In 1893 the composer Antonin Dvorák foresaw a great and noble school of American classical music based on the searing melodies he had excitedly discovered among Black communities in the United States. Yet his "prophecy" did not come to pass. Horowitz explores the overwhelming whiteness of classical music in America—how it got to be that way and what can be done about it.
Mr. Horowitz writes powerfully and with enviable authority. In examining Thomson’s views, he discusses Van Wyck Brooks’s ideas about a 'usable past.' He connects Ives’s use of vernacular musical sources in the composer’s third symphony with Mark Twain’s use of vernacular speech in Huckleberry Finn. He bolsters his treatment of musical nostalgia by considering nostalgic elements in the paintings of John Singer Sargent. Possibly Mr. Horowitz overrates Ives and underrates Copland, but his positions are always clearly staked out and amply supported ... Horowitz helps us appreciate what treasures we do have.
The book is a timely contribution to our growing national recognition that this type of exclusion characterizes most aspects of American culture ... Against the specter of American racism, Horowitz takes a nuanced look at why Dvorak’s prediction did not come true ... Horowitz, a serious educator, takes his mission seriously. Yet I am concerned that Dvorak’s Prophecy presumes a level of knowledge that many readers will not have and that its meanderings may be difficult to access, even for those steeped in classical music. On the other hand, the book is a sincere and erudite effort to right ignorance and wrongs, and to bring this long-forgotten music into the sunlight.
... it mostly appeals to aesthetic and historical debates about the meaning of 'Black classical music,' resulting in the glaring omission of racism as a structural force with profound effects for individuals ... Despite Horowitz’s earlier attention to an excessive devotion to masterworks, Dvořák’s Prophecy often reads as a jeremiad on the rapidly fading relevance of singular grand narratives ... Much of Dvořák’s Prophecy offers breezy reflections on various Gilded Age touchstones ... In an obvious oversight, Horowitz’s loose conflation of Eurocentrism with whiteness and Americanism with Blackness doesn’t account for racist double standards routinely applied to African American musicians ... Horowitz’s failure to account for these more subtle dimensions of racism aren’t born of ignorance: he excuses himself from doing so with a highly selective use of evidence ... Horowitz’s nonchalance, rooted in meager evidence, severely injures his credibility as an interpreter of racial history ... Horowitz transforms Blackness into an abstract aesthetic category divorced from human bodies ... Horowitz, in short, is simply out of his depth when discussing interracial cultural exchanges ... Ultimately, Dvořák’s Prophecy thus wraps its author’s artistic tastes in an old, loose-fitting historical costume now slightly more tailored to racial concerns.