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Open Access Publications from the University of California

From “Greater America” to America’s Music: Gilbert Chase and the Historiography of Borders

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This essay considers the hotly debated U.S. border and its relationship to music historiography vis-à-vis the unconventional career of Gilbert Chase (1906-92), the first U.S. musicologist to take seriously the music of the Spanish-speaking world. I draw on his papers, housed at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, to suggest that little-known facts of Chase’s scholarly perspectives can give us food for thought in the fraught present. Central here are two visions of “American music,” both rooted in politics. One, the concept of “Greater America,” dates from the 1920s through World War II and informed Chase’s scholarly vision early on. Another vision, one that effectively reinforced U.S. superpower status, grew out of the Cold War. Paradoxically, it is Greater America, which Chase abruptly abandoned—as did U.S. society at large—that holds out the greatest promise today.

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