Writ­ten by Lau­ren Car­rane

With the Fourth of July just around the cor­ner, we are feel­ing espe­cial­ly patri­ot­ic. When we talk about music that is quin­tes­sen­tial­ly Amer­i­can, some of us might think about rock or jazz before clas­si­cal music. Even though the Euro­pean mas­ters dom­i­nate much of clas­si­cal music, there are many Amer­i­can com­posers who have cre­at­ed their own unique voice.

One of the great things about hav­ing a clar­inet in our ensem­ble is that we often explore new­er music because the clar­inet is a rel­a­tive­ly new instru­ment. And of course, that means we can choose from more Amer­i­can com­posers.

Yuan-Qing Yu, vio­lin­ist for Civ­i­tas, says she espe­cial­ly likes work­ing with Chica­go com­posers. “I enjoy work­ing with com­posers in our own city, includ­ing Stacey Gar­rop, Augus­ta Read Thomas, and Antho­ny Che­ung, among many oth­ers. I have record­ed sev­er­al of Augusta’s won­der­ful vio­lin pieces, and Win­ston Choi, Ken Olsen and I will have the priv­i­lege of record­ing her new piano trio this sum­mer,” she says.

Here are some of our favorite Amer­i­can com­posers whose music we’ve per­formed over the years:

Aaron Cop­land (1900−1990)
It’s easy to see why Aaron Cop­land tops our list. His music is per­fect­ly Amer­i­can: a won­der­ful mix­ture of artistry and pop­ulism. The son of Jew­ish Lithuan­ian immi­grants, Cop­land grew up above his parent’s store in Brook­lyn, and his music incor­po­rates ele­ments of jazz, folk and oth­er gen­res to cre­ate a dis­tinct­ly Amer­i­can sound. Although he is most well-known for his large-scale sym­phonies and bal­lets, he also wrote sev­er­al cham­ber music pieces, includ­ing one of our favorites, Sex­tet for clar­inet, piano and string quar­tet.
Lis­ten: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7z2M3DiAg28

John Williams (1932- )
There is no liv­ing Amer­i­can com­pos­er more well-known or well-loved than John Williams. Best known for his scores for films such as Star Wars, Indi­ana Jones, Har­ry Pot­ter, and Schindler’s List, Williams’ music is some of the most rec­og­nized clas­si­cal music of the mod­ern age. Williams’ music is melod­ic and stir­ring, cre­at­ing an emo­tion­al response with the lis­ten­er. And he’s not just a film com­pos­er. He has also writ­ten sev­er­al orches­tral and cham­ber music works, includ­ing Air and Sim­ple Gifts, which was per­formed at Barack Obama’s first inau­gu­ra­tion.
Lis­ten: http://blogs.wfmt.com/livefromwfmt/2013/03/18/the-civitas-ensemble-2/

Charles Ives (1874−1954)
Born in Dan­bury, CT, Charles Ives was the son of a U.S. Army band­leader dur­ing the Civ­il War, and Ives was influ­enced by the band music that was played in the town square, as well as church hymns. His work was large­ly ignored dur­ing his life­time, because it was ahead of its time, incor­po­rat­ing a lot of dis­so­nance and com­plex rhythms, and today he is con­sid­ered an Amer­i­can orig­i­nal. We enjoyed play­ing his Largo for Clar­inet, Vio­lin and Piano at the Chica­go Art Insti­tute on June 5.
Lis­ten: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wKroVwZdtiA

John Corigliano (1938- )
Civ­i­tas clar­inetist J. Lawrie Bloom remem­bers when John Corigliano became the first-ever com­pos­er-in-res­i­dence for the Chica­go Sym­pho­ny Orches­tra. Dur­ing his res­i­den­cy, he wrote his first sym­pho­ny, address­ing the AIDS epi­dem­ic, which won him a Gram­my award. Known for his eclec­tic, yet approach­able music, Corigliano has com­posed every­thing from small cham­ber music pieces to large sym­phonies, an opera and the score to the film The Red Vio­lin. One of the pieces we love is a lit­tle gem called Snap­shot, a beau­ti­ful­ly nos­tal­gic quar­tet that was inspired by a pho­to of the composer’s father on vio­lin and his uncle on gui­tar.
Lis­ten: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=We1kefxWtFk

John Mack­ey (1973- )
What could be a more mod­ern Amer­i­can sto­ry than a teenag­er grow­ing up in the ’80s who didn’t play any for­mal instru­ments but began com­pos­ing music on a com­put­er pro­gram? John Mackey’s music is known for its high ener­gy, dra­mat­ic tone and sense of play­ful­ness. Invig­o­rat­ing­ly ener­getic, Break­down Tan­go has become one of our sta­ple pieces.
Lis­ten: https://soundcloud.com/civitas-ensemble/john-mackey-breakdown-tango/s-sw6Wq

Ned Rorem (1923- )
Born in Indi­ana, Amer­i­can com­pos­er Ned Rorem first stud­ied piano in Chica­go, before con­tin­u­ing his stud­ies at North­west­ern Uni­ver­si­ty, the Cur­tis Insti­tute in Philadel­phia and the Juil­liard School. In 1949, he went to Paris to study com­po­si­tion, return­ing to the Unit­ed States in 1957 to start a long, pro­lif­ic career as a com­pos­er of songs, choral works, operas, sym­phonies, cham­ber music and more. “Nine Episodes for Four Play­ers” is a poignant piece, which he com­posed after the death of his long-time part­ner. What a mov­ing expe­ri­ence for us to have per­formed this fan­tas­tic work at North­west­ern in 2013 in hon­or of Rorem’s 90th birth­day.
Lis­ten: http://www.classicalarchives.com/work/56331.html

Who are some of your favorite Amer­i­can com­posers? Tell us in the com­ments below!


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