Words on Music, Perhaps: The Writings of Arthur Berger
Kobuskie, Jennifer Miriam
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When Arthur Berger (1912–2003) is mentioned in the history books, it is often as a mid-20th century American composer, or a practitioner and teacher of music theory who, during his tenure at Brandeis University, had trained a generation of theorists and composers. This dissertation aims to demonstrate that Berger made one of his most significant contributions to the history of 20th-century music as a writer of prose. As a full-time critic, his work was featured in major newspapers of New York and Boston, and nationally distributed periodicals. He helped found two music journals, contributed regularly to others, and authored two books. For decades, his voice was widely heard and broadly influential. His aesthetic views, stated boldly and unapologetically, helped shape the post-WWII discourse on modern, particularly American music, and continue to impact both public and scholarly debate on this topic. This study surveys Berger’s personal history as a writer, including his career as a music critic, his involvement with the creation of the scholarly journal Perspectives of New Music, his pioneering biography of Aaron Copland, and his seminal article on Stravinsky’s octatonicism. The dissertation also offers a detailed, comprehensive analysis of Berger’s voluminous corpus of writings, both published and unpublished, as well as his personal archive of notes, drafts, and correspondence, in order to elucidate his aesthetic principles, and his views on a broad variety of subjects related to modern music, such as neoclassicism, nationalism, innovation and tradition, the music of Stravinsky, Copland, and their American successors, as well as the role of classical music in American culture, and the place of American music in the world. Finally, the study is concerned with the reception of Berger’s ideas, his personal aesthetic evolution, and his lively involvement in his own reception.