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Celebrate the Fourth of July With Iconic American Classical Music

While the United States may have been a little late to the party when it comes to classical music there's no denying that we've produced our fair share of iconic composers. Get in a patriotic mood with these iconic pieces by some of the giants of American classical music.

Appalachian Spring, Orchestral Suite by Aaron Copland

It's hard to think of a composer who did more to define the "American" sound in classical music than Aaron Copland. He's most well known for his iconic works for orchestra such as Fanfare for the Common Man and El Salón México as well as for his ballets Rodeo, Billy the Kid, and of course Appalachian Spring. Take a listen to this fantastic rendition of one Copland's timeless classics by the Philharmonia Orchestra as it takes you on a journey back to the time of the early American pioneers.

Simple Song from Mass by Leonard Bernstein

Leonard Bernstein is almost certainly most remembered for writing West Side Story but this pioneering composer and conductor explored the blurry boundary between classical music, popular music, and musical theatre in so much of his work. There is no piece that perfectly sits in that cross-section of genres than Simple Song from Mass. This rendition by Renée Fleming is the quintessential recording of the piece full of tenderness, color, and unsurprisingly simplicity.

Stars and Stripes Forever by John Philip Sousa

It would almost be a crime to talk about classic American music and not mention the king of marches himself, John Philip Sousa. A formidable composer and conductor in his own right, Sousa pretty much perfected the craft of writing a march. As one of the pre-eminent bandmasters of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Sousa holds a lot of responsibility for the development of the concert band. Whether you love his marches or not there's no denying the impact he had on the world of music. Now for your listening pleasure please enjoy Stars and Stripes Forever as performed by "The President's Own" U.S. Marine Band.

When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom'd by George Walker

George Walker may be a name that less familiar to those of you reading this but he is in the middle of a resurgence as the world of classical music takes a second look at his body of work. He was the first black person to the win the Pulitzer Prize for Music which he won in 1996 for his work Lilacs. Walker brought a wide range of genres and influences to his work from jazz and folk songs to church hymns and classical repertoire. Here we present to you the first movement of his Pulitzer Prize winning piece, Lilacs. If you enjoy it we highly encourage you to go listen to the other movements.

Breaker Boys from Anthracite Fields by Julia Wolfe

We could go on recommending music forever but for the sake of not going overboard this fantastic cross genre piece by Julia Wolfe is the final piece on this list. Julia Wolfe is a founding member of the composer collective, Bang on a Can, and one of the most prominent living American composers working today. In Anthracite Fields Wolfe explores the plight of coal miners in West Virginia during the early 20th century. Breaker Boys uses the names of the young boys signed on actual work ledgers used by the coal mines in West Virginia. These boys were typically between the ages of 8 - 12 and hand sorted out impurities from coal that had been mined. The recording below is performed by the Choir of Trinity Wall Street and the Bang on a Can All-Stars.

If you enjoyed this music there's so much more to explore. All you have to do is search for American composers and a list of fantastic composers will keep you occupied for days if not weeks or months. We hope you have a great Fourth of July and take some time reflect on all the different facets of what it means to be an American.


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