Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Real American Music for the 4th

My weekly classical music radio program I host on WTJU, "Gamut," lands on the 4th of July, and I've been thinking quite a lot about programming. I will definitely NOT be airing the 1812 Overture (as I explained in Retiring 1812 for the 4th). And I'd like to stay away from the typical fare: Sousa marches, Bernstein, Gershwin, Copland's "Appalachian Spring," John Williams film scores.

So what does that leave?

Plenty.

Most Americans -- even those who enjoy classical music -- seem unaware of the rich classical music heritage this country has. There really is more to American classical music than Samuel Barber's "Adagio."

Tomorrow morning I'll definitely be airing some shape note selections. In the late 1700's several itinerant and self-taught composers wrote hymns for the burgeoning spiritual revival sweeping through the new country. William Billings, Supply Belcher, and others created fuguing tunes, a uniquely American style of hymnody.

And then there's the Moravian school of the 1700's. Moravian settlers in Pennsylvania and South Carolina brought their love of music with them. Their ensembles regularly performed Mozart, Haydn, and other European composers of the day -- often playing the American premiers of their works. The body of compositions created by American Moravians is based on the early Classical style.

There are also several important American composers of the 1800's, who looked for a balance between American music and European concert traditions. Louis Moreau Gottschalk was a piano virtuoso who rivaled Franz Liszt in popularity, with compositions based on New Orleans folk melodies.

And Edward MacDowell, known today for just a single piano piece, but respected in his day for his orchestral compositions as well. MacDowell was part of the Second New England School, which also included important composers, such as Horatio Parker, George Chadwick, and John Knowles Paine

Moving into the 20th Century, there are the many colleagues of Copland and Barber: William Schuman, Paul Creston, Roy Harris and Howard Hanson -- respected perhaps more in Europe than in their own country.

Virgil Thompson wrote important music based on American themes, as did Randall Thomson. Henry Cowell composed a series of "Hymn and Fuguing Tunes" inspired by William Billings.

I could also go with some distinctively American composers -- Charles Ives, Harry Partch, Carl Ruggles and other unique artists.

Moving into more recent times, there are the minimalists, such as Steve Reich, John Adams, and Philip Glass, who are internationally recognized. And many, many more.

I've got a lot to choose from -- over 200 years of music -- but I know two things. My show tomorrow morning will be made up exclusively of American music that hasn't been overplayed, and that music will be great.

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