reflected in the column “With the Dancers.” There is also a column devoted to jazz and popular music, “The Torrid Zone.” Books about music, ballet and opera are reviewed in the final section.

The development of American modern music is recorded in detail: topics include the radicalism of Ruggles, Ives, Varèse and Cowell; the Americanization of the symphony by Sessions, William Schuman and Roy Harris; and the innovations of composers such as Carpenter, Copland, Gruenberg and Bernstein, all directly influenced by jazz and popular music. And, an extensive series titled “American Composers,” consisting of twenty-one biographical sketches with lists of important compositions and a portrait or sketch, is featured from 1930 through 1946. Included, among others, are Louis Gruenberg, John Alden Carpenter, Charles Ives, Roy Harris, Aaron Copland, Walter Piston and Samuel Barber.

Studies of the many European twentieth-century composers—Schoenberg, Bartók, Hindemith, Stravinsky—fill a large part of the first years of the journal. Paul Stefan discusses Schoenberg’s operas; Erwin Stein investigates Schoenberg’s inheritance and development of German music; Hugo Leichtentritt examines Schoenberg’s tonal and atonal compositions; while Paul Pisk explains Schoenberg’s twelve-tone technique. Adjioran Orvos and Kodály discuss Kodály and Bartók’s integration of folk music into the traditional European genres. An entire supplement to the May-June 1932 issue is dedicated to Willi Reich’s monograph on Berg’s Wozzeck. Many articles about Stravinsky’s neoclassicism parallel the American premières of a number of his ballets and symphonic works. Reports on the annual festivals held in European centers by the International Society for Contemporary Music, and American festivals held at Rochester and the Yaddo artists’ colony appear annually.

Throughout the journal’s run, the following writers, among numerous others, contribute regularly to the same columns: Donald Fuller to “New York Concert Reports”; Colin McPhee to published music and recordings; Charles Mills to radio broadcasting; and, George Antheil and Paul Bowles to film reviews. The extensive list of occasional contributors of both articles and reviews includes Elliott Carter, John Cage, Marc Blitzstein, Henry Cowell, Lehman Engel and Marion Bauer. Aaron Copland was an active participant in the affairs of the League of Composers, a contributor to Modern Music, and played an important, supportive role to the editor. Copland’s own writings include studies of composers George Antheil, Charles Ives and Darius Milhaud, as well as contributions on jazz structure, Hollywood film composers, and South American composers. Among the more regularly encountered European contributors are Boris de Schoelzer, Alfredo Casella, Edwin Evans and Humphrey Searle.