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John Philip Sousa and “The Menace of Mechanical Music”


In 1906 Appleton's Magazine published John Philip Sousa's most celebrated—and vitriolic—article, “The Menace of Mechanical Music.” In it Sousa predicts that piano rolls and recordings will end amateur music making in the United States. Modern writers have often condemned Sousa as a hypocrite (the Sousa Band was itself a major recording ensemble) and chastised him for failing to see the cultural and financial benefits of mechanical music. But, in fact, Sousa's article was part of a larger scheme to gain public support for the 1909 copyright revision. It was also just one step in Sousa's lifelong battle for composers' rights, a battle with five distinct phases: (1) the debate over the right of public performance precipitated by the success of Gilbert and Sullivan in the United States, (2) a test of the limits of contractual obligations between performers and managers, (3) the instigation of an international copyright law, (4) the battle over mechanical rights, and (5) the ability of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) to collect royalties as related to public performance.

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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Michael Ainger . Gilbert and Sullivan: A Dual Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Janet M. Davis “Cultural Watersheds in fin de siècle America.” In A Companion to American Cultural History, ed. Karen Halttunen , 166–80. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Publishing, 2008.

Lisa Gitelman . “Reading Music, Reading Records, Reading Race: Musical Copyright and the U.S. Copyright Act of 1909.” Musical Quarterly 81/2 (summer 1997), 265–90.

Lawrence Lessig . Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy. New York: Penguin Press, 2008.

Thomas Levin . “For the Record: Adorno on Music in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility.” October 55 (Winter 1990): 2347.

Curtis Roads . “Machine Songs IV: The Menace of Mechanical Music.” Computer Music Journal 17/1 (Spring 1993): 1218.

Emily Thompson . “Machines, Music, and the Quest for Fidelity: Marketing the Edison Phonograph in America, 1877–1925.” Musical Quarterly 79/1 (Spring 1995): 131–71.

Patrick Warfield . “Making the Band: The Formation of John Philip Sousa's Ensemble.” American Music 24/1 (Spring 2006): 3066.

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Journal of the Society for American Music
  • ISSN: 1752-1963
  • EISSN: 1752-1971
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-the-society-for-american-music
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