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Artists in Exile

How Refugees from Twentieth-Century War and Revolution
Transformed the American Performing Arts

An Economist Best Book of The Year

A New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice

During the first half of the twentieth century an "intellectual migration" relocated thousands of artists and thinkers to the United States. For them, America proved to be both a strange and opportune destination.



During the first half of the twentieth century—decades of war and revolution in Europe—an "intellectual migration" relocated thousands of artists and thinkers to the United States, including some of Europe's supreme performing artists, filmmakers, playwrights, and choreographers. For them, America proved to be both a strange and opportune destination. A "foreign homeland" (Thomas Mann), it would frustrate and confuse, yet afford a clarity of understanding unencumbered by native habit and bias. However inadvertently, the condition of cultural exile would promote acute inquiries into the American experience. What impact did these famous newcomers have on American culture, and how did America affect them?

George Balanchine, in collaboration with Stravinsky, famously created an Americanized version of Russian classical ballet. Kurt Weill, schooled in Berlin jazz, composed a Broadway opera. Rouben Mamoulian's revolutionary Broadway productions of Porgy and Bess and Oklahoma! drew upon Russian "total theater." An army of German filmmakers—among them F. W. Murnau, Fritz Lang, Ernst Lubitsch, and Billy Wilder—made Hollywood more edgy and cosmopolitan. Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich redefined film sexuality. Erich Korngold upholstered the sound of the movies. Rudolf Serkin inspirationally inculcated dour Germanic canons of musical interpretation. An obscure British organist reinvented himself as "Leopold Stokowski." However, most of these gifted émigrés to the New World found that the freedoms they enjoyed in America diluted rather than amplified their high creative ambitions.

A central theme of Joseph Horowitz's study is that Russians uprooted from St. Petersburg became "Americans"—they adapted. Representatives of Germanic culture, by comparison, preached a German cultural bible—they colonized. "The polar extremes," he writes, "were Balanchine, who shed Petipa to invent a New World template for ballet, and the conductor George Szell, who treated his American players as New World Calibans to be taught Mozart and Beethoven." A symbiotic relationship to African American culture is another ongoing motif emerging from Horowitz's survey: the immigrants "bonded with blacks from a shared experience of marginality"; they proved immune to "the growing pains of a young high culture separating from parents and former slaves alike."

Advance Praise


“Chock-full of fascinating vignettes, stunning quotations and shrewd insights”
— Phillip Lopate, the New York Times Book Review

This is a staggeringly comprehensive book that manages to be deep as well, and poignant. Most of these artists had been better off at home, but between Hitler and Stalin, they had no home left.  The profit was ours.  Horowitz's writing is beautiful, his tone relaxed, his judgments both measured and bold. The book is a page-turner.

— Joan Acocella, dance critic, The New Yorker

Joseph Horowitz has taken on a job which very much needed doing, and which needed doing specifically by him. He has made a thoroughgoing analysis of that special European emigration in the last century which so deeply influenced, and was influenced by, American culture. Bringing his superbly cultivated, coordinated interdisciplinary approach to bear on the largest possible scale—from the harbinger Dvorak to Stravinsky and Balanchine, from Paris, Berlin, and St. Petersburg to Hollywood and Broadway; from the Russian Revolution to the Cold War— he gathers dozens of extraordinary lives into a chronicle of epic force.

— Arlene Croce

Joseph Horowitz is a master of demystification, peeling away layers of legend in a search for richer, harder truths about the performing arts. He has done the same for the great artistic emigration from Europe to America in the years before the Second World War; reputations are revised, myths dismantled, anecdotes contextualized. Particularly telling is his analysis of how Russians accommodated themselves more easily to the American scene than did Germans, thereby realizing unheard-of possibilities.

— Alex Ross, Music Critic, The New Yorker, author of The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century

Artists in Exile deepens our understanding of U.S. cultural history in the first half of the twentieth century by focusing on the European exiles from war and revolution who helped shape this seminal epoch. Joseph Horowitz’s well-chosen case studies, drawn from the worlds off dance, music, film, and the stage, illuminate not only the creative possibilities but also the sometimes debilitating challenges that arose when Old World sensibilities met New World realities. A superb prose stylist and cultural interpreter, Horowitz writes with critical insight and a keen eye for the telling quote and revealing anecdote. I enjoyed this book and learned a lot from it.

— Paul Boyer (Editor, The Oxford Companion to United States History)

A persuasive examination of the most compelling of twentieth century cultural phenomena, how refugees from all across Europe, running the gamut from George Balanchine to Billy Wilder, revolutionized American artistic life. Erudite, incisive, iconoclastic, as readable as it is comprehensive, this is just the kind of treatment the participants themselves would have relished

— Kenneth Turan (chief film critic, Los Angeles Times)

What were the experience s of European artists when, uprooted from their homeland, they moved to the New World and practiced their trade here? And, between the 1920s and mid-century, what impact did they make—especially in dance, classical music, movies, and theater—on the cultural landscape of America? Artists in Exile responds to these questions in ways both celebratory and critical. Carried forward by Joseph Horowitz’s fascination with what can happen inside the theatrical spaces of the modern performing arts, readers will find their perceptions of The American Dream broadened and deepened by his brilliant account.

— Richard Crawford, author of America's Musical Life: a History

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