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Key, Susan

"Sweet Melody Over Silent Wave": Depression-Era Radio and the American Composer

University of Maryland at College Park
(skey@wam.umd.edu)

By 1930 the American musical community was enthusiastic about radio's potential both to increase music appreciation and to provide American composers an audience of unprecedented proportions. The ensuing decade saw extensive discussion of and experimentation with music on radio, including a number of initiatives supporting new American composition. Although the NBC Symphony under Toscanini became a bastion of nineteenth-century Germany repertoire, the CBS and Mutual networks were more adventuresome, featuring works by American composers ranging from the now-classic Aaron Copland to the now-obscure Sylvia Smith. More broadly, the commentary and controversy over music programming illuminate the ideological dynamics of the Depression era: shifting attitudes toward high and low culture, the aims and methods of mass cultural uplift, the proper character of American cultural identity, and the optimum relationship between government and media. "Sweet Melody Over Silent Wave" will reconstruct as complete a record as possible of new American composition on network radio, analyze the stylistic features of music composed for broadcast, and examine the interaction of music, technology, and ideology.