Joseph Horowitz argues that the dominant feature of classical music in America is “a culture of performance.” In the United States, the focal point of that culture has been the symphony orchestra. Classical Music in America: A History of Its Rise and Fall emphasizes the creation and development of the symphony orchestra as a uniquely American institution. During the second half of the nineteenth century, Boston and New York set the standard for this orchestral organization. In each case, regional forces affected the varying character of their orchestras. From there, other major cities added their own distinctive stamp to the orchestral scene.
Opera remained a competing force in this period, and Horowitz pays attention to this phenomenon. However, in the twentieth century, enthusiasm for opera declined while the symphony orchestra took a stronger hold. The book covers the rich life of classical music performances and Horowitz provides lively portraits of major conductors and soloists.
Because the narrative is so thorough, it is somewhat disappointing that Horowitz's documentation is so sparse. No bibliography is provided. Thus, while the book will surely become the standard source on its subject, its minimalist approach to documentation will limit its usefulness for those seeking more information on the many interesting topics that Horowitz has covered. Nonetheless, for its attention to such questions as the interplay between European and American music, the interconnections between popular and classic music, and the impact of the media, Horowitz's lively narrative has permanent value for those with a concern for the future of serious music.