Florida State professors win top honor for book on American music

The Irving Lowens Memorial Book Award is the most distinguished honor bestowed by the Society for American Music, and this year it goes to a scholarly tour de force coauthored by noted musicologists Denise Von Glahn and Michael Broyles of The Florida State University College of Music.

“In the field of American music, it doesn’t get any better than this prestigious prize,” said Don Gibson, dean of the college.

The book by Von Glahn and Broyles, “Leo Ornstein: Modernist Dilemmas, Personal Choices” (Indiana University Press, 2007), is the result of eight years of collaborative research and thought. It earned the award in recognition of its outstanding contribution to American music studies. The ambitious work was deemed tops in a highly competitive field of books published in 2007. Judges spent 2008 reading each entry, then formally recognized the winning writers in late March at the society’s 2009 national conference in Denver.

“With the publication of their book and its selection as this year’s Lowens Memorial Book Award winner, Dr. Broyles and Dr. Von Glahn have again demonstrated the remarkably high quality and extraordinary impact of their scholarly research in the area of American music,” Gibson said. “Their enthusiasm and engagement as scholars provides a wonderful model for our Florida State music students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.”

Don Gibson
Don Gibson

Broyles and Von Glahn received a monetary award in addition to a citation from the Society for American Music.

“Our book traces the meteoric rise and heretofore inexplicable disappearance of the Russian-American, futurist-anarchist, pianist-composer Leo Ornstein from his 1906 arrival in the United States through a career that lasted nearly a century,” said Von Glahn, an associate professor and the director of Florida State’s Center for Music of the Americas. “For a time, Ornstein enjoyed a kind of celebrity granted to few living musicians. Then, he turned his back on it all.”

Using journals, interviews, and letters from a wide circle of his friends and acquaintances, the book tracks Ornstein’s escape from the horrors of the Russian pogroms, and situates the Russian-Jewish-American musician as he carved out an identity amid World War I, the flu pandemic and the Red Scare.

“While telling Ornstein’s story, the book illuminates the stories of thousands of immigrants with similar harrowing experiences, and in illuminating his central role in several artistic and literary networks, it challenges the traditional chronology and narrative regarding the emergence of musical modernism in America,” Von Glahn said.

“We are gratified to know that our work is read and recognized by a knowledgeable audience, and especially by our peers,” said Broyles, a musicology professor who joined the Florida State faculty in 2008 after serving as a Distinguished Professor of Music and professor of American history at Pennsylvania State University. “Each of us has previously published books on different American music topics, but this project, the culmination of many years of joint research, further enhances our understanding of American culture.”

A widely published expert on American music and music of the Classic era, especially Beethoven, Broyles is writing a book, “Beethoven in America,” on how the legendary composer and pianist is viewed, interpreted and used in American culture, both in the scholarly world and in popular culture. Broyles has won two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Two of his books, “Music of the Highest Class: Elitism and Populism in Antebellum America” and “Mavericks and Other Traditions in American Music” (both published by Yale University Press), have been named an Outstanding Academic Title by Choice magazine, which provides reviews for academic libraries.

Von Glahn, a Florida State faculty member since 1998, specializes in American music and 20th-century musical modernism, with a focus on the interactions between music and larger social and cultural conditions. Her work has appeared in numerous journals and collections, and has covered wide-ranging topics such as Transcendentalism and the Civil War. Her book “The Sounds of Place: Music and the American Cultural Landscape” (Northeastern University Press) also won recognition from Choice as an Outstanding Academic Title and, in addition, garnered a 2004 ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award. Currently, she is writing “Skillful Listeners: American Women Composers and Nature,” an examination of 10 composers whose works have been inspired and informed by the natural world.

The musicologists say they are considering working together on another project. That collaboration would trace the impact on American musical culture of the influential Mason family (Lowell, William, Henry and Daniel), which worked in all areas of American music from hymn writing, publishing and instrument manufacture to university administration and music criticism.

To learn more about The Florida State University’s celebrated College of Music and its award-winning faculty, go to music.fsu.edu.