Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Composers Without Wigs: The Influence of Blues, Jazz and Rock & Roll on Twentieth Century Concert Music

The synthesis of African and European music in the melting pot of the Americas saw the creation of entirely new musical genres.  In North America, these include Blues, Jazz and Rock & Roll; in South America, Tango and Samba.  Although these rhythmically vital, melodically exotic musics grew initially from racial and ethnic under-classes, composers of concert music were quick to recognize that these idioms had much to offer the concert stage as well.

This presentation explores the influence and adaptation of Blues, Jazz and Rock & Roll to the concert music of the twentieth century.  Picking up where “Blues, Jazz and Rock & Roll” left off, this session first explores how the synthesis of African and European music in South America differed from that in North America.  Starting with the Bohemian composer Antonín Dvořák, we will observe how European composers first recognized the intrinsic validity of music that most North Americans initially considered dangerous and libertine.  The session closely observes the music of George Gershwin and Aaron Copland as it seeks to distinguish between exoticism and genuine synthesis.  Ultimately, we will become aware of the vast variety of musical influences from which the contemporary composer might draw.

Music heard and discussed during this session will include Brazilian Samba and Bossa Nova; Andalucian Flamenco; compositions by Stephen Foster, Antonín Dvořák, Claude Debussy, George Gershwin, Aaron Copland, and Igor Stravinsky; performances by Eric Clapton, the Brecker Brothers, the Chemical Brothers, and Pantera, among many others.

GOALS: To be aware of the degree to which composers of concert music have incorporated the idioms of Blues, Jazz and Rock & Roll into their concert music, and to be aware of the fact that the extraordinary variety of music available to us is an example of globalization today.

Session length: 75 – 90 minutes.  Can be preceded by “Blues, Jazz and Rock & Roll”.

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