Puritanism, Geography, and the Myth of American Individualism
In the 1920s, American composers were true mavericks—that is, highly eccentric and individualistic—yet were successful because they self-organized in tightly knit societies. In this process, they demonstrated a pattern found throughout American history: a radical vision attained through communalism. Charles Ives, Carl Ruggles, and Charles Seeger are three such maverick composers who strongly adhered to a thoroughgoing and systematic dissonance, where one finds traces of Puritanism. Harry Partch is most directly and overtly associated with the myth of American individualism, one whose music is essentially communal. John Cage seemed to be indifferent to geography, a reflection of his own disassociation from community. Cage's anticommunalism is entirely consistent with his purpose of non-intention, and his position is curiously close to some aspects of minimalism. La Monte Young also disdained the idea of community. A special edge that marked American history, the edge of chaos between nature and civilization, was recognized by both Frederick Jackson Turner and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
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