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Happy! – Dec 14 (Charles Seeger)

Abby Sale 14 Dec 05 - 08:20 AM
Joe Offer 23 Feb 07 - 06:02 AM
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Subject: Happy! – Dec 14 (Charles Seeger)
From: Abby Sale
Date: 14 Dec 05 - 08:20 AM


Happy Birthday!

Charles Seeger

was born on 12/14/1886
(d.2/7/1979)

He was a great early collector in America, ethnomusicologist and head of the Library of Congress Folk Archives for many years and set the tone for much of later collecting. [thanx Peggy & Mike]

In addition to all that, he was father of all the other Seegers (except Ruth). Interesting feller.

Copyright © 2005, Abby Sale - all rights reserved
What are Happy's all about? See Clicky


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Subject: RE: Happy! – Dec 14 (Charles Seeger)
From: Joe Offer
Date: 23 Feb 07 - 06:02 AM

It isn't December 14, but I came across this piece on Charles Seeger in the Bear Family Records Songs for Political Action CD set. I don't see anything here about Charles Seeger working at the Archive of American Folk Song. Could it be that the "Happy! Archive is wrong? Here are the notes from the CD box:
    One of the most significant figures in the American folk revival, composer /ethnomusicologist Charles Seeger championed folk song at a time when leftist intellectuals within the Composers' Collective embraced a more complex musical aesthetic. In a 1988 essay, R.C. Davis said "Charles Seeger gave folk music to time American life ... he was a populizer, and he relinquished intellectual music to the swells in three-piece suits and floor-length gowns, even though it hadn't been entirely theirs to begin with."

    Born December 14, 1886, in Mexico City, Mexico to a prosperous New England family, Charles Louts Seeger was brought up in Boston and studied music at Harvard University. Two years after his 1908 graduation, Seeger accepted the conductorship of the Cologne Opera. He returned to the United States in 1911 and married violinist Constance de Clyver Edson in December. In 1912 Seeger was named chair of the Music Department at the University of California at Berkeley - the youngest full professor in the university's history.

    During these years Seeger was basically apolitical. He was opposed to Socialism until economist Carlton Parker drove him through the San Joaquin Valley. Shocked by the exploitative working conditions faced by migrant workers, Seeger began to take a deep interest in social causes; at one point he was active in the Industrial Workers of the World. While at Berkeley, Seeger continued forging new musical paths. Believing that Charles Ives's music lacked emotion and Arnold Schoenberg's was too rooted in European traditions, Seeger created a new compositional theory built upon dissonant counterpoint. "For Seeger, music had to come from the head and the heart if it was to succeed," David Nicholls wrote in 'American Experimental Music.' Although most of his ground-breaking compositions were lost in a 1923 fire, Seeger's ideas were championed and continued by Henry Cowell, who studied with him between 1914 and 1918.

    During these years, Seeger pioneered the concept of 'musicology' — the study of music within its historical and social contexts.

    Ostracized by the university and his colleagues for his pacifist views during World War I, Seeger returned east in 1918. Soon after the birth of their third child, Peter, the Seegers purchased a trailer and headed south to perform classical music for rural audiences and learn more about Southern customs and folkways. In 1921 Seeger began lecturing at the Institute of Musical Art in New York, where he introduced a course on ethnomusicology.

    Charles and Constance Seeger divorced in 1927. Two years later Charles met Ruth Crawford, a talented composer who had just moved to New York. Burn in East Liverpool, Ohio in 1901, Crawford was raised in Jacksonville. Florida. In 1921 she moved to Chicago to study composition at the American Conservatory. While under the tutelage of Djane Lavoie Herz, Crawford met such progressive composers as Henry Cowell and Edgard Varese. Alfred Frankenstein introduced her to Carl Sandburg; she later transcribed some songs for The American Songbag.

    When Crawford moved to New York, Cowell encouraged a reluctant Seeger to accept her as a student. When Seeger harshly criticized her poetry and her impressionistic compositions, Crawford reportedly destroyed them and began anew. Under Seeger's tutelage, her music became more dissonant, controlled and daring. After receiving a Guggenheim Fellowship in composition in 1930, Crawford spent about a year in Europe, where she met Alban Berg, Bela Bartok, Arthur Honegger and other major composers. Crawford and Seeger married soon after she returned to the United States.

    At Cowell's recommendation, the Seegers joined the Composers' Collective. An offshoot of the Communist Party- affiliated Pierre Degeyter Club, the Collective included many talented composers in the American avant-garde. "The Composers' Collective was probably the first group in the world to attempt a twelve-tone protest song," David King Dunaway wrote in his 1981 biography of Pete Seeger, How Can I Keep from Singing?

    For a 1932 Collective concert, Crawford Seeger composed "Two Ricercari: Sacco, Vanzetti and Chinaman, Laundryman. Based on poems by H.T. Tsiang, the dissonant composition praised the executed Italian-American anarchists and condemned the exploitation of Chinese immigrants, using a mixture of speech and singing.

    By then, Charles Seeger was shifting his musical philosophy. He realized that complex, harmonically sophisticated compositions offered little appeal to the masses. Simultaneously raising worker consciousness and musical tastes was a noble but inevitably futile experiment. Knowing that traditional music had made significant inroads into American popular culture, Seeger argued for music that is national in form but revolutionary in content.

    Seeger's argument for a simpler workers' music became an official doctrine when the Communist Party embraced the Popular Front. It polarized the Composers' Collective; Cowell and Hanns Eisler remained committed to art song, while Elie Siegmeister, Norman Cazden, Ruth Crawford Seeger and Herbert Haufrecht shifted their interests to folk song. A few other members, particularly Earl Robinson, Marc Blitzstein, Lan Adomian and Aaron Copeland sought a neutral ground.

    In 1933 Seeger became associated with folklorist John A. Lomax and his son, Alan. The younger Lomax was fascinated by Seeger's staunch dedication to social and racial issues. Seeger helped fuel Alan's interest in leftist politics, much to the chagrin of his conservative father.

    Between 1935 and 1910 Seeger worked for the U.S. Government under New Deal programs established by the Roosevelt administration. He initially served as technical advisor for the Resettlement Administration, and later became Director of the Federal Music Project of the Works Progress Administration. From 1941 to 1953 he was Chief of the Music Division of the Pan American Union; in that time he published four books and served as a visiting professor at Yale.

    During these years Ruth Crawford Seeger devoted her time to her family and transcribing field recordings for the Archive of American Folk Song within the Library of Congress. She was music editor for John and Alan Lomax's second volume of folk songs, Our Singing Country (Macmillan, 1941). In the late '40s and early '50s Crawford Seeger compiled four books of folk songs for children. In 1941 she briefly returned to music composition when CBS commissioned an orchestration of "Rissolty, Rossolty." Crawford Seeger did not seriously return to composition until 1952, when she wrote "Suite for String Quartet." It was her last major work; cancer struck her in summer 1953 and she died later that year.

    Meanwhile, time Federal Bureau of Investigation began grilling Charles Seeger on his past associations, even dating back to his years in Berkeley. Facing possible embarrassment to the Pan-American Union and to his family, he quietly resigned his post. Seeger remarried in 1955 and returned to California. In 1957 he became a lecturer and later a regents professor at the University of California in Los Angeles. He continued to pioneer new ideas in the field of ethnomusicography until his death in 1979.

    Neither Charles Seeger nor Ruth Crawford Seeger recorded commercially. While rummaging through Pete and Toshi Seeger's barn in search of rare recordings, Ronald Cohen found an unmarked aluminum disc mixed in with various acetates and test pressings. Probably dating from around 1937, it contained the only known recordings of the Seegers. Mike Seeger confirmed the unidentified singer of "The Old Grey Mare" as his mother - a rare solo recording by a woman many now consider one of America's greatest 20th century composers.
The CD has four cuts by Charles and Ruth Crawford Seeger, their only known recordings:
3. LONDON BRIDGES FALLING DOWN (CS)
4. RISSELTY ROSSELTY (CS & RCS)
5. OLD GREY MARE (RCS)
6. HANDS(CS)
peteseeger.net (click) has another biography of Charles.


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