On Air Now
Classic FM Drive with John Brunning 5pm - 7pm
Discover America's star-spangled musical history, with 20 of the best pieces of classical music from across the pond. From the most influential to the most patriotic, here's our ultimate selection.
Taken from Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story, this famous song sees Puerto Rican immigrants singing the praises of the USA. It pairs vibrant Hispanic music with typically brilliant lyrics by Sondheim: "I like the island Manhattan, smoke on your pipe and put that in!"
If you haven't heard of American composer John Philip Sousa, you've almost certainly heard his music. By an act of Congress, this patriotic American tune is now the official National March of the US.
With its booming timpani and a heart-stopping brass fanfare, this 1943 piece by Copland is instantly recognisable. And with such an impressive opening, it's no wonder Copland reused the music as the theme in the last movement of his Symphony No. 3.
Not to be confused with the second president of the United States who shares his name, John Adams is one of the 20th century's best-known composers. His music captures moments in American history, from Nixon's 1972 visit to China to a choral piece commemorating the victims of the September 11 attacks, but his most famous work is the relentless four-minute masterpiece, Short Ride in a Fast Machine.
The clue's in the title with this jaunty composition. Even the tiniest details are inspired by the sights and sounds of the French capital, seen through American eyes - to make sure it really does sound like Paris, Gershwin brought a selection of French taxi horns over to the States for the New York premiere!
He's now regarded of one of America's finest musical exports, but Ives' music was largely ignored during his lifetime. Listen to his music and you'll find hints of American folk songs, ballads, marches and hymns, as well as a few jazzy moments - but his far-reaching Symphony No. 4 is one of his defining works.
It's a perfect fit: an all-American storyline, with a soundtrack composed by the the USA's most iconic film composer, John Williams. The music has its fair share of emotion and drama, as well as a storming barn dance thrown in for good measure.
If you thought 4'33" was just three movements of silence, think again. John Cage, one of America's most influential 20th century composers, considered it his most important work. He was playing with the idea of what music 'is' - and as far as 4'33" is concerned, that includes any type of sound, whether it's played by an instrument or not.
He's known as one the four great American 'Minimalists' - that is, composers who reduced classical music to its bare bones of pitch and rhythm, and gradually rebuilt it to become more and more complex. His trance-like music and eerie vocal lines can be found in a number of American-themed operas, including The Civil Wars, setting text by Robert Wilson, inspired by the conflict in America between 1861 and 1865, and more recently, The Perfect American, documenting the final years of Walt Disney's life.
Opera fans stateside weren't so keen on Gershwin's innovative 'American folk opera' when it was first performed in 1935. It featured an entire cast of African-American singers - a daring decision at the time. Nowadays, the songs are some of Gershwin's most famous pieces, including Summertime, and It Ain't Necessarily So.
Composed almost 80 years before it was used as a signature tune for Monty Python's Flying Circus (think exploding heads and large crushing feet appearing from the sky), this cheery American march is used at surprisingly formal occasions! Written for Sousa's unfinished operetta, The Devil's Deputy, the Liberty Bell march is now a staple at presidential inaugurations: Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama all heard the piece, performed by the United States Marine Corps Band.
After appearing on the American TV series The Civil War, Ungar's wistful fiddle melody shot to international attention. It might sound like a traditional piece of folk music, but it was actually composed in 1982 - since then it's served as a 'goodnight waltz' at the Annual Ashokan Fiddle & Dance Camps.
Copland's popular ballet - and later, orchestral suite - tells the tale of 19th century American pioneers building a new farmhouse. It's packed full of all-American tunes, including a Shaker song, Simple Gifts, which Copland borrowed almost note-for-note and incorporated into the music. You might recognise the tune - it's the basis of the popular hymn Lord of the Dance.
During World War II, Steve Reich travelled between New York and Los Angeles by train. He was inspired to write Different Trains in 1989, after realising that had he been in Europe at the time, as a Jew, he might have been travelling in Holocaust trains. The piece uses recorded speech taken from interviews with people in the United States and Europe about the years before, during, and after the war.
If you're looking for pathos and passion, you can't go far wrong with Barber's powerful Adagio. Premiered in 1938, the piece now occupies a space as America's ultimate classical tear-jerker; it's often performed at sad state occasions, including the announcements of Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy's death.
Often heard on Independence Day, this military band classic was written by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and conductor Morton Gould in 1942. It's the perfect lively accompaniment to the 4th of July celebrations.
It doesn't get more 'down on the ranch' than this. Folky violins, an all-American trumpet tune, and a toe-tapping piano tune. It's even based on an American folk song called Bonyparte, and incorporates the music almost completely into the piece.
Ragtime meets Rachmaninov in this impressive jazz-classical fusion by Gershwin, which premiered in 1924. It's daring, it's exciting, it's virtuosic - and it changed the face of jazz in a world of classical composers who thought themselves too 'serious' for the genre.
Rather than a Symphony FOR three orchestras, Carter was keen to label this as a symphony OF three orchestras, so, three different ensembles sounding at the same time. It's based on the poetry of another influential American, Harold Hard Crane.
Not a 'Symphony in C' or a 'Concerto in C'. No, this is just 'In C', plain and simple. The music starts (unsurprisingly!) with the note C, played over and over again in a steady rhythm, until other notes are gradually introduced. Not only does it sound pretty impressive for a piece with only a few notes in it, but it broke the mould as one of the first Minimalist pieces ever composed.