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The brilliance of 20th century north American music

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  • The brilliance of 20th century north American music

    Making central European music seem generally anaemic in comparison, here are some long overdue thoughts about American music ....
    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK

  • #2
    Aaron Coplend: Billy The Kid

    I've long been a fan of American music which brings a dynamic use of the orchestra that, in my view, is most similar to the best of Russian music. Amercian classical music It reminds me - especially at the moment - of the enormous, practically unlimited resources that the American government can call on, the transformative power of organised man over nature. Fabulous demo material.
    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK

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    • #3
      I always think of American music in terms of musical theatre and dance. Billy the Kid was commissioned by Balanchine for Dance Caravan, shortly before he formed New York City Ballet (NYCB - probably the highest quality dance company in the world). It was well received and on the back of it Agnes deMille commissioned him to do Rodeo for Ballet Russe. Finally he did Appalachian Spring for Martha Graham in 1944, THE seminal work in modern ballet. You can see it on youtube. Balanchine commissioned many fine works. A couple of years after Billy the Kid he commissioned Paul Hindemith to do The Four Temperaments for NYCB. Apparently they met as Hindemith was walking down 5th Ave looking for work.

      Gershwin is one of the greatest musical geniuses of the 20th Century, although heavily influenced by composers including in particular Alban Berg. Leonard Bernstein is way up there as well. So much good musical theatre. Seeing American in Paris on Thursday (Dominion), 42nd Street in a few weeks (Drury Lane) and Follies at the National. All seriously good stuff.

      Two of the modern greats, and favourites of mine (not least due to their work in film and dance) are Philip Glass and Steve Reich. Both produced great demo material.

      As for the Russians, thanks to Stalin, anti-Semitism, WWII and the need to make a living everyone went Stateside, most notably Prokofiev and Stravinsky. Just look at the musical directors of an orchestra like Cincinnati.

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      • #4
        Bernstein is indeed 'way up there'. Indeed, listening to (or seeing) West Side Story you find yourself shaking your head in disbelief that a mere mortal was capable of writing such perfect music song after song. It is simply astonishing. We were so lucky that our lives were enriched by L. And yes, in a perverse twist of fortune, wartime Europe's loss was certainly America's gain. In many areas of the arts too as you'll celebrate far more knowingly than me.
        Alan A. Shaw
        Designer, owner
        Harbeth Audio UK

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        • #5
          There is an excellent compilation of Copland music available on the Telarc label, Copland: The Music of America (CD80339). Erich Kunzel conducting the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra. It was released in 1997 and was awarded a Grammy the following year. 'Fanfare for the Common Man' should be useful to test amplifier clipping!

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          • #6
            John Adams wrote some sparking orchestral pieces last century : Harmonielehre, The Chairman Dances, Short Ride in a Fast Machine, Lollapalooza, Fearful Symmetries. His style is classed as "post-minimalist", but I often hear echoes of Stravinsky in his works, which can't be a bad thing. He's still actively writing this century, I've yet to hear his Scheherazade 2.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Dougal View Post
              There is an excellent compilation of Copland music available on the Telarc label, Copland: The Music of America (CD80339). Erich Kunzel conducting the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra. It was released in 1997 and was awarded a Grammy the following year. 'Fanfare for the Common Man' should be useful to test amplifier clipping!
              I've dug out a vinyl copy of Appalachian Spring/Rodeo by Marriner/Minnesota recorded in 1984 using the direct metal mastering process. DMM was assumed to be rather bright. Like Kunzel, it's the first, shorter full orchestral suite rather than the much sparser sting ensemble version originally used for Martha Graham's choreography. Something for the weekend.

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              • #8
                Jennifer Higdon is an exceptional contemporary American composer. Hilary Hahnís recording of her Violin Concerto is a favorite of mine. Higdon also writes chamber music, opera, and some big orchestral pieces like Blue Cathedral:

                https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O9JiGCkyN-0

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