Why do so many beloved musical works—by Mozart, Puccini, Leonard Bernstein, and other composers—evoke cultures and peoples that are distant and somehow “different”? In his new book, Musical Exoticism: Images and Reflections, Ralph P. Locke, professor of musicology at the University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music, argues that Western attitudes about foreign cultures and stereotypes about different peoples have played an underappreciated role in the proliferation of Western music from the Baroque era to today.
Locke’s Musical Exoticism, just published by Cambridge University Press, outlines trends in depictions of such locales as Japan, the Middle East, Spain, and Latin America, as well as of Gypsy (Roma) culture. Musical Exoticism reveals how those portrayals have been musically presented in opera, instrumental music, popular song, Broadway musicals, jazz, and film scores. Among the works studied are a dramatic oratorio by Handel, an opera-ballet by Rameau, Mozart’s Rondo alla turca, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, the film score to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and West Side Story. Musical Exoticism is enriched by numerous vivid drawings, paintings, and photographs.
“For decades, I have been fascinated with how Western musicians, not least opera composers, imagine places that are culturally different,” said Locke. “Musical Exoticism: Images and Reflections is a culmination of my research. I chose mostly well-known works, such as West Side Story, where half of the cast is exotic to the other half, and Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio, an opera about a Turkish harem. I want the book to attract specialists but also general readers.”
Locke’s book is receiving high praise from a variety of scholars and critics. Hugh Macdonald, the Avis H. Blewett Professor of Music at Washington University, notes that Locke “offers insights that force us to rethink many of our most firmly held assumptions.” Professor David Nicholls (at University of Southampton, England) describes Locke as “an extremely expert guide to that musical Elsewhere that we all know but little understand.” Sumanth Gopinath of the University of Minnesota admires Locke’s examination of specific compositions and musical styles. “Equally important,” adds Gopinath, “are the book’s lucid prose and accessibility to general readers, which should garner it a wide audience.”
Locke received a $40,000 grant from the National Endowment for Humanities to support his work on the book and devoted the 2006-2007 academic year to its completion.
A member of the Eastman faculty since 1975, Locke is a highly regarded scholar and widely published author on topics ranging from French and Italian opera to American musical life. He is a five-time winner of the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award, which recognizes authors and journalists for outstanding print, broadcast, and new media coverage of music excellence. (The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers presents the award annually.) Locke is senior editor of Eastman Studies in Music, a book series published by the University of Rochester Press; the author of Music, Musicians, and the Saint Simonians; and co-editor of Cultivating Music in America: Women Patrons and Activists since 1860. He has contributed numerous articles to academic journals and major reference books.
More information about Locke’s book can be found at http://www.cambridge.org/us/catalogue/catalogue.asp?isbn=9780521877930 .
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