Bringing The World Home To You

© 2021 WUNC North Carolina Public Radio
120 Friday Center Dr
Chapel Hill, NC 27517
919.445.9150 | 800.962.9862
91.5 Chapel Hill 88.9 Manteo 90.9 Rocky Mount 91.1 Welcome 91.9 Fayetteville 90.5 Buxton
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
NPR Music

Tracing The Spirit Of The Early American Symphony

Amy Beach, with her 1896 "Gaelic" Symphony, was among America's early symphonic composers.
Amy Beach, with her 1896 "Gaelic" Symphony, was among America's early symphonic composers.

Leonard Bernstein, in a New York Philharmonic Young People's Concert, once summarized the late 19th century as the "kindergarten period" of American music and proceeded to make fun of George Whitefield Chadwick, Boston's leading composer from that period. But in citing Chadwick's Melpomene Overture, Bernstein stacked the deck. Because it so obviously borrows from Wagner's Tristan und Isolde Prelude, Melpomene is easy to satirize, and it hardly represents Chadwick at his best. In fact, there is no evidence that Bernstein, Aaron Copland, Virgil Thomson and others who denigrated American concert music composed before 1920 ever looked at or heard very much of it. And yet the stereotype they fostered prevails — that American composers before Copland were European clones without a voice of their own. The body of music composed by Americans before the alleged "coming of age" in the 1920s and '30s by and large remains unknown. Here is a sampling of what American symphonies sounded like in those "kindergarten" days.

Joseph Horowitzwrites about American symphonies in his book Classical Music in America: A History and on his blog.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.