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Mehrens, Christopher E.

From Wonderland to Poictesme: The Antimodernism of Deems Taylor

Ph.D. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, in progress

Deems Taylor (1885-1966) was one of the most visible figures in American art music during the 1920s. Known for his activities, in New York City, as an intellectual, critic and composer, Taylor has been described as a conservative or post-Romantic. Taylor, however, was neither a conservative nor a post-Romantic (although his music and criticism superficially evince these traits) but rather an antimodernist. Recent scholarship in the field of cultural and intellectual history has demonstrated that the "antimodern impulse" was pervasive in American culture during the period which marked the emergence of modernism. Defined as a "retreat to oriental or medieval aesthetics, the pursuit of intense physical or spiritual experiences, and the search for a sense of self sufficiency," antimodernism was a guiding force in Taylor's life and work during the 1920s.

This dissertation traces the antimodernist impulse in Taylor's life and work, beginning in the late 1880s and ending in 1925 (the year that he received the Metropolitan Opera commission for his "first" opera, The King's Henchman). Particular emphasis is placed on his education at New York's Ethical Culture School, his critical writings for the New York World, his significant article on music for Harold Edmund Steams's Civilization in the United States: An Inquiry by Thirty Americans, and his correspondence with James Branch Cabell, leader of the "Exquisite" literary movement.