Leo Ornstein

Leo Ornstein

Modernist Dilemmas, Personal Choices
Michael Broyles and Denise Von Glahn
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 10/15/2007
Format: Hardback 50 b&w photos, 12 figures, 4 color photos
ISBN: 978-0-253-34894-4
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Winner, Irving Lowens Book Award

Leo Ornstein: Modernist Dilemmas, Personal Choices traces the meteoric rise and heretofore inexplicable disappearance of the Russian-American, futurist-anarchist, pianist-composer from his arrival in the United States in 1906 through a career that lasted nearly a century. Outliving his admirers and critics by decades Leo Ornstein passed away in 2002 at the age of 108. Frequently compared to Igor Stravinsky and Arnold Schoenberg, for a time Ornstein enjoyed a kind a celebrity granted few living musicians. And then he turned his back on it all. This first, full-length biographical study draws upon interviews, journals, and letters from a wide circle of Ornstein's friends and acquaintances to track the Ornstein family as it escaped the horrors of the Russian pogroms, and it situates the Russian-Jewish-American musician as he carved out an identity amidst World War I, the flu pandemic, and the Red Scare. While telling Leo Ornstein's story, the book also illuminates the stories of thousands of immigrants with similar harrowing experiences. It also explores the immeasurable impact of his unexpected marriage in 1918 to Pauline Mallet-Prevost, a Park Avenue debutante.

Leo Ornstein: Modernist Dilemmas, Personal Choices finds Ornstein at the center of several networks that included artists John Marin, William Zorach, Leon Kroll, writers and activists Paul Rosenfeld, Waldo Frank, Edmund Wilson, and Clair Reis, the Stieglitz Circle, and a group of English composers known as the Frankfurt Five. Ornstein's story challenges directly the traditional chronology and narrative regarding musical modernism in America and its close relation to the other arts.

Author Bio

Michael Broyles is Distinguished Professor of Music and Professor of American History at The Pennsylvania State University.

Denise Von Glahn is Associate Professor of Musicology and Director, Center for Music of the Americas, in the College of Music at Florida State University.


“This first ever full-length biography of Ornstein examines the life of an American import who shook up the music scene.”

“. . . this book is a valuable resource on a neglected pianist/composer. . . . Highly recommended.”
 — Choice

“Leo Ornstein's story has for far too long languished in the pending tray of music history. In this lively, thoughtful, and meticulously researched volume, Michael Broyles and Denise Von Glahn finally afford Ornstein the attention he deserves, firmly establishing his importance to early-twentieth-century modernism, before exploring and explaining his descent into, and subsequent return from, historical oblivion. The tale they tell is as fascinating as it is bizarre.”
 — David Nicholls, contributing editor of The Cambridge History of American Music

“. . . this book is a welcome biography of an innovator who has been neglected in America’s musical history for too long. Broyles’s and Von Glahn’s detailed research easily proves their claim that Ornstein should be counted among the innovators of musical modernism and in turn provides a credible answer as to why Ornstein suddenly disappeared from the public eye; but for that answer you will have to read the ending. Volume 65, Number 1, Sept. 2008”
 — Mark D. Porcaro, University of Dayton

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Table of Contents

1. Jacob Titiev's Story
2. From Institute to Bandbox
3. Circles and Triangle and Networks and Nets
4. The Bandbox and After
5. Identity
6. The Turning Point
7. The Philadelphia Years
8. Return from Oblivion
Appendix 1. Table of Ornstein Compositions