Four American Styles: Romantic Nationalism

American music of the later part of the nineteenth century came from Brahms and Dvorák, coloured by Liszt and Wagner. Gottschalk was among the first composers to speak with an American voice in his ‘Creole’ piano pieces and two symphonies. An American voice is still discernible through the conservatism of Chadwick’s (1895-1904) Second Symphony and Symphonic Sketches. The Sketches almost constitute a symphony; the second movement is almost a recomposition of the famous Largo from Dvorák’s New World Symphony. ‘Jubilee’ is modelled in both character and form on Dvorák’s Carnival overture.

Samuel Barber (1910-81) continued this tradition in works that look back to European traditions in their richly-lyrical character and fondness for traditional forms: yet they never sacrifice an elusive, but unmistakably American ‘feel’. Listen to his Adagio for Strings (1936), Violin Concerto (1940) and his operas Vanessa (1958) and Antony and Cleopatra (1965).

Classic CD magazine, 1995

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