Louis Horst

Musician in a Dancer’s World

Louis Horst

Book Pages: 302 Illustrations: 29 b&w photographs Published: May 1992

General Interest > Biography, Letters, Memoirs, Music, Theater and Performance > Dance

From his musical beginnings as a piano player in gambling houses and society cafés, Louis Horst (1884-1964) became one of the chief architects of modern dance in the twentieth century. How a musician untrained in dance came to make such a mark is told here for the first time in rich detail.
At the center of this story is Horst's relationship with Martha Graham, who was his intimate for decades. "I did everything for Martha," Horst said late in life. Indeed, as her lover, ally, and lifelong confidante, he worked with such conviction to make her the undisputed dance leader in the concert world that Graham herself would later remark: "Without him I could not have achieved anything I have done." Drawing on the conversation and writings of Horst and his colleagues, Janet Mansfield Soares reveals the inner workings of this passionate commitment and places it firmly in the context of dance history.
Horst emerges from these pages as a man of extraordinary personality and multifaceted talent: a composer whose dance scores, such as the one for Graham's Primitive Mysteries, became models for many who followed; a concert pianist for American dancers such as Doris Humphrey and Helen Tamiris, as well as their German counterparts; an editor and writer whose advocacy for American dance made him a leading critic of his time; and, above all, a teacher and mentor whose work at the Neighborhood Playhouse, the Bennington School of Dance, American Dance Festival, and Juilliard helped shape generations of dancers and choreographers.
Richly illustrated, sensitive to intimate detail and historical nuance, this comprehensive biography reveals the raison d'etre underlying Horst's theories and practices, offering a wealth of insight into the development of dance as an art form under his virtually unchallenged rule.


“An act of love as well as a major contribution to the history of American dance, Louis Horst presents a comprehensive biography of a most unusual man.” — Art Times

“Horst is widely recognized as a seminal figure who helped to elevate modern dance to a full-fledged American art. . . . As [Martha] Graham’s close collaborator he created scores for her masterworks and systemized a composition theory for modern dance. . . . The definitive chronicle of Horst’s years in dance.” — Publishers Weekly

“Louis Horst provides an important link in the understanding of the relativity of music and dance within the matrix of modernist art. . . . Soares’s book confirms the true stature of Louis Horst as the Father of Modern Choreography.” — Ernestine Stodelle , Notes

“No matter how many times it is repeated, the importance of Louis Horst to the art of American Modern Dance cannot be overstated.” — Bert Wechsler, Attitude Magazine

"A wonderful book about a remarkable man who inspired and instructed generations of American dancers." — Martha Clarke, Director/Choreographer

"Louis Horst—cantankerous, loveable—all but spanked American modern dance into existence. As accompanist to all the pioneer choreographers, as composition teacher to countless young dancers, as Martha Graham's music director, guide, and lover, he deserves this biography. It has the depth that only fine research can give and the affectionate understanding that only a former pupil and assistant can reveal." — Deborah Jowitt, Dance Critic, Village Voice

"Ms. Soares makes it clear that Louis Horst was a trailblazer, indispensable not only to Graham's efforts but to a system of teaching and evaluating dance composition that laid claim to a new and vital art form—one that expressed life in a new century with a new movement language. . . . The humility and particular genius of the man comes through, as a musician willing to serve the dance, as a mentor willing to serve the choreographer, and as a visionary championing a new breed of artists." — Peter Sparling, Chair, Department of Dance, University of Michigan (Former Principal Dancer, The Martha Graham Dance Company)


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Janet Mansfield Soares first met Louis Horst as a young dancer at Juilliard. She became his assistant while pursuing a career as a performer and choreographer under his tutelage. Since 1964 she has taught dance composition courses based on his work at Juilliard and Barnard College, where she is currently the Chair of the Dance Department.

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Recipient, 1993 special citation

Winner, 1993 Choice Outstanding Academic Books

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Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-1226-0
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