Irving Berlin by Charles Hamm
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Irving Berlin
By Charles Hamm

Irving Berlin

Songs from the Melting Pot - The Formative Years, 1907-14

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Format: Hardback

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Irving Berlin by Charles Hamm

Book Description

Irving Berlin remains a central figure in American music, a lyricist/composer whose songs are loved all over the world. His first piece, 'Marie from Sunny Italy', was written in 1907, and his 'Alexander's Ragtime Band' attracted more public and media attention than any other song of its decade. In later years Berlin wrote such classics as 'God Bless America', 'Blue Skies', 'Always', 'Cheek to Cheek', and the holiday favourites 'White Christmas' and 'Easter Parade'. Jerome Kern, his fellow songwriter, commented that 'Irving Berlin is American music.' In Irving Berlin: The Formative Years, Charles Hamm traces the early years of this most famous and distinctive American songwriter. Beginning with Berlin's immigrant roots - he came to New York in 1893 from Russia - Hamm shows how the young Berlin quickly revealed the talent for music and lyrics that was to mark his entire career. Berlin first wrote for the vaudeville stage, turning out songs that drew on the various ethnic cultures of the city. These pieces, with their Jewish, Italian, German, Irish, and Black protagonists singing in appropriate dialects, reflected the urban mix of New York's melting pot. Berlin drew on various musical styles, especially ragtime, for such songs as 'Alexander's Ragtime Band', and Hamm devotes an entire chapter to the song and its success. The book also details Berlin's early efforts to write for the Broadway musical stage, culminating in 1914 with his first musical comedy, Watch Your Step, featuring the popular dance team, Vernon and Irene Castle. A great hit on Broadway and in London, the show was a key piece in the Americanization of the musical comedy. Blessed with prodigious ambition and energy, Berlin wrote at least 4 or 5 new songs a week, many of which were discarded. He nevertheless published 190 songs between 1907 and 1914, an astonishing number considering that when Berlin arrived in America, he knew not a single word of English. As one writer reported, 'there is scarcely a waking moment when Berlin is not engaged either in teaching his songs to a vaudeville player, or composing new ones.' Early in his career, Irving Berlin brilliantly exploited the musical trends and influences of the day. Hamm shows how Berlin emerged from the vital and complex social and cultural scene of New York to begin his rise as America's foremost songwriter.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780195071887
ISBN-10: 0195071883
Format: Hardback
(244mm x 165mm x 25mm)
Pages: 304
Imprint: Oxford University Press Inc
Publisher: Oxford University Press Inc
Publish Date: 27-Mar-1997
Country of Publication: United States

Books By Author Charles Hamm

Putting Popular Music in its Place by Charles Hamm Putting Popular Music in its Place, Paperback (November 2006)

Essays on the context of popular music and its interrelationships with politics and ideology.

Music in the New World by Charles Hamm Music in the New World, Hardback (August 1983)

A panoramic study of American music details the historical events, personalities, and cultural influences that have played a significant role in the development of the various types of music in the United States.

» View all books by Charles Hamm

Reviews

US Kirkus Review » A comprehensive study of the first seven years of songwriting (ending with his first Broadway musical) from one of America's most popular songwriters. Hamm (Music in the New World, 1983, etc.) presents Berlin as the product of the "radically multicultural milieu" of turn-of-the-century New York City, with its range of musical styles, which influenced Berlin's early music. Hamm thus provides background on vaudeville, minstrel shows, ragtime, the ballad, and, of course, Tin Pan Alley. The book is substantiated by informed analysis of musical devices and social trends, and reproductions of sheet music - including both decorative covers and musical notation. Sometimes the attention to detail distracts: Hamm properly devotes an entire chapter to Berlin's 1911 hit "Alexander's Ragtime Band,"which Variety called "the musical sensation of the decade." Hamm, professor emeritus of music at Dartmouth, applies rigorous research to determine whether the melody or words were written first, whether the instrumental or vocal version was the first produced, who first performed the song, etc. In the process, he takes on previous Berlin biographers in academic fisticuffs. Hamm seems the better researcher, but perhaps obsessively so. The book is geared to the Berlin scholar or the armchair fan - with some knowledge of music theory - who has already devoured a few biographies and wants to go much deeper. Appendix 3 (compiled by Paul Charosh), for instance, catalogs the songs of the period and notes recording companies, artists, etc., but nowhere lists a recording readily available to the general public. Though Hamm's arguments are well made, his overly academic approach stifles the very exuberance so endemic to the works of this popular songwriter. (Kirkus Reviews)


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Author Biography - Charles Hamm

Charles Hamm, the Arthur R. Virgin Professor Emeritus of Music at Dartmouth College, is perhaps the most prominent writer about American popular music today. He has recently published a critical edition of all of Berlin's early songs.

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