H. Wiley Hitchcock: Changing History

Prentice Hall's Music History Textbooks

FRANK J. OTERI: Now your book on American music came as a result of an entire series of books that was on the history of music which were designed basically, and I think largely still serve as textbooks. I know when I was an undergraduate they were the textbooks that we used in my music survey sequence. All of those books—the book on Baroque music, the Classical period, the Renaissance. What was interesting about the United States book was that it was the only book in the series that focused on the music of one particular country rather than a time period.

H. WILEY HITCHCOCK: That’s true, although officially there was also Gerard Béhague‘s book on Latin American music.

FRANK J. OTERI: But that dealt with a whole continent.

H. WILEY HITCHCOCK: More: the whole subcontinent of Latin America and the continent of South America!

FRANK J. OTERI: And that’s a book that had no precedent and no followers, there is no other book like that.

H. WILEY HITCHCOCK: No, exactly. And it’s out-of-print—regrettably, really regrettably…

FRANK J. OTERI: It’s really a shame. It’s a really good book. Now you were the general editor of that entire series. Did you initiate doing the book on the United States?

H. WILEY HITCHCOCK: Well, it was put to me by the publisher, which was Prentice Hall. They said to me that they would like to get a series of books that could serve as textbooks on the history of music and how would I plan such a series? So the 11 books that were in the series were of my planning, as was the choice of the authors. Now, oddly enough, I had paid my dues to the American musicological establishment, so to speak, not by working in American music but by doing a doctoral dissertation on the French 17th-century composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier. But from the late 1940s I’d been teaching a course on American music, a one-semester course at the University of Michigan where I was teaching. And when I moved to New York in 1961, shortly thereafter, Prentice Hall approached me about this series. And I thought at first, of course, I will do the Baroque book, but I want a book on American music: who can I get for that? And I wasn’t sure whom I could get, and I finally decided, well, I’ll do it. So I did, and suddenly I was an Americanist!

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