Piano Concerto No.1 in D minor Opus 15 (3) Johannes Brahms Download 'Piano Concerto No.1 in D minor Opus 15 (3)' on iTunes
The Welsh songbird flies over the Atlantic to pluck some American classics for her Collection.
Back in 1942, the conductor Eugene Goossens wrote to the composer Aaron Copland asking him to write something big and brassy to open a concert for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. 'Goossens actually commissioned 18 fanfares from 18 different composers,' says Katherine, 'but Copland’s is the only one that still remains in the orchestral repertoire. And there’s no doubting why.'
America in the early 20th century was all about ‘promise’ – a land where anyone could realize his dreams. Aaron Copland, for example, was the shy and studious fifth child of Lithuanian Jewish immigrants who grew up above his father’s shop in Brooklyn. But by the 1940s, Copland’s success was global, thanks to his ballet scores that were about as American as you can get. Rodeo tells the story of a cowgirl who comes to realise the importance of femininity in her role. In it, Copland uses several American folk melodies, with which his 1942 audience would certainly have been familiar - including the Hoe Down based on the popular 'McLeod’s Reel'.
Scott Joplin was the first great African-American composer, affectionately known as 'The King of Ragtime'. He made a huge contribution to the invention of a new musical language, which mixed African-American music with European classical, work songs, gospel hymns, spirituals and dance tunes. Joplin began having his music published when he was in his 20s and his 'Maple Leaf Rag' of 1899 brought him fame and a steady income for life. 'Of course there’s also The Entertainer, which was used in the film The Sting,' says Katherine, 'and I am somewhat partial to his Elite Syncopations.'
If it hadn’t been for Scott Joplin, America probably wouldn’t have produced George Gershwin. Like Aaron Copland, Gershwin was a Russian immigrant from a Jewish family who put great value on the study of music for their children. George left school at 15 and got a job as a "song plugger" on New York City's Tin Pan Alley where he also tried his hand at writing ragtime pieces. In 1919 Gershwin scored his first big national hit with the song, 'Swanee,' made famous by Al Jolson. And it was Gershwin’s love of African American music that inspired him to write the greatest of American operas, Porgy and Bess.
In 1924, the American bandleader Paul Whiteman wanted to prove that jazz styles could have as much clout as the classics by staging a concert which he labeled an 'experiment in modern music.' Gershwin was commissioned to write a piece for solo piano and jazz band combining elements of classical music with jazz-influenced styles. 'The piece, Rhapsody in Blue put George Gershwin on the map,' says Katherine, 'and, whatever you want to call it - classical, jazz, pop - it has become an all-time American classic.
Leonard Bernstein was without a doubt an American musical genius – a conductor, composer, pianist and brilliant educator who exploited the emerging form of television to bring classical music to huge audiences. For his operetta Candide, Bernstein turned for inspiration to the 18th century French novel by Voltaire. 'The exuberant Overture, which seems to be written in the key of life, could be the reason for this work's enduring success,' says Katherine.
When West Side Story premiered, one New York critic said that it took up 'the American musical idiom where it was left when George Gershwin died.' Certainly West Side Story, like Porgy and Bess, is a landmark in the development of musical theatre. 'Never before had there been such a successful and thrilling mix of music, dance and plot,' says Katherine, 'each of them integral to the whole and totally complementing each other. And what great tunes, I love it.'
Samuel Barber is one of the most celebrated composers of the 20th century but we largely know and love him for one outstanding piece. His Adagio for Strings was originally the second movement of his String Quartet. It was performed for the first time in 1938 in a radio broadcast conducted by the great Arturo Toscanini who also took the piece on tour to Europe and South America. It’s a real favourite too of film directors. You can hear it being put to use on the soundtracks to The Elephant Man, Platoon, pictured, and all sorts of other films and TV shows. 'But the tear-jerking original can’t be beaten,' says Katherine.
A contemporary American composer who still continues to produce extraordinary music and enjoy phenomenal commercial success is Philip Glass. He's also one of the most influential of 20th century composers and incredibly prolific. He’s written something like ten symphonies, 11 concertos, countless solo works, chamber music, operas and film scores – like this one from The Hours, which starred Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep and Julianne Moore.