A Kirkus Reviews Best Nonfiction Book of 2021
A provocative interpretation of why classical music in America "stayed white"—how it got to be that way and what can be done about it.
In 1893 the composer Antonin Dvorák prophesied a "great and noble" school of American classical music based on the searing "negro melodies" he had excitedly discovered since arriving in the United States a year before. But while Black music would found popular genres known the world over, it never gained a foothold in the concert hall.
Joseph Horowitz ranges throughout American cultural history, from Frederick Douglass and Huckleberry Finn to Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess and the work of Ralph Ellison, searching for explanations. Challenging the standard narrative for American classical music fashioned by Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland, he looks back to literary figures—Emerson, Melville, and Twain—to ponder how American music can connect with a "usable past." The result is a “new paradigm” that makes room for Black composers including Harry Burleigh, Nathaniel Dett, William Dawson, and Florence Price to redefine the classical canon.
About the Author
A former New York Times music critic, Joseph Horowitz is the author of ten books exploring the history of American music, including Classical Music in America and Artists in Exile –both named books of the year by the Economist. He lives in New York City.
A clarion call for American classical music to ‘acquire a viable future.’ . . . [F]eisty and opinionated but always backed by solid evidence. Essential cultural history.
— Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Dvorák's Prophecy is a passionately-argued and -written book that will stir deep and long, long overdue discussion…Horowitz is a master of the hitherto unrevealed, and he's on his best game in this book.
— Dale Cockrell, author of Everybody's Doin' It: Sex, Music, and Dance in New York 1840-1917
Dvorák's Prophecy…will facilitate much-needed discussion about the way we regard the American classical music traditions—discussions not at all limited to the classroom.
— Larry Starr, author of American Popular Music: From Minstrelsy to mp3
This is an important, passionate, and timely book that traces how American classical music lost its past—and suggests how to reclaim that past and create a vital future.
— J. Peter Burkholder, author of Listening to Charles Ives: Variations on His America
Joseph Horowitz...reveals a hidden musical history that can have a rich and profound influence on the future of music in our country.
— JoAnn Falletta, Music Director, Buffalo Philharmonic
Dvorák's Prophecy will become a flashpoint for necessary conversations not only about the performing arts, but also broader issues of import: race, American historiography, and the search for our national soul.
— Lorenzo Candelaria, Dean of the Blair School of Music, Vanderbilt University
In his exploration of the unused past of Dvorák, Ives, Farwell, Burleigh, Dett, Dawson, Price and Gershwin, Joseph Horowitz invites us to a marvelous rediscovery… A feast awaits, both in this book and in the music it describes.
— Allen C. Guelzo, James Madison Program in American Ideal and Institutions, Princeton University
Joseph Horowitz’s Dvorák's Prophecy is unique in its emphasis on the connections between major nineteenth-century American literary figures like Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, and Mark Twain and American classical music, and it is admirable in its demonstration of the centrality of African American literature, culture, and history to both the American musical tradition and the American literary tradition.
— Brian Yothers, author of Reading Abolition