Books December 1994
A review of Skyscraper Lullaby: The Life & Music of John Alden Carpenter by Howard Pollack.
No grave is as deep as that of the once-popular composer whose works go unheard after his death. Seventy years ago, John Alden Carpenter (1876–1951) was widely regarded as one of this country’s leading composers; today, he is little more than a footnote in the more thorough histories of American music. Had he been a woman or a member of a protected minority group, Carpenter would doubtless now be the subject of a full-scale revaluation, complete with foundation-subsidized recording sessions. But his middle name tells the story: not only was John Alden Carpenter a man, he was a wealthy scion of the sort of family that used to be called “distinguished.” (He was descended from John and Priscilla Alden through his paternal great-grandmother.) There is precious little love lost in the world of grantsmanship for such privileged folk. Thus the embarrassingly derivative music of Amy Beach is exhumed for the delectation of earnest feminists,...
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