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Widespread Classical Music: Prime American Composers (Half III)

By Dr. Bjorn Mercer
Program Director, Communication, Humanities, Music, Philosophy, Religion and World Languages Programs, American Public College

This text is Half III of a six-part sequence on the recognition of classical music.

America has some actually nice composers who’ve contributed to the classical music repertoire. U.S.-born composers have been creating music beginning within the late 1830s to 1860s with the so-called Second New England College with the likes of John Knowles Paine, George Whitefield Chadwick, Arthur Foote, Edward MacDowell, Eleanor Sophia Smith, Horatio Parker and Amy Seaside.

These composers have been all born within the U.S., educated in Europe, largely by Germans, and have been lively within the northeast, particularly in Boston. On a facet notice, the First New England College loosely describes American-born songwriters from the late 18th century who wrote similar to William Billings.

The following era of composers after the Second New England College is the place we begin getting U.S. composers whose music is remembered as we speak and whose coaching was extra diverse. The listing features a wider vary of people that characterize America. To start out, there are numerous articles on the highest American composers and in nearly all of them embody conventional classical composers similar to Aaron Copland, jazz composers similar to Duke Ellington, and movie and Broadway composers similar to Cole Porter and Richard Rodgers.

Having classically educated and jazz composers on the listing is uniquely American. While you have a look at different lists of prime composers, the French, German, Italian, and Russian lists embody, for probably the most half, solely classical composers. They’re musicians who have been educated within the classical custom, labored within the classical subject (for probably the most half), wrote for classical ensembles, and made their dwelling, or main passion, with classical music. After all, whenever you have a look at the European international locations’ lists, they return over 500 years, whereas the lists of American prime composers solely return to the mid- to late-Nineteenth century.

To get an thought of who’re the highest American composers, we are going to have a look at just a few lists on the web. The primary listing comes from Gramophone, the well-known report label that now has an lively classical music web site.

● Samuel Barber, Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein and Charles Ives

● John Adams and Philip Glass

● Steve Reich

● John Cage

● George Gershwin

● Eric Whitacre

The following listing comes from Classic FM, a classical music radio station with an incredible web site that has a world attain:

● Leonard Bernstein

● John Williams

● Igor Stravinsky

● Eric Whitacre

● Philip Glass

● Elmer Bernstein

● Steve Reich

● Samuel Barber

The final listing comes from Ranker, an internet site that enables customers to vote for his or her favourite composers (composer rankings could change over time):

· George Gershwin

· Aaron Copland

· Samuel Barber

· Leonard Bernstein

· Charles Ives

· Duke Ellington

Beginning with Ranker, it is sensible that George Gershwin is the preferred American composer on a ballot that ranks composers based mostly on reputation. Gershwin is at all times probably the most “exciting” of the composers along with his accessible type of jazz, his charisma, his fascinating life and story, and his unlucky demise on the younger age of 38.

Due to his “Rhapsody in Blue” and “An American in Paris,” Gershwin’s reputation has been within the consciousness of People as a result of these works have been utilized in movie, TV, ads, and in common classical concert events (particularly pop concert events). His fame rightfully can be based mostly on his Broadway choices together with “Lady Be Good,” “Oh, Kay!,” “Funny Face,” his “Concerto in F,” and naturally, his opera “Porgy and Bess.”

Coupled with Gershwin, Aaron Copland is usually on the prime of most polls about American composers and is ranked both primary or two on Ranker relying on the day. Aaron Copland is a type of American composers who discovered his fame after World Battle I, studied in France with Nadia Boulanger and was one of many proponents of the “American” sound of classical music. His fame rests on many items however his extra well-known works embody his ballets “Rodeo,” “Billy the Kid,” “Appalachian Spring” and his “Fanfare for the Common Man.”

Now, ought to Gershwin and Copland be ranked primary and two? I’ll reply this with a no and an evidence. Any of the highest six composers on the Ranker listing will be listed as primary, two, three, 4, 5 – 6. These six composers — Gershwin, Copland, Barber, Bernstein, Ives, and Ellington — are nearly at all times rated as the preferred American composers within the U.S. and on the worldwide classical music scene.

Samuel Barber, like Copland, is among the extra easy classical composers who has many works which are fashionable within the American live performance halls. Though not as well-known as Copland, his “Adagio for Strings” is understood by anybody who has watched movies during the last three many years. As well as, “The School for Scandal,” “Music for a Scene from Shelley,” “Essay for Orchestra,” “Second Essay for Orchestra” and “Knoxville: Summer of 1915” are all fashionable works nonetheless carried out.

Charles Ives is the one composer on this listing who is really distinctive amongst his American classical friends. Ives is extra of a up to date of members of the latter a part of the Second New England college being compositionally lively within the first 20 years of the 1900s after which largely not composing by the Nineteen Twenties.

In comparison with the opposite prime 5 composers Ives’s compositions aren’t typically carried out as we speak as a result of they’re adventurous and push the bounds of kind, instrumentation, and dissonance. They have been forward of their time by nearly 50 years. A few of Ives’s essential works embody his “Symphony No. 2,” “Central Park in the Dark,” the “Unanswered Question” and “Three Places in New England”.

Igor Stravinsky made an interesting statement about Ives in 1966: “Poly-tonality; atonality; tone clusters; tone rows; multiple orchestras; a rhythmic vocabulary which maintains a lead on the avant-garde even now; micro-intervals; perspectivism effects; chance; statistical composition; permutation; add-a-part, practical-joke, and improvisatory music: these were Ives’s discoveries a half-century ago as he quietly set about devouring the contemporary cake before the rest of us even found a seat at the same table.”

Duke Ellington, the one jazz composer within the prime six, is really an American icon. As a result of Ellington comes from the jazz custom, he isn’t at all times on the American classical composers lists. However together with jazz throughout the American custom of classical music just isn’t solely essential, however vital.

Jazz is America’s solely distinctive contribution to world music. Together with jazz as a considerable artwork is assumed as we speak versus in the course of the twentieth century when jazz was nonetheless thought-about “popular” music and jazz musicians have been discounted by the classical “elite.”

Ellington’s music ranges over a 50+ yr profession that features pop songs similar to “Black and Tan Fantasy” and “Caravan,” extending to symphonic works similar to “Harlem”, and movie scores similar to “Anatomy of a Murder.” Duke Ellington’s music and his persona looms massive within the American ethos and his inclusion among the many biggest American composers is greater than justified.

Duke Ellington round 1946. Library of Congress.

If there’s one composer within the prime six who might be changed by another person, it’s Leonard Bernstein. Quite a lot of his fame rests on his massive persona and his many years as conductor and face of the New York Philharmonic.

Though Bernstein discovered nice fame with “West Side Story,” his opus just isn’t as full as the opposite composers; nor does his compositional affect loom massive over his contemporaries or the next era of composers not like Copland, Gershwin, Ives, and Ellington.

Within the subsequent a part of the sequence “Popular Classical Music,” we are going to have a look at the numerous different well-known American composers of the final 100 years.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer is a Program Director. He holds a bachelor’s diploma in music from Missouri State College, a grasp’s and doctorate in music from the College of Arizona, and an MBA from the College of Phoenix. He writes about tradition, management, and why the humanities and liberal arts are vital to profession success. Dr. Mercer additionally writes children’s music.

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