Camastra, Nicole Josephine
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Although the Modernists lauded progressive attitudes toward the arts, Ezra Pound’s injunction to “make it new” did not necessarily proscribe the old, familiarity with which provided the best way to achieve his example. A strong interest in the nostalgic past characterized American literature of the era, especially the fiction of Willa Cather, Ernest Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Memorializing experience meant idealizing it to a degree, and Romantic music in particular helped express impressions of the individual and collective past with which the period and these writers were so preoccupied. Stemming from the Impressionism that precipitated the early twentieth-century aesthetic, a focus on sensory experience defined the capstones of the new literary era to which Cather, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald belonged. The trademark styles of all three authors therefore urge the suggestion to listen to their writing in addition to reading it. Doing so means reevaluating the tendency to align Modern authors and their fiction with twentieth-century music, especially jazz. Ubiquitous as it was, it could not offer an adequate paradigm for certain structural and thematic concerns. Romantic music did, and as an older aesthetic, it also provided an idiom commensurate with the nostalgic tone of particular works of fiction. Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9, From the New World, inspired the theme of My Ántonia (1918). The variations genre, especially Johannes Brahms’s Variations on a Theme by Haydn, and the castrati tradition relate to the form and content in two of Hemingway’s short stories from Winner Take Nothing (1933), “Homage to Switzerland” and “God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen.” Finally, Franz Schubert’s Heine Lieder seem to have galvanized Fitzgerald’s development of Dick Diver, the protagonist in Tender is the Night (1934). Using a musical hermeneutic for these works depends on reading them as inherently nostalgic for an artistic impulse that was subsumed by a more progressive, avant-garde one. Ultimately, inspiration rests in suggestion, not duplication, and the way in which an author crafts musical influence becomes its own kind of performance.