Extreme Exoticism: Japan in the American Musical Imagination.

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Date: Fall 2021
Publisher: University of California Press
Document Type: Book review
Length: 2,120 words
Lexile Measure: 1620L

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Extreme Exoticism: Japan in the American Musical Imagination, by W. Anthony Sheppard. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019. xiv, 623 pp.

W. Anthony Sheppard's book Extreme Exoticism is a rich, encyclopedic account of influences on American creative artists from the moment when Commodore Perry's gunboat diplomacy "opened" Japan to the wider world in 1854 through the ever-increasing absorption of Japanese music by composers in the United States after the turn of the twenty-first century. In his introduction he explains that "extreme exoticism" refers to the "extreme" foreignness of Japan's music and culture, and not to the character of the influenced artifact. Included in his eye-opening discussions of the aesthetic imagery that characterizes the "musical imagination" of "America" are examples of classical and popular music, stage plays, and films. He explores how creative artists are influenced by direct contact with Japanese music or indirectly through literature and philosophy. His method is to draw conclusions about the changing and continuing attitudes of artists and audiences through analysis of exemplary works that illustrate the persistence and pertinence of representations of Japanese music and culture. A reader of this provocative and lengthy essay with an interest in intercultural relations will find ample rewards.

Chapter 1 introduces a constellation of themes that emerge already in the nineteenth century and reemerge afterward as leitmotifs of the creative responses to an exotic and enigmatic culture of music making. Quotations illustrate the mystification of early travelers upon hearing music in Japan. An untoward first impression of Japanese music by Edward Sylvester Morse tapped his curiosity, and his lessons on singing the music of the noh theater led to an appreciation of its expressive qualities. Ernest Fenollosa's extensive and detailed notes on noh were admired by Ezra Pound, and the novels and poems of his wife, Mary Fenollosa, established a genre of literature describing music in Japanese life and culture that was exploited by many writers. Lafcadio Hearn's poetic and far-reaching stories and essays on Japanese life and the wonders of its natural environment, encapsulated in his diary Gleanings in Buddha-Fields (1897) and other writings, were to become inspirational resources. The work of musical missionaries Luther Whiting Mason and Edward H. House introduced Western music into Japanese educational institutions, thereby creating a cultural change that was to become problematic for later Western musicians who feared that traditional forms of Japanese music might be lost.

In the period 1890-1930, cultural and musical japonisme assumed evergrowing prominence in the United States. A military victory in the Russo-Japanese War in 1905 spawned the production of Japanese-inspired popular songs. Chapter 2 identifies "the particular features that served as Japanese 'markers' in the music, lyrics, cover art, and staging" (p. 56) of songs, and shows how these songs influenced American perceptions of Japan. In the rich tapestry laid out and stitched together in this chapter, Sheppard describes how prominent models of japonisme arrested the attention of the public and induced heightened activity among imitators. The "Japanese Festival Village" created by Isabella Stewart Gardner at...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A696486491