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
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Centennial of Scott Joplin's Opera
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 and Overlooked Others
Is Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings really a song?
Recommended Music Books and DVDs
American Classical Composers Web Poll
Magazine Hall of Fame Survey
Related AMP Links
Associate Web Links
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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 Overlooked Others
Other composers have had their music available on recordings, include:
Amy Beach, Howard Hanson, Scott Joplin, William Schuman, William Grant Still, and Randall Thompson.
But they are often overlooked by today's conductors.
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 T. 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" and neglect "The Overlooked Others."
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
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?
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,
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 is sung a cappella and 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.
So why then call it the "saddest song"? I believe it is because of the association in the 1986 film PLATOON and perhaps other films too. In that context in the film it is played as a somber accompaniment to the horrible casualties of the Vietnam War.
And what is the title of the second song on the Top 100?
It is "Strange Fruit" as sung by Billie Holiday. Now that is a reasonable choice and qualifies as a "saddest song."
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 sad occasions? No.
It is usually played in concert halls as part of a diverse program of classical works.
This is just another example at how misinformed many listeners can be about the correct music categories.
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?
-- Roger Hall
For another example of what might incorrectly be called a "sad song" see
The True Story of "Goin' Home"
Recommended Music Books and DVDs...
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
A History of Film Music
by Mervyn Cooke
Hitchcock's Music by Jack Sullivan
DVD: Preserving Our Musical Past by Roger Lee Hall
The Music of America series:
Samuel Barber, Leonard Bernstein,
Aaron Copland, Charles Ives,
John Williams (Review by R. Hall)
THE 18TH CENTURY AMERICAN OVERTURE (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)
PIANO MUSIC I: CIRCLES OF FIRE -- music of George Rochberg (S.A. Kennedy)
PORGY AND BESS (3 CD Set) -- music by George Gershwin (R. Hall)
THE RED VIOLIN CONCERTO and PHANTASMAGORIA -- music by John Corigliano
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. 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
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)
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
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
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)
Lincoln and Liberty
New England Music Archive [NEMA]
New England Composers No. 1: Edwin Arthur Jones
New England Composers No. 2: George Whitefield Chadwick
The Total Musician
Tunemaker Hall of Fame
Associate Web Links
If you have a website and would like to be listed as an Associate Web Link,
send all pertinent information to:
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 - directed by Thomas Hampson
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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