Man of Many Titles

The Pan American Association of Composers was founded in 1920s in New York. The main purpose was to showcase and spread the music of North, Central and South American composers to other parts of the world. This group wanted to introduce Indian and mestizo style music (instrumentation, rhythm and melodies) to their European counterparts. One of the main creators of this association was Edgard Varese, who had previously organized the International Composers’ Guild from 1921 – 1927. Interestingly, Varese who was from Europe (France) did not want to return to neoclassicism, which is the path he believed some European composers were headed. For his committee of vice presidents, he included Henry Cowell, Carlos Chavez, Carl Ruggles, and Emerson Whithorne. Cowell, Ruggles and Emerson were American and Chavez was from Mexico. Soon Nicolas Slonimsky came on board as their main conductor. Their goal was to premiere as much new music as possible in New York as well as overseas. It seems Slonimsky played a major role in this endeavor. Perhaps one could even call him a musical ambassador of sorts.Nicolas-Slonimsky-top

Nicolas Slonimsky, best known as pianist, conductor and composer was born in Russia. In 1923 he came to the United States and later became an American citizen. I am not certain of how he initially became involved with the Pan American Association of Composers but through his time and talent, Slonimsky kept the PAAC afloat for its short life. His European tours between 1931 and 1932 made an impact on world music and fulfilled the associations purpose to spread the music of America, Cuba and Mexico to European ears (Paris, Berlin, Budapest). As some examples state in Deane L. Root’s article, The Pan American Association of Composers (1928-1934), negative reviews were heavily given toward these musical tours. But Slonimsky carried on and made it one of his missions to keep going even when there was massive disapproval from the critics.
After reviewing other accomplishments in Slonimsky’s life (his resume is far too lengthy to mention here but it includes being an instructor at several conservatories and writing books such as “Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns” and “Lexicon of Musical Invective” which many musicians still use today), it is evident that this man was a “go getter” and perhaps the perfect representative that the PAAC could have appointed as conductor for these tours. Even after much adverse publicity, Nicolas Slonimsky prevailed in keeping the Pan American Association mission alive with his excellent conducting (if there were any compliments given, it was usually toward Slonimsky’s skills as a director). Oddly enough in 1933 his conducting career came to a halt, not because of his tours with the PAAC but from a conducting gig at the Hollywood Bowl. Apparently, in Las Angeles, not many people were enthusiastic to hear this new contemporary music that he showcased in New York and Europe. Slonimsky was snubbed by Hollywood.

Pianist, yes. Composer, yes. Conductor, yes. Musicologist, yes. Writer, yes. Ambassador…I would also include this as another descriptive title for Nicolas Slonimsky, though it is not an official one. Just imagine the conversations and interactions he must have had with other important musicians and composers during his time with the Pan American Association of Composers. Credit should be given where it is due and Slonimsky’s contribution to this musical movement deserves just that.
-Laura Aguirre

Bialosky, Marshall. 1980. “A Brief History of Composers’ Groups in the United States.” College Music Symposium. Last modified January 16, 2014. Accessed March 26, 2017.

Britannica Academic, s.v. “Edgard Varèse,” accessed March 26, 2017,
Britannica Academic, s.v. “Nicolas Slonimsky,” accessed March 26, 2017,
Hubler, Shawn. “Nicolas Slonimsky, Conductor and Lexicographer, Dies : Music: Russian-born scholar’s knowledge and body of work were legendary. He was 101.” Los Angeles Times, December 27, 1995. Accessed March 26, 2017.

Paula Morgan. “Slonimsky, Nicolas.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed March 26, 2017,

Vivian Perlis. “Pan American Association of Composers.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed March 26, 2017,

Yourke, Electra Slonimsky. “About.” 2017. Accessed March 26, 2017


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