About this Recording




The music of the Americas has come a long way since the 17th-century hymns introduced by the early Pilgrim Fathers. As we enter the twenty-first century, the number of new styles and genres being introduced and experimented with is ever-increasing, with pioneers like Philip Glass, Michael Torke, Ned Rorem and Gloria Coates at the forefront of the new musical era. This CD gives an overview of American musical diversity since the 19th century and shows how, far from being European-influenced followers of fashion, American composers have struck out with their own unique voices – even as far back as the 1880s.


[1] Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990)

Candide Overture (1956)

Florida Philharmonic Orchestra, James Judd

(From Naxos 8.559099) 


As a composer for the musical theatre and concert hall, Leonard Bernstein captured perhaps more than any other composer the energy, awareness and sense of freedom that characterise the American spirit. His comic operetta Candide, based on Voltaire’s satire of the same name, went through countless revisions between its initial 1956 Broadway run and the final approved version conducted in London by the composer in 1989, a year before his death. With its sparkling exuberance and frenetic rhythms, the overture sums up the joie de vivre found in so many of Bernstein’s works. Unlike so many operetta overtures it is no mere potpourri of numbers from the show but a full sonata form work taking some of the catchiest tunes as its thematic material.


[2] Ferde Grofé (1892-1972)

Hollywood Suite: Production Number (1938)

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, William Stromberg

(From Naxos 8.559017) 


Born in New York City and raised mostly in Los Angeles, Ferde Grofé left home in 1906 to work at odd jobs, studying the violin and piano in his spare time. His big break came in 1924 when he orchestrated George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, though he then turned back to writing his own brand of symphonic jazz. The 1935 Hollywood Suite was initially conceived as a ballet, though Grofé later reworked it into a six-part suite. It depicts a day’s shooting in a Hollywood studio, a young wannabe actress double brushed aside by cast and crew although she is crucial to the smooth running of the day. In the Production Number she rehearses the dance sequence laboriously, then is kicked off set to make way for the Star. But the Star cannot dance, so the double performs for her before the Star steps in for the close-up, ousting the double once more…


[3] Leroy Anderson (1908-1975)

The Syncopated Clock (1946)

Richard Hayman and his Orchestra

(From Naxos 8.559125) 


The world-famous creator of the Christmas standard Sleigh Ride, Leroy Anderson was the eclectic assimilator of many diverse styles. Far from being a frivolous ‘pops’ musician, he was an outstandingly talented music student, studying at Harvard under George Enesco and Walter Piston among others. After working as a freelance organist and conductor in and around the Boston area, he left academia in 1936 to arrange for Arthur Fiedler’s Boston Pops Orchestra, then in 1938 he started to compose his own works. Anderson was the first composer to sell over a million copies of a purely instrumental work with his Blue Tango (1953). The Syncopated Clock, written seven years earlier, had been his first golden disc and US charted hit (it reached No. 11 in 1951 for Anderson’s own ‘Pops’ Concert Orchestra).


[4] Aaron Copland (1900-1990)

Danza de Jalisco (1959)

Nashville Chamber Orchestra, Paul Gambill

(From Naxos 8.559069)


Born in Brooklyn, the fifth and youngest child of Russian-Jewish immigrants, Aaron Copland was introduced to music by one of his sisters. He studied for two years with Rubin Goldmark after his graduation from high school, following which he enrolled in the American Conservatory in Fontainebleu, Paris. Here he studied with Nadia Boulanger, who was instrumental in helping him find his own unique musical voice – a voice that remained consistent and recognisable for the rest of his composing life. He wrote the Paisaje Mexicano and Danza de Jalisco (Dance of Jalisco, a state in northwestern Mexico) in Acapulco in 1959, though the third of the triptych, Estribillo, was not written until 1971 and the collected Three Latin American Sketches only premièred in 1972. This lively and vigorous dance features alternating contrasting rhythms, typical of much Latin American music.


[5] Amy Beach (1867-1944)

Piano Concerto: Scherzo (1898-99)

Alan Feinberg (piano), Nashville Symphony Orchestra, Kenneth Schermerhorn  (From Naxos 8.559139)


At a young age it became clear that Amy Beach was precociously gifted as a musician, but society and her parents forbade a career in music for her. Despite this she made her debut performing Moscheles’ Piano Concerto No. 2 at the age of sixteen; a dozen critics predicted an outstanding career as a concert pianist. Her marriage at the age of eighteen to a man 25 years her senior was to end her career on the stage: her new husband would allow her to compose, but not to perform. Widowed at the age of 43, she revived her career as a pianist to rapturous acclaim. With her Piano Concerto, written between 1898 and 1899, she brought together the two halves of her musical life, composition and performance. Even before it was completed she was asked to give its première with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, who knew her of old through her teenage performances.


[6] Leo Ornstein (1892?-2002)

A Morning in the Woods (1971)

Janice Weber (piano)

(From Naxos 8.559104)


Although little known to today’s audiences, Leo Ornstein burst upon the international music scene in the early part of the twentieth century, and for a number of years was considered to be one of the foremost composers of the time. As a pianist his concerts often featured works that were little known in America at the time, including those by Debussy, Ravel, Scriabin, Franck, Bartók, Schoenberg and Stravinsky as well as some of his own radical compositions. This turned him into something of a cult figure. But in the mid 1920s at the height of a highly successful concert career, he suddenly ceased performing and never again played in public. A Morning in the Woods is a lyrical, thoroughly tonal, impressionistic piece which dates from 1971, when Ornstein was in his eighties. It is one of a large number of romantic works scattered throughout the composer’s improbably long compositional career.


[7] Charles Wakefield Cadman (1881-1946)

The Legend of the Canyon (1920)          

Peter Zazofsky (violin), Paul Posnak (piano)

(From Naxos 8.559067)


Best remembered as the composer of the art songs At Dawning and From the Land of Sky-blue Water, Charles Wakefield Cadman has been in virtual eclipse during the past half century. His musical background was completely American: one of the earliest American composers not schooled in the European tradition, his music reflects an independence of thought influenced strictly by Native American sources. He won widespread popularity for his songs on Indian themes, and was at the height of his success when he completed his short, atmospheric Legend of the Canyon – Romance for Violin and Piano. It appeared on numerous recital and club programmes during the 1920s and was dedicated to the virtuoso Fritz Kreisler, who recorded it for Victor Records in 1925 and often included it in his recital encores.


[8] Samuel Barber (1910-1981)

Violin Concerto: Presto in moto perpetuoso (1940)    

James Buswell (violin), Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Marin Alsop             (From Naxos 8.559044)


Samuel Barber, one of the best loved and most frequently performed American composers of the twentieth century, developed his own highly individual voice quite independent of the modernist mainstream. His output includes the famous Adagio for Strings, three concertos, two symphonies, numerous songs and two operas, one of which won the Pulitzer Prize. Unquestionably one of Barber’s most popular works, the three-movement Violin Concerto was completed in July 1940 and given its première in February 1941 by the well known violinist Albert Spalding, with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy. The almost chamber-like intimacy of the concerto is reflected in the scoring for eight woodwind, two horns, two trumpets, percussion, piano and strings. The perpetuum mobile third movement included here provides the striking finale.


[9] John Philip Sousa (1854-1932)

Semper Fidelis (1888)

Royal Artillery Band, Keith Brion                                                       

(From Naxos 8.559092)


John Philip Sousa personified turn-of-the-century America, the comparative innocence and brash energy of a still new nation. His ever-touring band represented America across the globe and brought music to hundreds of American towns at a time when few American orchestras existed. Sousa’s compositions also spread his fame, with many of his most popular marches universally acknowledged as the best of the genre: the composer said that a march “should make a man with a wooden leg step out” and his surely did.  The 1888 march Semper Fidelis takes its title from the motto of the US Marine Corps: ‘Semper Fidelis – Always Faithful’. Sousa said that he “wrote it one night while in tears, after my comrades of the Marine Corps had sung their famous hymn at Quantico”. It subsequently became the official march of the marines, and was regarded by the composer as his best march from a musical point of view.


[10] Michael Torke (b. 1961)

Rapture: Mallets (1998/2001)

Colin Currie (percussion), Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Marin Alsop        (From Naxos 8.559167)


The music of Michael Torke has been called “some of the most optimistic, joyful and thoroughly uplifting music to appear in recent years” (Gramophone). Torke has created a substantial body of works in virtually every genre, each with a characteristic personal stamp that combines restless rhythmic energy with ravishingly beautiful melodies. Commissioned by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Rapture was Torke’s first new work written as the orchestra’s Associate Composer, in collaboration with virtuoso percussionist Colin Currie who gave its first performance in 2001 with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra under Marin Alsop. Inspired by a Yeats poem, it seeks to capture a transcendental state of sexual rapture. It has been unanimously acclaimed by the press: “We just need more pieces like Michael Torke’s Rapture” (The Independent).



[11] Ned Rorem (b. 1923)

Bright Music: Fandango (1987)

The Fibonacci Sequence                                                                   

(From Naxos 8.559128)


Born in Indiana, raised in Chicago and now resident in New York City, the brilliant American composer and essayist Ned Rorem has produced works in almost every known genre, though it is his songs that have won him the most fame. Thanks to a sojourn in Paris, where he studied under Nadia Boulanger as well as Poulenc, his music is exceptionally elegant with a clarity of expression giving him a unique voice in twentieth-century American music. Bright Music, a work for flute, two violins, cello and piano, takes fragments of Chopin’s B flat minor Piano Sonata as its thematic basis: the opening Fandango movement comes from the Chopin finale. Rorem claims that the image was of a rat inside a can, before the music evolves into a Mazurka-Rondo (based on the old Polish dance in 3-4 time).


[12] Jerome Moross (1913-1983)

Willie the Weeper: Sexy Willie (1948)

John DeHaan (tenor), Hot Springs Music Festival Chamber Chorus, Hot Springs Music Festival Symphony Orchestra, Richard Rosenberg                              (From Naxos 8.559086)


Although not a name well known to audiences today, Jerome Moross was a prolific writer of Broadway musicals and film scores. Best known for his score to the Western The Big Country, he wrote music that was distinctively American and remained tonal and melodic throughout his career. He loved folk-tunes and popular songs of his day, and in his formative years constantly sought out indigenous music influences. Willie the Weeper was one of a triptych of one-act dance cantatas that Moross wrote between 1940 and 1945. The idea of these three “Ballet Ballads” was ‘to fuse the arts of text, music and dance into a new dramatic unity’ according to the composer – thus none of the works features any spoken dialogue. It describes the dope-fuelled fantasies of a chimney sweep and is based on two folk poems, Willie the Weeper and Cocaine Lil.


[13] George Gershwin (1898-1937)

Cuban Overture (1932)

New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, James Judd

 (From Naxos 8.559107)


Though he would be remembered for his incomparable songs, George Gershwin also wrote a number of concert works which have since become established in the repertory, including Rhapsody in Blue, An American in Paris and his most outstanding work, the opera Porgy and Bess. His Cuban Overture was one such work, the result of a two-week holiday Gershwin took in Havana. The composer, fascinated by the small Cuban dance orchestras with their novel rhythms and unusual percussion instruments, was inspired to ‘combine the Cuban rhythms with my own thematic material. The result is a symphonic overture which embodies the essence of Cuban dance’. He orchestrated the overture between 1st and 9th August 1932, completing it just a week before the first All-Gershwin Concert at the Lewisohn Stadium in New York, an open-air concert attended by some 18,000 people which was, according to Gershwin, “the most exciting night I have ever had”.

Close the window