Top 10 American composers

Gramophone Mon 4th July 2016

To mark July 4, here are 10 of our favourite American composers

John Adams 

A restlessly inventive composer, who builds the language and form of every new piece from scratch rather than relying on gestures or harmonic and melodic ‘moves’ that have worked well in the past.

Recommended recording

Nixon in China
Sols; Chorus and Orchestra of St Luke's / Edo de Waart 
(Nonesuch)

'Destined to create a sensation even among those who normally pay little or no attention to the medium of opera.'

Read more on Adams and discover the essential recordings


Samuel Barber 

Samuel Barber is the composer of one of the most iconic works of the 20th century, Adagio for strings, but there is plenty of wonderful music to explore besides, such as his lyrical Violin Concerto.

Recommended recording

Songs
Cheryl Studer (sop); Thomas Hampson (bar) / John Browning (pf)  
(DG)

'The most valuable recorded song recital that I have heard for a very long while.'

Read more on Barber and discover the essential recordings


Leonard Bernstein

Bernstein straddled the extremes of the musical world - he wrote complex symphonies and 12-tone music but was equally happy playing piano and writing Broadway musicals.

Recommended recording

Mass
Jubilant Sykes bar Peabody Children's Chorus; Morgan State University Choir and Marching Band; Baltimore Symphony Orchestra / Marin Alsop
(Naxos American Classics)

'Alsop's Jubilant Sykes is the best of all possible Celebrants.'

Read more on Bernstein and discover the essential recordings


John Cage 

Among the most prominent composers of the 20th century, Cage's influence stretched far beyond the ‘classical’ arena, with rock musicians being inspired by his electronic works and his musical philosophies.

Recommended recording

Litany for the Whale

Theatre of Voices / Paul Hillier
(Harmonia Mundi)

'This is a landmark for Cage, Paul Hillier’s group and everyone else.'


Read more on Cage and discover the essential recordings


Aaron Copland

In a nutshell, Aaron Copland managed the difficult feat of becoming a popular classical composer while retaining the respect of critics and the ‘serious musical establishment’.

Recommended recording

'Copland - The Populist'
San Francisco Symphony Orchestra / Michael Tilson Thomas 
(RCA Red Seal)

'Boasting opulent, exhilaratingly expansive recorded sound, this is a corker of a release.'

Read more on Copland and discover the essential recordings


George Gershwin 

No composer has done more to weld the two opposing cultures of serious and popular music together. The works he fashioned with his miraculous melodic gift have stood the test of time and changes in musical fashion.

Recommended recording

Rhapsody in Blue
Stefano Bollani pf Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra / Riccardo Chailly 
(Decca)

'There is an irreverence and spontaneity which capture the spirit of the work like no other.'

Read more on Gershwin and discover the essential recordings


Philip Glass 

His music, often described as minimalist, relies on repetition, often slightly out of sync so that wave patterns are formed: Glass prefers to describe it as ‘music with repetitive structures’.

Recommended recording

Complete Piano Etudes
Maki Namekawa pf 
(Orange Mountain Music)

'The very final Etude is a work of extraordinary power and beauty, at times quite unlike what one might expect from the composer.'

Read more on Glass and discover the essential recordings


Charles Ives

The devices that Ives introduced into his music – atonality, polytonality, dissonance, multiple rhythms, jazz, collage – were way in advance of the Stravinskys, Schoenbergs and Debussys of this world.

Recommended recording

Three Orchestral Sets
Malmo Chamber Chorus; Malmo Symphony Orchestra / James Sinclair
(Naxos American Classics)

'Well recorded, idiomatic performances all round - a real Ives discovery.'

Read more on Ives and discover the essential recordings


Steve Reich 

Reich is a pioneering minimalist whose studies of African drumming combined with a love of jazz have helped to form one of the most distinctive and influential voices in contemporary music.

Recommended recording

Different Trains. Triple Quartet. The Four Sections
Lyon National Orchestra / David Robertson 
(Naive Montaigne)

'Impresses immediately by the richness of its vastly expanded sound palette.'

Read more on Reich and discover the essential recordings


Eric Whitacre 

One of the most popular composers of his generation, virtually all of his works stem from words, from poetry, and his facility for setting text is what distinguishes him as truly exceptional.

Recommended recording

Light and Gold
Eric Whitacre Singers; Laudibus / Eric Whitacre 
(Decca)

'This glowing disc deserves the widest exposure. Simply glorious!'


Read more on Whitacre and discover the essential recordings


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