Posts Tagged 'americana'

Four American Styles: Serialism & Minimalism

European influence again raised its head in Schoenberg’s serial method and the rigorous structural techniques of other German composers. Roger Sessions reflects this trend in his nine symphonies (No. 6, 1966). One of his many pupils was Milton Babbitt, who alone constitutes a vital element in America’s intellectual spine, both in his theoretical works and compositions, including the 1985 Piano Concerto. The rigorous constructive techniques met the all-important inspirational centre of Paris and Nadia Boulanger in the work of Elliot Carter, who is surely America’s greatest post-war composer, as his Variations for Orchestra (1955) and Night Fantasies for piano (1980) eloquently attest. Almost by way of reaction to the ‘serial culture’, the minimalists found simplicity and complexity in shifting the phase of repetitive melodic patterns: Steve Reich (Drumming, 1971); Philip Glass (Einstein on the Beach, 1976).

In Harmonium, Adams adapts minimalist techniques to a more expressive, even romantic idiom which brings our American survey full circle.

Classic CD magazine, 1995

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Four American Styles: Jazz & Spirituals

Much American music was derived from folksong, the traditional music of the Indians, and hymns. But the most sensational manifestations of national music were jazz and Negro spirituals, which found their way into Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue (1924) and An American in Paris (1928); Copland’s Music for the Theatre (1925), and Leonard Bernstein’s Fancy Free (1944) and West Side Story (1957).

Social concerns in the 1930s induced Aaron Copland to popularise his language, resulting in a soundworld as quintessentially American as a Sousa march (The Washington Post, 1889) or a Stephen Foster song (My Old Kentucky Home, 1853). Copland’s ‘Americana’ period included the ballets Billy the Kid (1940), Rodeo (1942) and Appalachian Spring, written for the dancer Martha Graham. It was completed in 1944 for a chamber ensemble of 13 instruments. But later, Copland extracted a suite from the work and expanded its orchestration to full orchestra.

Classic CD magazine, 1995

Four American Styles: Pioneers & Individualists

There have been many pioneers in the history of American music, the most notable being Charles Ives. His romanticism found expression in works of an eclectic, experimental character: try the Second Symphony, or Three Places in New England (1914).

Ives composed Three Places – or New England Symphony, as he called it – in 1914 for full orchestra but, like so much of his music, it lay undisturbed until 1929. In the presence of the composer this visionary music was performed, having been extensively reorchestrated in 1931, sounding as fresh then as it would have done at any time in the previous 17 years.

Cowell developed many new ways of using instruments in such works as Aeolian Harp (1923) in which the pianist strums on the strings. Ruggles was also a staunch individualist who was in regular contact with Edgard Varèse, whose Intégrales of 1925 was something of a watershed. Harry Partch (1901-74) adopted his own system of tuning (‘just intonation’) and then devised his own spectacular set of instruments for it.

Classic CD magazine, 1995

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

Music Monday: Rev it up, Bruce

I saw the latest Bruce Springsteen album this morning at the supermarket, and as soon as I got home, I got down to investigating. To even my own surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s his most upbeat work since forever (I suspect that Tom Morello had something to do with that), and, much as I appreciate the more low-key and introspective path he was treading over several albums, I can’t but applaud the gumption that it takes to upshift like this at 65. Enjoy, it’s worth it.


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