American Symphonic Music Featured on Symphony @ 7

For the rest of the week, leading up to the Fourth of July on Friday, I’ll be featuring American composers on Symphony @ 7: Charles Ives, Aaron Copland, Alan Hovhaness and Don Gillis.

I started on Tuesday with that American original Charles Ives and his early Symphony No. 2 from 1901.  It’s a relatively conventional work, but it already shows his penchant for mixing up disparate elements in unusual and creative ways.  There are quotes from popular tunes of the day such as “Camptown Races,”  to references to other symphonic works, including hints of Dvorak’s New World Symphony. And then, for good measure, it all ends on a blatantly dissonant chord. Ives’ way perhaps of thumbing his nose at the more buttoned down part of New England music society.

Wednesday it’s Aaron Copland’s Western outlaw ballet Billy the Kid from 1938, the first of his trilogy of ballets based on Americana, Rodeo and Appalachian Spring, being the other two. The second item on the program may, however, be more unusual and perhaps more intriguing for some listeners.  American fiddler and composer Mark O’Connor wrote The Improvised Violin Concerto, and I have his 2011 recording of it with the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestras.  If it sounds contradictory, the orchestral part of this 35 minute concerto is written out, but the solo violin part is entirely improvised by O’Connor.

On Thursday, it’s Alan Hovhaness and his Symphony No. 60, “To the Appalachian Mountains,” from 1985.  This American composer of Scottish and Armenian descent once famously said, “My purpose is to create music, not for snobs, but for all people–music which is beautiful and healing.”  This was said a bit earlier when there was still a lot of dissonant sounding music coming from contemporary composers.

On Friday, for the 4th of July, I have the Star-Spangled Symphony of Don Gillis, an American composer who spent a good part of his life living and working in Texas.  This appealing and engaging symphony was written during World War Two, and the title of its 4th movement, “Celebration–Fourth of July,” seems to sum up the week pretty well on Symphony @ 7.  I hope you can join me American music here on Classical 101.