American Composers



From the 19th century,
and the best known
professional song composer,

Stephen Foster (1826-1864)

 

to the 20th century,
and the Dean of American Composers,

Aaron Copland (1900-1990)


into the 21st century,
with the composer and moderator of this web site,

Roger Lee Hall

New CD: Celestial Praises - A Celebration of Shaker Spirituals

 

Contents

 

Two American Operas

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

Web Submissions

Related AMP Links

Associate Web Links

 

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Centennial of Scott Joplin's Opera
(published 1911)

 

CD Review:

PORGY AND BESS - conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt (2009)

 

"What you want wid" Gershwin's folk opera, PORGY AND BESS?

Read composer Stephen Sondheim's critical comments at this blog,

The New York Times

 

 

The Celebrity Composers

 

 

We live in a time when more emphasis is given to celebrities and that includes certain composers.

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

But 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 overlooked 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 also the list of rare music and interviews with classical composers available in the American Music Recordings Archive [AMRA]

And 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. But 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 the correct 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.

-- Roger Hall

 

 

Recommended Music Books and DVDs...

 

DVD: Composers in America - A Survey in Sound by Roger Lee Hall

DVD: Film Music Master: A Tribute To Bernard Herrmann

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

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

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

George Gershwin: His Life and Work by Howard Pollack

Hallelujah Junction: Composing an American Life by John Adams

Hitchcock's Music by Jack Sullivan

CD Reviews

 

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

THE 18TH CENTURY AMERICAN OVERTURE (S.A. Kennedy)

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

HUNGARIAN SKETCHES and CELLO RHAPSODY -- music by Miklos Rozsa
(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)

THE RED VIOLIN CONCERTO and PHANTASMAGORIA -- music by John Corigliano
(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)

SYMPHONY in F# and MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING --
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?

Perhaps.

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

 

Web Submissions

 

Essay: Leonard Bernstein: The Total Musician by Jeffrey Dane

Essay: The Vanishing American Composer by Steven A. Kennedy

 

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

Guidelines

 

Related AMP Links


American Music Timeline (1640-1890)

American Music Recordings Archive [AMRA]

Composers in America

Essential American Recordings Survey [EARS]

Film Music Review (online magazine)

New England Music Archive [NEMA]

New England Composers No. 1: Edwin Arthur Jones

New England Composers No. 2: George Whitefield Chadwick

PineTree Music

Preserving American Music DVD series

Tribute To Leroy Anderson

Leonard Bernstein: The Total Musician

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

 

 

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

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