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Bruce Springsteen sings "The Rising" at the 2002 MTV Video Music Awards, a song written in response to the events of September 11th.
(AP / Wide World Photo)
The history of the arts in America is characterized by two strong sources of inspiration and the resulting tension: European sophistication and native originality.
Blues is originally an American type of music that, as far as we know, has no direct European or African models. When the two musical traditions began to combine to ultimately become the blues, the slaves sang songs that told of their extreme suffering and hardship. Most of the blues were sung in the south. It did not spread north until the 1930s and 1940s when many blacks migrated from the south to the north. In the 1920s, the blues was increasingly used by jazz instrumentalists.
Jazz has its roots in New Orleans in the early 20th century. At that time it consisted of a mixture of ragtime, slave songs and brass music. Jazz remained the pre-eminent direction of modern American music from the 1920s through the 1940s. In the 1930s and 1940s, the most popular form of jazz was the "Big Band Swing", named after the large ensembles led by Glenn Miller and William "Count" Basie. In the late 1940s, audiences began to get excited about a new, more intellectual form of instrumental jazz, be-bop. Rhythm & Blues was a combination of jazz and other musical styles with lyrical content, acoustic gestures and the format of the blues. The era of rhythm and blues lasted from the late 1940s to the early 1960s.
The merging of rhythm & blues and country & western music in the mid-1950s gave rise to rock and roll. In order to bring the new music closer to the conservative audience, white musicians began to play rhythm & blues songs with a less strong beat and slightly more reserved lyrics. At the beginning of his career, Elvis Presley also copied black singers. Soon, however, Presley was singing his own pieces, given to him by a new generation of rock and roll songwriters.
Folk music emerged as a competition to rock & roll. It was largely based on ballads from Scotland, England, and Ireland that had survived in regional enclaves such as the mountains of North Carolina and West Virginia. Bob Dylan made folk music widely known with his new songs about current social problems, especially denial of civil rights for black Americans. The rift between the two camps - the rock enthusiast and the folk purists - became apparent when Dylan was booed at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival for playing an electric guitar. Instead of being put off, Dylan led the whole folk movement towards a mixture of rock and folk.
Like folk, country music is based on English, Scottish and Irish tunes. At festivals that take place every year in many southern states, bands still play the original form of country music. Modern country music developed in the 1920s, roughly at the same time as the increasing migration of rural populations to cities. Like so many other styles of American pop music, country music lends itself to the rhythm of rock and roll, and the resulting country rock is another well-made American mix.
Due to their complexity and diversity, it is hardly possible to give a simple description of the contemporary music scene. The history of pop music since the 1970s is essentially a history of rock music that has now spanned hundreds of musical genres. New styles such as folk, salsa, new wave, funk, reggae, heavy metal, acid rock, punk rock, rap, hip hop, acid jazz, techno, R&B and world music have emerged.
Until the end of the 19th century, there was no classical music in the US in the true sense of the word, ie symphony, opera, chamber music, sonatas etc. In 1895, the composer Antonin Dvorak asked his American colleagues to use local sources as inspiration and material . As an example of what is feasible, he offered his “New World” symphony, which is inspired by sacred music and Indian rhythms.
At the beginning of the 20th century, American composers began to create a considerable variety of distinctly American classical music. They were inspired, among other things, by the immigrants' desire for assimilation, political isolationism, the exciting rhythms of jazz and a “can-do” attitude. Composers like George Gershwin and Aaron Copland combined melodies and rhythms of the New World with European forms of music. Characteristics of the composition in the greater part of the 20th century, and especially for the period after the Second World War, are the joy of experimentation and the constant search for new systems of how music can be written, for new forms and new styles.
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