This article investigates the musical thought and stylistic evolution of the American modernist composer Ruth Crawford Seeger (1901-1953) in her formative years. It shows the relationship of style and idea to what she termed "spiritual concept": the core of her transcendental modernism. The sources of Crawford's spiritual aesthetics are Theosophy, Eastern religious philosophy, nineteenth-century American Transcendentalism, and the imaginative tradition of Walt Whitman. Thus Crawford drew on an eclectic legacy of ideas that had been linked in American intellectual life since the turn of the century. Documentation of her thought is based on unpublished diaries, poems, and correspondence. The mediation between style and idea is discussed in terms of the influence of two composers, Scriabin and Dane Rudhyar, and specific compositional procedures, such as: (1) the local referential gesture, exposed through expressive terminology like "mystic," "veiled," and "religioso"; (2) the hidden program, in which an untitled work is revealed to have an extra-musical context; and (3) the free, imaginative recreation of Eastern sacred chant. Music discussed includes the Sonata for Violin and Piano, the sixth and ninth prelude for piano, and the Chants for Women's Chorus.
- Copyright 1990 The American Musicological Society, Inc.