The first twodecades of the twentieth century witnessed the inception of a substantialmusical interest in North American Indian culture. Musical compositions basedon original tribal chants which researchers, in close collaboration with extanttribes, had made available to the public were produced in substantial numbers.
Although it might be considered an exaggeration to classify the productions ofthis group of Indianists as a fully-fledged artistic movement, nonetheless itwas obvious that a group of composers, of which Arthur Farwell was theanimating spirit, aspired to free themselves from the all- dominating influenceof the German musical tradition in favour of an authentic musical idiom whichdrew its inspiration from various sources of popular musical expression.. Inthis sense, it was not so much the necessity to emancipate themselves from acultural tradition which had become stifling, as in the case of the Europeanprimitives, but rather a quest for a typically American cultural source.
The compositionswhich are presented here represent a panorama of this particular aspect ofAmerican music. From the Land of the Sky-Blue Water is an exquisitelyric by Charles Wakefield Cadman, based on an Omahalove- song. The allusion to the sound of the flute, which was the only lyricinstrument possessed by the Indians, is even more evident in Charles Sanford Skilton'sSioux Flute Serenade. As a rule, these instruments were constructed bythe local medicine-man, which conferred upon them magic powers of seduction,and were played by young Indians with remarkable dexterity. The CheyenneWar-Dance is a telling work in which, curiously enough, there is a basso ostinatosimilar to that which Chopin employs in his Polonaise Op. 53. The KikapooSocial Dance imitates the reiterative beat of the drums, onto which thesimple song motif is grafted. After a first exposition, the theme isrepresented accompanied by vivacious figurations.
Preston WareOrem's American Indian Rhapsody is one of the more brilliant andformally developed compositions in this Indian vein. Stylistically, it is akinto the examples of the Lisztian Hungarian Rhapsodies in that it cites, in itslong, virtuosic parabola, ten thematic allusions to chants of the Cheyenne, Kiowa, Sioux, Chippewa, Puebloand Cree tribes.
Edward MacDowellwas among the first of the American composers to avail himself of AmericanIndian folklore. His Indian Suite, Opus 48, for orchestra, was completedbefore Dvorak's From the New World Symphony, and shows references toauthentic Indian chants drawn from Theodore Baker's treatise, On the Musicof the North American Indians, published in Leipzig in 1882. The fourth movement of this suite, entitled Dirge, whichis included here in the piano transcription of Otto Taubmann, is a funerallament which anticipates Ravel's Le Gibet.
Indian Scenes is the result of a close collaborationbetween Henry Franklin Belknap Gilbert and Edward Curtis, who was a renownedphotographer and lecturer. Titles of the Indian Scenes correspond to Curtis'photographs, from which Gilbert drew his inspiration, and the music reveals theinfluence of the phonographic recordings which Curtis had made in the course ofhis anthropological excursions in the North American continent. The music isquite solemn and mysterious, and follows very closely the declamatory style ofmany Indian chants.
With its respectfor the original themes and its simple but effective harmonization, Lyricsof the Red Man, by Harvey Worthington Loomis, allows us to sense thepeculiarities of Indian songs, which in many cases contain a concealed meaning,and do not show any of the spontaneous attributes so typical of our popularmusic. The themes which Loomis uses in these three pieces are derived from Omaha tribal music. The first refers to the ritual of thesacred pipe, the second is a song of sorrow, while the third presents us amotif from a children's game, coupled with a more lyrical motif drawn from theOmaha Wa-Wan ceremony.
An impressionistsensitivity pervades Une Jeune Indienne, composed by George TempletonStrong during his extended Swiss sojourn on the shores of Lake Geneva. This composition is taken from his suite Au PaysDes Peaux- Rouges, in which the composer seemingly undertakes an imaginaryvoyage in the search for a vanished Indian world whose existence still lingersin his imagination.
Arthur Farwell isrepresented in this panorama by only two examples of his vast array ofcompositions based on Indian sources. The first, A Song of Peace, drawsits inspirations from the Omaha Sacred Pipe ceremony, while the second, incontrast, Navajo War Dance, evokes the more savage aspect of Indiannature. Farwell himself writes, with reference to this contrast, that "toomany people think of the American Indian only as a savage. I have depictedin my Indian music many phases of Indian life which were far from being savage,but true to its quaint, poetic and picturesque aspects as well as to itsmythological conceptions. Being criticized because of these matters as beinguntrue to this "savage" Indian nature, I wrote the Navajo WarDance in the hope of gratifying my critics in this respect..."
The journey alongthis Indian trail ends with Some Indian Songs and Dances by BlairFairchild. Perhaps reputing illusory any attempt to revive the authentic Indianchant by means of a piano, the composer has avoided the use of illustrations inpreference to a style "in the manner or' Indian themes; with nolittle success it would seem, judging from the evocative, distinctive resultsobtained in the short works presented here.
(Englishtranslation by James Loomis)