The Indian character piece for solo piano (ca. 1890-1920): A historical review of composers and their works

Stephanie Bruning
Conservatory of Music, University of Cincinnati
June, 2005
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The Indianist Movement is a title many music historians use to define the surge of compositions related to or based on the music of Native Americans that took place from around 1890 to 1920. Hundreds of compositions written during this time incorporated various aspects of Indian folklore and music into Western art music. This movement resulted from many factors in our nations political and social history as well as a quest for a compositional voice that was uniquely American. At the same time, a wave of ethnologists began researching and studying Native Americans in an effort to document their culture. In music, the character piece was a very successful genre for composers to express themselves. It became a natural genre for composers of the Indianist Movement to explore for portraying musical themes and folklore of Native-American tribes. Although there were some common procedures for incorporating Indian themes, many composers had different philosophies about how to create their Indian character pieces. Eventually the enthusiasm for using Native-American material died out and left a large body of piano literature collecting dust, out of print, and virtually unrecognized. Through a perspective of cultural relativism, this study reviews and provides information on every known Indian character piece for solo piano and their composers from the Indianist Movement. The purpose of this study is to revive the Indian character piece and promote the Indianist Movement as an important part of Americas musical past, which undoubtedly impacted the direction of twentieth-century music.