From the Center for American Music Preservation



A Survey of American Composers:
From Colonial Days to Our Time




from the 18th century and the
Father of American Choral Music,

William Billings (1746-1800)


to the composer of
the official U.S. Centennial cantata in 1876

Dudley Buck (1839-1909)


to the Dean of 20th century American composers,

Aaron Copland (1900-1990)

into the 21st century,
and the composer-in-residence on this web site,

Roger Lee Hall (b. 1942)





Earlier American Vocal Composers

The Celebrity Composers and Overlooked Others

Is Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings really a song?

Recommended Music Books and DVDs

CD Reviews

American Classical Composers Web Poll

Magazine Hall of Fame Survey

AMRC Recordings of music by earlier American composers

Related AMP Links

Associate Web Links


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Earlier American Vocal Composers



For musicians, music teachers, students and listeners,
a sampling of recordings covering 150 years of music,
from the New England singing school composers of the 18th century,
to early 20th century classical composers.






Centennial of Scott Joplin's Opera
(published 1911)


CD Review:

PORGY AND BESS - conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt (2009)





The Celebrity Composers



We live in a time when more emphasis is given to celebrities and that includes certain composers who are receivers of this worship.

Over the past fifty years or so, most of the attention has been paid by record companies and conductors to only a handful of American composers from the 20th century who might be called...

The Famous Five



Samuel Barber

Leonard Bernstein

Aaron Copland

George Gershwin

Charles Ives

These composers are all worthy of great respect and admiration, yet there are other American composers worth appreciation, who might be called,

The Overlooked Others

Other composers have had their music available on recordings include:

Amy Beach

Howard Hanson

Scott Joplin

William Schuman

William Grant Still

Randall Thompson

These composers are often overlooked by today's celebrity conductors and major orchestras.

Also, there are composers from the 19th century who deserve more attention. Among them are these composers, all born in the 1850s:

George Whitefield Chadwick (1854-1931)

Edwin Arthur Jones (1853-1911)

George Templeton Strong (1856-1948)

And two others as well:

Dudley Buck (1839-1909)

Charles Tomlinson Griffes (1884-1920)

Of course there are many composers who could be added to this list of overlooked others.

Among most classical record labels, there is a tendency to pay attention to only "The Famous Five."

One of the few exceptions is Naxos Records which has had an excellent American music series [see the CD review links below].

To help correct this deficiency, there is a need to encourage research and performances of lesser known American composers and their music in colleges, universities and music schools.

Another way is to distribute information, such as on this web site.

One formerly neglected area now receiving more attention is film music.

For more information on this subject, go to
Film Composers and Soundtracks

See the list of rare music and interviews with classical composers available in the American Music Recordings Collection (AMRC)

Also, the list of Composers in America and the Essential American Recordings Survey.


Is Samuel Barber's Adagio For Strings
really a song?

Barber's Adagio

Barber's Adagio


In his book, This Will End In Tears: The Miserabilist Guide To Music,
Adam Brent Houghtaling included a list at the back of the book with
"The 100 Saddest Songs."

The No. 1 title on this very strange list was Barber's Adagio For Strings, according to a BBC user poll in 2004.

Now the question has to be asked -- is this piece of music really a "song"?

A song by definition has both words and music. This Barber piece has music only.

Many years after it was composed, Barber did add words to his poignant (that doesn't mean it's "sad") music and he titled it, "Agnus Dei." But that is a choral piece and still not a song in the traditional sense since it is best classified as a sacred chorus. That choral piece is not even mentioned in Houghtaling's book, though he does give a detailed description of Barber's musical career and a listing of his major compositions.



American Adagios

American Adagios



Platoon (1986 Film) - And Songs From The Era

PLATOON Soundtrack


So why then call it the "saddest song"? I believe it is because of the association to its use in the 1986 film PLATOON. In that context in the film it is played as a somber accompaniment to the horrible casualties of the Vietnam War.

There are also a few other classical pieces on the Top 100 list:

"Dido's Lament" by Henry Purcell (No. 14)
"Der Abschieb" (The Farewell) by Gustav Mahler (No. 26)
"Mille Regretz" by Josquin Des Prez (No. 34)
"Dies Irae" by Thomas of Celano (No. 46)
"Der Ldiermann (The Hurdy-Gurdy Man) by Franz Schubert (No. 61)
"Con Onor Muore (To Die With Honor) by Giacomo Puccini (No. 67)
"Adagio in G minor" incorrectly attributed to Tomaso Albinoni (No. 74)
"Cantus In Memory of Benjamin Britten" by Arvo Part (No. 79)
"Prelude in E minor" by Frederic Chopin (No. 85).

A very odd assortment of classical pieces!

Did Samuel Barber intend for his beautiful Adagio For Strings to be used only for somber or tragic occasions? No.

This is just another example at how misinformed many writers can be about music classifications.

So, in the final analysis, Barber's Adagio does not belong on the list of 100 saddest songs. Will it be corrected in the next printing of the book? Probably not.

It will remain a "song" to the mis-informed public.

-- Roger Lee Hall



A Few Recommended Music Books and DVDs...

DVD: Leonard Bernstein and OMNIBUS television series, 1954 to 1958

DVD: "As Time Goes By": A Guide to Film Music by Roger Hall

Book: And They All Sang: Adventures of an Eclectic Disc Jockey by Studs Terkel

Book: For The Love of Music: Invitations to Listening by Michael Steinberg
and Larry Rothel

Book: George Gershwin: His Life and Work by Howard Pollack

Book: Hallelujah Junction: Composing an American Life by John Adams

Book: The Hollywood Film Music Reader by Mervyn Cooke

CD Reviews


The Music of America series:
Samuel Barber, Leonard Bernstein,
Aaron Copland, Charles Ives,
John Williams
(Review by R. L. Hall)


American Piano Concertos: Barber, Copland, Gershwin (S.A. Kennedy)

(S. A. Kennedy)

JAZZ NOCTURNE: American Concertos of the Jazz Age (S.A. Kennedy)

MOBY DICK and Sinfonietta -- music by Bernard Herrmann (S.A. Kennedy)

JOHN KNOWLES PAINE: Symphony No. 1; As You Like It Overture;
Shakespeare’s Tempest

PIANO MUSIC I: CIRCLES OF FIRE -- music of George Rochberg (S.A. Kennedy)

PORGY AND BESS (3 CD Set) -- music by George Gershwin (R. L. Hall)

(S.A. Kennedy)

SERENADA SCHIZOPHRANA -- music by Danny Elfman (S.A. Kennedy)

SONGS IN TRANSIT - music by Tom Cipullo, Lori Laitman, Lee Hoiby, Melanie Mitrano, Beth Anderson, Gene Pritsker, Allen Jaffe, Paul Moravec, David Del Tredici (R.L. Hall)

SYMPHONIES NOS. 5 and 6 and ACCELERATION -- music by Roy Harris
(S. A. Kennedy)

music by Erich Wolfgang Korngold (S.A. Kennedy)

SYMPHONY NO. 8 -- William Schuman/ VARIATIONS ON "AMERICA" by Charles Ives (arr. Schuman)(S.A. Kennedy)

VINTAGE AMERICA -- Callico Winds (R. L. Hall)

VIOLIN CONCERTOS -- Miklos Rozsa and Erich Wolfgang Korngold (S.A. Kennedy)


Magazine Hall of Fame Survey

In the June 2011 issue of Classic FM Magazine published in the UK, out of the Top 300 Classical Works, only 10 American classical works (excluding film soundtracks) were chosen by its listeners and were on the so-called "Superchart" covering the years 1996 to 2011.

They are listed with survey numbers in reverse order:

291: Candide (Leonard Bernstein)
270: Rodeo (Aaron Copland)
253: Piano Concerto (Philip Glass)
148: Violin Concerto (Philip Glass)
140: Violin Concerto (Samuel Barber)
139: Fanfare For The Common Man (Aaron Copland)
115: Appalachian Spring (Aaron Copland)
87: The Ashokan Farewell (Jay Ungar)
46: Rhapsody in Blue (George Gershwin)
11: Adagio For Strings (Samuel Barber)

Four composers in The Famous Five were chosen by Classic FM listeners: Barber, Bernstein, Copland and Gershwin. Three of them are in The Music of America CD series.

But why so few American works in this Top 300 Hall of Fame Survey?

Would the same results occur in an American published music magazine?


But where are the curious listeners in search of different composers?

What would scholars or conductors select as their favorite classical works?

Would they select any works by American composers?

Would you like to offer your opinion of this survey or send in your own list of favorite works?

Send your list or comments to:

Hall of Fame Survey




AMRC Recordings of music
by earlier American composers


click here







If you have researched music by an American composer from the past and would like to submit a short essay or report, click on this link for the



Related AMP Links

American Music Timeline

American Music Recordings Archive [AMRA]

American Composers Series

Essential American Recordings Survey [EARS]

Film Music Review [FMR]

New England Music Archive [NEMA]

New England Composer No. 1: William Billings

New England Composer No. 2: Supply Belcher

New England Composers No. 3: Edwin Arthur Jones

New England Composers No. 4: George Whitefield Chadwick

PineTree Music

Preserving American Music - DVD series

Tribute To Leroy Anderson

Tribute to Aaron Copland

Tribute To Edward MacDowell

Tribute to George Templeton Strong

Tunemaker Hall of Fame



Associate Links

If you have a website and would like to be listed as an Associate Web Link,
send all pertinent information to:

American composers




International Center for American Music

The International Center for American Music (ICAMUS) promotes knowledge and appreciation of American music and music making in the US. The Center maintains an inclusive orientation towards musical life in the United States, from its beginning to contemporary time. Significant attention is devoted to Early American Music. The Organization focuses on the study of musical sources, and on the unity and integration of research, teaching, performance and experimentation.

Society for American Music (Resources)

The mission of the Society for American Music is to stimulate the appreciation, performance, creation and study of American musics of all eras and in all their diversity, including the full range of activities and institutions associated with these musics throughout the world.

Song of America

We invite all lovers of song to explore connections between poetry and music, between history and culture, through the work of American composers and poets. Song of America is a database resource where you can listen to songs, learn more about them, read their lyrics, find scores, and link to relevant Web sites.































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American Music

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American Composers


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