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Popular U.S. Classical Composers


After the United States declared its independence from Britain, finally settled into the new land, and matured into a thriving nation, arts and music flourished. This is why you rarely see any American composers before the late romantic period. Though it would be nearly impossible to list every classical composer to have came from the United States, I've put together a brief list of some of the most celebrated American composers and YouTube links to several of their notable works.

Samuel Barber: 1910-1981
Born and raised in West Chester, PA, Barber was an extremely successful classical composer, composing works for choir, orchestra, opera, piano, and art song. His notable works are:

  • Adagio for Strings (via Youtube)
  • Sure on this Shining Night
    (Nathan Gunn's performance of this piece is hands down the greatest I've heard, but it is not listed on YouTube. The best I could find was this preview on Amazon.com.)

    Leonard Bernstein: 1918-1990
    Conducting wasn't Bernstein's only talent. He also possessed pretty impressive composing skills. He wrote opera, musicals, orchestral music, choral music, piano music, and more. His notable works are:

  • Candide (via Youtube)
  • Chichester Psalms (via Youtube)
  • West Side Story (via Youtube)

    Aaron Copland: 1900-1990
    Copland was born in Brooklyn, NY at the turn of the century. Apart from composing, Copland was a teacher, conductor, and even a writer. Much of Copland's music can be heard on the big and small screens, as it is often used in film and television soundtracks. His notable works are:

  • Fanfare for the Common Man (via Youtube)
  • Appalachian Spring (via Youtube)

    Duke Ellington: 1899-1974
    Ellington was a prolific composer and created music in a variety of genres ranging from classical to jazz to film. Thanks to his efforts, the prominence of jazz was elevated to levels on par with popular music. His notable works are:

  • It Don't Mean a Thing (via Youtube)
  • Anatomy of a Murder (via Youtube)

    George Gershwin: 1898-1937
    Also born in Brooklyn, Gershwin accomplished many things in his relatively short life. With many fantastic compositions, his music won't be forgotten. His notable works are:

  • "Summertime" from Porgy & Bess (via Youtube)
  • Rhapsody in Blue (via Youtube)

    Charles Ives: 1874-1954
    Although Ives received formal training in classical music, because he worked full time in the insurance business, his music was considered by many to be 'amateur'. Time proved otherwise - he is now considered one of the U.S.A.'s first internationally renowned composers. His notable works are:

  • Robert Browning Overture (via Youtube)
  • Symphony No. 1 (via Youtube)

    Scott Joplin: 1867-1917
    If you hear someone say "The King of Ragtime", you'll know they are talking about Scott Joplin. Joplin was born in Texas, but spent much of his life traveling and performing. Even though Joplin's compositions started America's early obsession with ragtime, he never achieved great success. His notable works are:

  • Maple Leaf Rag (via Youtube)
  • The Entertainer (via Youtube)
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