Horowitz's panoramic history traces the development of American classical music institutions, performers, and composers from the mid-nineteenth century to the present day. Emerging from such low-brow entertainments as "monster concerts" with multitudes of choral and orchestral performers, so numerous that they could hardly hear each other, the American musical scene came to maturity both in Boston and New York, two locales around which much of the author's chronicle centers. Horowitz's chronicle charts in detail the history of many performing institutions in both these cities, the men who ran them, and those who kept a watchful eye on their doings: the music critics. Orchestras, opera companies and solo performers parade past in dizzying array, kept from totally overwhelming the reader by Horowitz's firm organization, both by chronology and by topic area.
It is the attempt to establish a distinctive and indigenous school of musical composition that most interests Horowitz, and here his discussion is at its most valuable. He gives due weight to names that are now fashionable once again, such as Amy Beach, but also speaks up for some that are still neglected, notably George Whitfield Chadwick in Boston. The distinctive musical cultures that arose in the two cities are painted with a sure hand, resulting in many fascinating revelations: Edward MacDowell's chilly relations with many of Boston's pre-eminent composers, for example, came as a surprise to me. Alas, according to the author, though America has produced many major composers in the twentieth century, a truly distinctive and thriving culture of original composition has never succeeded in establishing itself. Horowitz blames this failure on the cultivation of what amounts to performer worship and the endless recycling of a canon of old masterpieces that took hold after World War I. His conclusions may be arguable, but his observations are unfailingly lucid and engaging. This is a book that will sit by Richard Crawford's recent book on American music, and books on American opera and singing by John Dizikes and Peter G. Davis, on my shelf of frequently consulted sources.