Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
In the final decades of the nineteenth century, American composers turned with increasing frequency to Irish and Scottish sources of inspiration, a trend that manifested not only in songs but also in large-scale instrumental works such as sonatas and symphonies. Though many of these works have been discussed individually, this Celtic turn has yet to be investigated as a response to questions about national musical identity, an issue that had come to dominate musical discourse in America by the end of the century—particularly in the wake of Czech composer Antonin Dvořák’s challenge to American composers in 1893 to forge a national style. Drawing on music analysis and a range of primary sources including contemporary reception and previously neglected archival documents, this dissertation analyzes a selection of works that illustrate the variety of ways American composers engaged with Celticism against the backdrop of American musical identity. While this embrace of Celtic influences spoke in part to the deep roots of Irish and Scottish culture in American life, it did not represent a stereotypical example of musical nationalism. For one, these works were largely politically disengaged, emphasizing a sense of exoticism and escapism that had coalesced around Celticism in recent decades. Furthermore, American composers by and large did not rely on Irish or Scottish folk music to convey Celticness in their works. Rather, they evoked Celticness primarily via the European, mainly German, techniques that formed the stylistic foundation of much nineteenth-century American music. The first half of the dissertation looks at two works by Amy Beach (1867-1944). Beach’s op. 12 settings of texts by the Scottish poet Robert Burns (published 1889-1891) form the subject of chapter one, while chapter two analyzes her Gaelic Symphony (1896). In both, Beach utilizes Celtic folk traditions (Burns’ texts in op. 12; Irish folk tunes in the Gaelic) within a late-Romantic musical framework, relying largely on the latter to express a sense of Celticness. Chapter three analyzes Edward MacDowell’s Fourth Piano Sonata, the “Keltic” (1901), a work in which MacDowell (1860-1908) sought to assert his own Celtic American identity by way of an extramusical program drawn from ancient Irish mythology and a compositional approach that at times mimics a bardic performance. The final chapter looks at two impressionistic settings of texts by W.B. Yeats by the critic and amateur composer, Lawrence Gilman (1878-1939). In these pieces (published in the nationalistic Wa-Wan Press from 1903-1904), Gilman utilizes impressionistic musical techniques to evoke a sense of Celticness rooted in exotic stereotypes purveyed by nineteenth-century writers such as Matthew Arnold. Though relatively obscure, Gilman’s Yeats settings provide valuable insight into his influential criticism, while pointing to the increasingly diverse ways American composers engaged with musical Celticism during the first few years of the twentieth century.
Chair and Committee
Ben Duane, Vincent Sherry, Robert Snarrenberg, Alexander Stefaniak,
Weaver, Daniel, "Celticism and American Musical Nationalism, 1889-1904" (2021). Arts & Sciences Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 2383.