Afro-American Folksongs - online book

A Study In Racial And National Music, With Sample Sheet Music & Lyrics.

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to imitate them. These elements are the rhythmical propulsion which comes from the initial syncopation com­mon to the bulk of them (the "snap" or "catch" which in an exaggerated form lies at the basis of "ragtime") and the frequent use of the five-tone or pentatonic scale. But there is much more that is characteristic in this body of melody, and this "more" has been neglected because it has not been uncovered to the artistic world. There has been no study of it outside of the author's introduction to the subject printed years ago and a few comments, called forth by transient phenomena, in the "Tribune" news­paper in the course of the last generation. This does not mean that the world has kept silent on the subject. On the contrary, there has been anything but a dearth of newspaper and platform talk about songs which the negroes sang in America when they were slaves, but most of it has revolved around the questions whether or not the songs were original creations of these native blacks, whether or not they were entitled to be called American and whether or not they were worthy of consideration as foundation elements for a school of American composition. The greater part of what has been written was the result of an agitation which followed Dr. Antonin Dvorak's efforts to direct the attention of American composers to the beauty and efficiency of the material which these melodies contained for treatment in the higher artistic forms. Dr. Dvorak's method was eminently practical; he composed a symphony, string quartet and string quin­tet in which he utilized characteristic elements which he had discovered in the songs of the negroes which had come to his notice while he was a resident of New York. To the symphony he gave a title—"From the New World"— which measurably disclosed his purpose; concerning the source of his inspiration for the chamber compositions he said nothing, leaving it to be discovered, as it easily was, from the spirit, or feeling, of the music and the character of its melodic and rhythmic idioms. The eminent com­poser's aims, as well as his deed, were widely misunderstood at the time, and, for that matter, still are. They called
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