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Crossing Borders I: the historical context for Ravel’s North American tour

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  • Nicholas Gebhardt


Through a close analysis of Ravel’s 1928 tour of the United States, this essay explores the social context in which the first generation of modernist composers from Europe engaged with North American popular music. Gebhardt argues that Ravel's integration of these musical styles into his own practice, particularly the syncopated dance music of ragtime and jazz, cannot be studied apart from the mass response he and other European composers received in the United States and the social conditions which made such a response possible. Central to the reception of European artists was the growing status and importance of the entertainment industry, which ensured the success of Ravel’s tour, but also produced a series of counter-movements or cultural reversals amongst performers, composers and audiences. The purpose of this chapter is to examine Ravel’s tour in terms of these transformations and consider its significance for clarifying the meaning of musical modernism.