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The Weekend Vote weekend vote: Who is your favorite American composer?

July 4, 2008 at 7:27 PM

It's the Fourth of July, and today, this weekend, people in the United States are celebrating Independence Day, one of our biggest national holidays. Besides those of us who like to read the actual Declaration of Independence (which is largely a list of complaints against...King George...) on this day, we Americans have other priorities for this holiday like:

not working
cooking hotdogs and hamburgers on the barbeque
ball games
outdoor concerts!

My list of composers is very loosely based on music I've played repeatedly at Fourth of July and "American"-dubbed pops concerts. I stuck to the American composers, even though Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture and Dvorak's New World Symphony are very frequently featured as well. I'm AWARE that this is a woefully incomplete list. So pick your favorite of this bunch, and then if your true favorite is someone else, please tell us about it below!

And now for something simple and beautiful to honor the occasion, from Anne Akiko Meyers:

Happy Fourth of July weekend!

From Patricia Baser
Posted on July 4, 2008 at 8:02 PM
Samuel Barber.
From Corwin Slack
Posted on July 4, 2008 at 8:04 PM
You beat me. I looked through the list for Samuel Barber. Yes he beats everyone on the list far and away.. Some listed are only composers because they say thy are.
From Ray Randall
Posted on July 4, 2008 at 8:18 PM
Very nice of you to do that, Anne. I'm
sure our fallen are smiling at you for recognizing that without them we wouldn't have the freedom we do.
From Ray Randall
Posted on July 4, 2008 at 8:20 PM
While not a serious composer, my friend
Leroy Anderson should be included.
From Bill Busen
Posted on July 4, 2008 at 8:59 PM
Then you will appreciate the story about when the announcer on our local NPR affiliate played the (Goodyear/Cincinnati) Leroy Anderson Piano Concerto. Mrs. Anderson was living in the area at the time, and called in to thank them!

Leroy for me, too. I'm not proud.

From Jim W. Miller
Posted on July 4, 2008 at 9:19 PM
Very nice, double A :)

About a half-dozen people not on the list running neck and neck :)

From Laurie Niles
Posted on July 4, 2008 at 9:39 PM
Okay everyone, my bad! I knew I was leaving out something major. I did the poll over again to include Samuel Barber, and I also threw in Leroy Anderson (what would we do without him?). So sorry 'bout that, now you can vote over again! And it's the last time I'm doing it over; now if someone's missing, you just have to tell us about it!
From Jim W. Miller
Posted on July 4, 2008 at 9:42 PM
P.S., in the Declaration, click on the rough draft, and read Jefferson trying to free the slaves, before the Nation was even formed.
From Elizabeth Reed Smith
Posted on July 4, 2008 at 9:56 PM
What, no women? What about Amy Beach, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Judith Lang Zaimont, Joan Tower?
From Cesar Ribera
Posted on July 4, 2008 at 10:03 PM
Is it just me? or Robert Schuman is missing?

Shouldn't he be a front runner in the consideration of USA top composer?

From Cesar Ribera
Posted on July 4, 2008 at 10:10 PM
My mistake, I should be talking about William Schuman, Robert was german, anyway, wasn't William Schuman's production good enough to be considered?
From Ruth Kuefler
Posted on July 4, 2008 at 10:51 PM
I picked Copland, but for me it's really a three way tie between him, Bernstein, and Barber.
From Hannah Wright
Posted on July 5, 2008 at 2:06 AM
bernstein or barber...
From Yixi Zhang
Posted on July 5, 2008 at 4:59 AM
What about Morton Feldmen?
From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on July 5, 2008 at 11:18 AM
It looks like I'm the only one so far who will admit voting for John Williams on this list. But his music really meant a lot to me growing up; still does. I love the big, sweeping, symphonic sound and the programmatic, thematic nature of the movie scores.

I wouldn't have thought of it if I hadn't just played a POPS concert, but I also think Henry Mancini's music is just wonderful--even better than Leroy Anderson (who we also played at that concert).

From Corwin Slack
Posted on July 5, 2008 at 2:09 PM
This isn't a ranking survey but Leroy Anderson certainly deserves to come out ahead of Reich, Glass and Adams but I only got one vote so I spent it on the composer of the greatest American violin concerto, the School for Scandal overture, the Two Essays for Orchestra, Medea's Dance of Vengeance, Knoxville Summer of 1915, and etc.
From Alayna Faulkenberg
Posted on July 5, 2008 at 3:28 PM
well this summer i have been bitten by the 'new' music bug, so i went with glass because i am playing his violin concerto now, but this summer i have also ended up playing quite a bit of micheal mclean, he's very cool, all of his music really grooves, quite refreshing. :)
From Ray Randall
Posted on July 5, 2008 at 3:42 PM
Leroy Anderson donated his time and conducting skills to help out our then
fledgling Stamford (Ct.) Symphony. As
a thank you we did a whole second half of his music with him conducting. He lived in a modest house in Norwalk, Ct.
and was as nice as could be. He told me he wrote all his music so High School bands and orchestras could play them.
From David Johnson
Posted on July 5, 2008 at 3:58 PM
>What, no women? What about Amy Beach, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Judith Lang Zaimont, Joan Tower?

Ruth Crawford Seeger, also!!

From Ray Randall
Posted on July 5, 2008 at 4:31 PM
And Charles Ives. But I never did answer his question.
From Jim W. Miller
Posted on July 5, 2008 at 4:34 PM
Stravinsky was an American...
From Jim W. Miller
Posted on July 5, 2008 at 4:37 PM
"He told me he wrote all his music so High School bands and orchestras could play them. "

That's amazing inside information. I've noticed that the list of composers to choose from is people with appealing and strong personalities that come through in their music. Anderson, definitely. I think so much is easy to hide behind orchestration, almost any work or section can come across as at least "ok", you know? But Anderson isn't a victim of that. I was glad to see Foster get a vote or two also, for similar reasons. When you distill everything down to lyrics and melody, if you can pull that off then you're brilliant, there's no way to argue. I think people are thrown off by scale sometimes, or other things that really shouldn't necessarily factor in to evaluating the thing. THat's why I argued with someone here that it's at least as hard, possibly harder, to write a great song than a great symphony.

Ruth Seeger, definitely. Transcribed folk music meticulously for the Library of Congress and without her, Copland's most familiar music wouldn't exist. I've seen her called the greatest female American composer.

For next 4th, put up something by Thomas Jefferson. I heard he wrote some string quartets or something. Would be interesting to hear.

From Bonny Buckley
Posted on July 5, 2008 at 6:11 PM
Great idea for a vote! All of these are remarkable composers, for sure, and I love several. But only one made it onto my quartet's CD, along with Mozart, Bach and other favorites: Anderson. I believe his life is heroic for all of us who love music, specifically instilling this love in the lives of students through his compositions. What better way to carry our tradition forward than by inspiring our youth. If you aren't familiar with his work go find a 101 Strings recording of Blue Tango, or listen to my quartet's on CDbaby. Anderson is totally unpretentious and from the heart which is why I believe his music is loved by young and old alike.
From Joe S.
Posted on July 5, 2008 at 7:11 PM
John Corigliano
From Laurie Niles
Posted on July 5, 2008 at 8:55 PM
I love Stravinsky; he was Russian. Wow check this out. But I digress!
From Jim W. Miller
Posted on July 5, 2008 at 11:02 PM
I'm pretty sure Stravinsky became a U.S. citizen. You have to go to the naturalization bureau and recite the lords prayer, chug a Pepsi, and drive a Harley around the block. Then you're in.
From John Blakely
Posted on July 5, 2008 at 11:24 PM
Well, you could vote obvious or you could vote good. My vote goes to Steve Reich basically because his Music for 18 Musicians is the best piece to come out of the states in the last 50 years, IMO!

Hey Laurie, what a great clip of Stavinsky conducting the Firebird. Such authority and focus. My personal favourite is Petroushka. Apparently Stravinsky hated the Karajan recording I have - which I love! The section where the orchestra sounds like a harmonium is spine tingling.

From Laurie Niles
Posted on July 6, 2008 at 5:29 AM
Yeah. But he's a Russian composer.
From Jim W. Miller
Posted on July 6, 2008 at 8:40 AM
Right. And if he was driving on the wrong side of the road, he'd be a British driver. This is the big melting pot. Give him a break.
From Royce Faina
Posted on July 6, 2008 at 12:01 PM
I'm with Karen Allendoerfer about John Williams and Henry Mancini. When I hear their music it brings back the memories of the happy moments in my family.

RAY RANDAL--You still amaze me with the people you know!!!! If you ever write a book of your memoires (sp?) I would definitely buy it!!!!

From Kylie Svenson
Posted on July 6, 2008 at 11:53 AM

Barber, definitely. Then Joan Tower, John Adams, Steve Reich, and Charles Ives.

From John Frantz
Posted on July 6, 2008 at 1:33 PM
How about Edward MacDowell?
From Joel Jacklich
Posted on July 6, 2008 at 4:39 PM
I don't know about Thomas Jefferson, but there is a string quartet (for three violins and cello) attributed to Benjamin Franklin. It was written with all four instruments using scordatura tuning, tuned in such as way that that the whole piece could be played entirely on open strings, enabling amateurs with no previous string experience to play it after a simple explanation about note values and which line (or space) related to which string to be played.

BTW, he also invented the glass harmonica, an instrument which Mozart (and also members of the French Court) fell in love with. Unfortunately, when the French Revolution came about, the peasants considered the music decadent and, by some, even Satanic, so the instrument was relegated to become only a footnote in history.

I would also add Randall Thompson to the list (his Testament of Freedom is a wonderful 4th of July piece).

From John Blakely
Posted on July 6, 2008 at 9:33 PM
Duh, wha? Stravinsky was Russian? And Laurie Anderson is American?! Well, I never!


From Jim W. Miller
Posted on July 7, 2008 at 12:31 AM
I found something that I chopped out for someone else once, that might be interesting. 12 seconds of fair use, I would claim. It's from Italian Suite. At 6 seconds or so, what I hear personally is a dominant "turnaround" in the piano, taken directly from black gospel music. It's uncompressed, so if it won't stream right, just click play again on your player after it's finished the first time, and it'll play without any breaks then.


From Scott 68
Posted on July 7, 2008 at 4:48 AM
From Bilbo Prattle
Posted on July 7, 2008 at 12:19 PM
This is a Jazz-starved community.
From Nigel Keay
Posted on July 7, 2008 at 7:56 PM
I've listened to a lot of Elliot Carter and George Crumb in the past. I've probably heard more of their music played here in France than any on the list.
From Jim W. Miller
Posted on July 7, 2008 at 10:08 PM
You should start playing Sleigh Ride at your Christmas concerts then. George Crumb? Ha!
From Stephen Brivati
Posted on July 7, 2008 at 11:29 PM
Ray, I`m so glad oyu mentioned Ives. I worked on and performe din his 4th symphony as a lad and it wa sone of the most disturbing and interesitng muscial experiences I have ever had. A flawed but brilliant masterpiece.
Not forgetitng the violin sonatas. I think there are four althouhg they may be breeding.....
From Jim W. Miller
Posted on July 8, 2008 at 12:24 AM
Flawed how? Too many notes?
From Stephen Brivati
Posted on July 8, 2008 at 4:13 AM
absence of prunes is one of the primary flaws.
From Jim W. Miller
Posted on July 8, 2008 at 4:54 AM
It doesn't matter, because it's only academic. The link I put up, it only has one hit on it, which confirms my belief that no one honestly likes this stuff enough to listen to it anyway, behind closed doors.

When I was in school the story circulating between students was Ives was an insurance salesman. Over here we play up humble beginnings. Reading his bio online, I see he was more like owner of the company and wealthy enough to be a philanthropist. Lincoln was born in a log cabin, but the cabin was on about a million acres of land his family owned. Even Jesus, everybody thinks he was a humble carpenter's son, but I read somewhere that it was more like a construction company owner. Don't know how they got that information.

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