Selling the North American Indian:
The Work of Edward Curtis

Created by Valerie Daniels, June 2002

A Vanishing Race

Indianist Music | The Musicale | Ads and Reviews

The Indianist Music Movement

In the 1890s, Bohemian composer Antonín Dvorák urged American composers to develop their own national music. Arthur Farwell led a group of young composers to take up this challenge by leaving behind traditional European music and incorporating the sounds of Native American and African American music into their own compositions. In order to promote this new music, Farwell created the Wa-Wan Press, named for an Omaha tribal ceremony, in December 1901. The Press published vocal and instrumental compositions along with program notes. Farwell outlined his movement's mission in 1903 in "A Letter to American Composers."

Henry Gilbert

One of the young composers to join Farwell's movement was Henry Franklin Belknap Gilbert, pictured left. Gilbert composed several songs based on the music of Native Americans and African Americans. In addition, he collaborated with Edward Curtis to transcribe the wax cylinder recordings of Indian music collected during Curtis's work on The North American Indian. Gilbert composed several of his own pieces based on these recordings, and traveled with Curtis to perform the musical accompaniment to Curtis's picture opera, A Vanishing Race. Below are five of the compositions that came out of this collaboration.*

By The Arrow

In the Kutenal Country

On the Jocko

Signal Fire to the Mountain

The Night Scout
* All above songs from The American Indianists, Prod. Frederick Schumaker, Perf. Dario Muller, 2 vols, HNH International Ltd., 1994.

The Musicale

In the winter of 1911-1912, Edward Curtis toured the country with his "musicale," or "picture-opera," A Vanishing Race. The musicale combined Curtis's lectures, such as "The Intimate Story of Indian Tribal Life" and "The Indians of the Southwest," with photographs, motion pictures, and Gilbert's music. Despite some positive reviews, and Curtis's own enthusiassm about the musicale, it was not the financial success that he had hoped. Curtis toured once more in the 1912-1913 season, but when this tour failed financially as well he took the show off the road.

Below are links to a recreation of one of the slide shows using Curtis's photos and Gilbert's composition, "The Kutenai of the Lakes," as well as scripts and program notes from the lectures "The Intimate Story of Indian Tribal Life" and "The Indians of the Southwest."

Ads and Reviews

Click on the links to view advertisements for and reviews of A Vanishing Race. Note that the Review from Musical America was written by Arthur Farwell, the head of the Indianist Music movement.

Musical America
November 25, 1911

Bulletin of the Archaeological Institute of America
June 1912

Richmond Times-Dispatch
February 1, 1912

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