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It's the 4th of July - so Jane Jones has the perfect excuse to play a couple of hours of American concert hall favourites.
What better way to spend the 4th of July than enjoying some of the great American music of the 20th century - music that has consistently been at the cutting edge of breaking down barriers between different musical genres?
When Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story premiered, it was immediately apparent that is was a landmark in the development of musical theatre. Never before had there been such a successful and thrilling mix of music, dance and plot, each of them integral to the whole and totally complementing each other. Tonight we hear West Side Story's finest tunes arranged into a suite for violin, played by Joshua Bell.
Scott Joplin was the first great African-American composer, 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.
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. His 1938 ballet Billy the Kid is one of Copland's most popular and widely performed pieces. It incorporates many cowboy tunes and American folk songs to tell the story of the infamous outlaw.
A contemporary Classic FM favourite follows - O Magnum Mysterium. Its composer Morten Lauridsen has been a professor of composition at the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music for more than 40 years and is one of America's most performed composers. Although written in 1994, O Magnum Mysterium took a good few years before garnering such widespread popularity.
Like Aaron Copland, George Gershwin, pictured, 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 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. And by the time his Piano Concerto in F came along the following year, music lovers could hear how far Gershwin had progressed his uniquely American voice.
Paul Whiteman also gave the first performance in 1925 of Ferde Grofé's Mississippi Suite - an orchestral suite in four movements depicting scenes along a journey along the Mississippi River from its source in the streams of Minnesota down to New Orleans. Huckleberry Finn makes an appearance, as do slave spirituals. The suite's final movement later had lyrics written for it and became the song, Daybreak, which Frank Sinatra recorded twice.
Leonard Bernstein: West Side Story – Suite for Violin and Orchestra
Violin: Joshua Bell
David Zinman conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra
Scott Joplin: The Ragtime Dance
Piano: Joshua Rifkin
Aaron Copland: Billy the Kid
Aaron Copland conducts the London Symphony Orchestra.
Morten Lauridsen: O Magnum Mysterium
David Hill conducts the Choir of St. John’s College, Cambridge
George Gershwin: Piano Concerto in F
Piano: Garrick Ohlsson
Michael Tilson Thomas conducts the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra
Ferde Grofe: Mississippi Suite
William T. Stromberg conducts the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
Charles Ives: Variations on America
Kurt Masur conducting the New York Philharmonic