Letters - Winter 2020

Responses to Our Winter 2020 Issue

By Our Readers | December 2, 2019

Why the Admonition?

“Moral Courage and the Civil War” was the perfect title for Elizabeth D. Samet’s superb cover story on Ulysses S. Grant (Autumn 2019). But why the caveat at the end: “The opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, the Defense
Department, or the U.S. Government” ? Such a warning seems antithetical to a magazine dedicated to intellectual rigor. As an American citizen, I would feel more secure knowing that my government fully endorsed the sentiments expressed in Professor Samet’s admiring profile of the heroic general who led an army that emancipated four million people and saved our nation.

Kitty Kelley
Washington, D.C.


Those Who Can Teach, and Those Who Can’t

It seems that there is a general feeling that just about anyone can teach (“The Crisis of University Research,” Richard Drake). This is assuredly not so. Teaching is a skill and an art. Not everyone can do it. The same is true of research. It is unusual to find these two abilities in a single person. Teaching and doing research are such different endeavors that I see no reason that the two should be conjoined.

From my own experience, most researchers have been abysmal teachers. We students come to citadels of higher education expecting to find excellent, articulate—even inspiring—teachers, not incoherent, disorganized ramblers who have no communication skills. The school may well have an attached research facility, but researchers should only teach once they have proved themselves to be excellent teachers. And as often as not, their field of expertise may be limited to the subject of their thesis. To avoid confusing educational excellence with research excellence, it might be best to have more institutions devoted entirely to research in which advanced students and doctoral candidates may obtain hands-on learning.

True, a university’s prestige usually depends largely on the fame of its research faculty—and the quality of a research institution depends on the quality of the work it produces—but truly, schools should be first and foremost places where students are taught. Their prestige should be determined by the excellence of their teachers.

Stephen E. Silver
Santa Fe, New Mexico


Taking Heed of Dvořák

Joseph Horowitz’s “New World Prophecy” is fundamentally sound and well reasoned. In my own writing on music, I have pointed out how the sharp-elbowed modernists dismissed all earlier American music, wiping away some extremely fine composers like George Chadwick, Arthur Foote, Amy Beach, and D. G. Mason, as well as protomodernists like John Alden Carpenter (to say nothing of true originals like Louis Moreau Gottschalk). Aaron Copland, Virgil Thomson, and Paul Rosenfeld have much to answer for, wherever they now are.

One point Horowitz misses is that several white composers did take Dvořák seriously and attempted to incorporate black sources into their work, such as Henry F. Gilbert and even the arch-Yankee Daniel Gregory Mason, whose string quartet is based on several spirituals, most notably “Deep River.” Interestingly, Charles Ives and George Chadwick dissented somewhat from Dvořák, and responded to his call by using “white spirituals” (Ives) or writing original music that sounds like American (Anglo-Celtic) folk music (Chadwick, especially the Fourth Quartet, a masterpiece). John Alden Carpenter is a special case: as early as 1911 in his Violin Sonata, and then in his 1915 Piano Concertino, he wrote movements derived from the blues, surely the first American classical music to do so. And in a more general sense, Carpenter was one of the first American classical composers (Ives was earlier, but his music wasn’t known at the time) to seek inspiration from popular idioms—he once said that the greatest American composer of his age was Irving Berlin.

Vance Koven
from our website


I had the pleasure of attending the PostClassical Ensemble’s performance at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., that centered around Mr. Horowitz’s scholarship and advocacy of these much-overlooked composers. I agree that William Dawson’s Negro Folk Symphony is brilliant and overdue for a revival. I had also wondered about how connections could be drawn to Ives’s work—in college as a music composition student, I remember falling head over heels in love with Ives’s “General William Booth Enters Heaven,” which uses the song “Are You Washed in the Blood” to such eerie, disturbing effect. Whether one considers that a white spiritual or a black spiritual, or a crossover that spans both genres, it’s clearly coming from the tradition that inspired Dawson and illustrates the kind of potential that Horowitz rightly points out could still be further explored in the future of American classical music.

“Alternativity”
from our website


The Man, the Myth, the Legend

Reading Amanda Kolson Hurley’s review of Paul Hendrickson’s Plagued by Fire (“He Contained Multitudes”) brought back fond memories of my speaking to Frank Lloyd Wright. From 1947 to 1950, I was a student at Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Florida, where Wright had designed the chapel and was a frequent visitor. He was peculiar in his dress and egotistical comments. I was a psychology major and did not know of his fame, but I stopped to talk to him several times, asking him about his work. He said he was the only original, creative architect. I recall his saying that other architects copied from him because they did not understand. I don’t know if Wright once said he would be the greatest architect of the 20th century. However, it sounds like something the man I met would have said. Looking at his achievements, some self-praise might be in order.

Kenneth Herman
Wyckoff, New Jersey

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