Classical music is so much more than Beethoven and Mozart! While their work was and is amazing, there are many talented composers right here in the U.S. (past and present) that you have likely never heard of. In a truly American way, each of the composers featured below had a vastly different approach to what classical music written in the U.S. is and should be.
A small survey of an expansive and fascinating world…
John J. Becker (1886-1961)
John J. Becker, a member of the American Five, wrote his first dissonant piece in 1929 and felt that the more typical “tonal” music was too reminiscent of European classical music. Becker believed wholeheartedly that classical music from the U.S. should be derived from the American experience.
Soundpiece No. 1 for Piano and Strings
Amy Beach (1867-1944)
Amy Beach was known as the Dean of American Woman Composers and was the first prominent female composer in the U.S. She was a prodigy pianist and composer who loved performing but dedicated much of her life to serious composition at the request of her husband. Her music is very rich, melodic, and tonal, and is largely derived from traditional European classical music. Beach’s influences included Scottish and Irish folk music, as well as Inuit idioms.
William Grant Still (1895-1978)
Known as the Dean of African American Composers, William Grant Still had many impressive accomplishments under his belt. His Symphony No. 1 “Afro-American” was the first piece written by an African American to be performed by a major American orchestra (Rochester Philharmonic), and his opera Troubled Island was the first opera by an African American to be performed by a major company (NYC Opera). He additionally was the first African American to conduct a white radio orchestra (Deep River Hour). Still’s music was incredibly programmatic and combined classical music in the traditional European style with his African American heritage.
Symphony No. 1 “Afro-American”: 1. Longing
Harry Partch (1901-1974)
Harry Partch, the “Don Quixote” of music, took American classical composition in a completely different direction. Instead of composing within the traditional Western 12-tone system, he created his own 43+ tone system. And then he created instruments compatible with the new tonal system and trained musicians to perform on them. Pretty incredible!
Delusion of the Fury
What is your favorite iteration of American classical music?