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American classical music is music written in the United States but in the European classical music tradition. In many cases, beginning in the 18th century, it has been influenced by American folk music styles; and from the 20th century to the present day it has often been influenced by folk, jazz, blues, and pop styles.

Jazz music is sometimes referred to as American classical music, mainly by jazz musicians. They feel that, being as jazz originated in America, jazz is the true American classical music[citation needed].

Sometimes later Rock & Roll is referred to as American "classic" music, since it too originated in the United States.

Contents

Beginnings

If "classical" can be taken to mean what it often in fact means, "serious", then the earliest American classical music consists of part-songs used in religious services during Colonial times. The first music of this type in America were the psalm books, such as the Ainsworth Psalter, brought over from Europe by the settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The first music publication in English-speaking North America — indeed the first publication of any kind — was the Bay Psalm Book of 1640.

Many American composers of this period worked (like Benjamin West and the young Samuel Morse in painting) exclusively with European models, while others, such as William Billings, Supply Belcher, Daniel Read, Oliver Holden, and Justin Morgan, also known as the First New England School, developed a native style almost entirely independently of European models. Many of these composers were amateurs, and many were singers: they developed new forms of sacred music, such as the fuguing tune, suitable for performance by amateurs, and often using harmonic methods which would have been considered bizarre by contemporary European standards. Some of the most unusual innovators were composers such as Anthony Philip Heinrich, who received some formal instrumental training but were entirely self-taught in composition. Heinrich traveled extensively throughout the interior of the young United States in the early 19th century, recording his experiences with colorful orchestral and chamber music which had almost nothing in common with the music being composed in Europe. Heinrich was the first American composer to write for symphony orchestra, as well as the first to conduct a Beethoven symphony in the United States (in Lexington, Kentucky in 1817).

Because the United States is made up of many states, some of which were parts of other empires, the classical music of the nation has derived from those empires respectively. The earliest classical music in what is now California, and other former Spanish colonies, was the renaissance polyphony of Spain. This sacred classical music was provided to support the liturgy of the Catholic Church.

Second New England School

During the mid to late 19th century, a vigorous tradition of home-grown classical music developed, especially in New England. The composers of the Second New England School included such figures as George Whitefield Chadwick, Amy Beach, Edward MacDowell, and Horatio Parker, who was the teacher of Charles Ives. Many of these composers went to Europe — especially Germany — to study, but returned to the United States to compose, perform, and acquire students. Some of their stylistic descendants include 20th century composers such as Howard Hanson, Walter Piston, and Roger Sessions.

Scott Joplin

African-American composer Scott Joplin was one of the most significant self-defined classical composers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Although first revived after the end of the Jim Crow era by Joshua Rifkin and William Bolcom as the leading exponent of the popular genre ragtime, it is clear from Joplin's Maple Leaf Rag and his opera Treemonisha, that he is part of the classical tradition.

20th century

In the early 20th century, George Gershwin was greatly influenced by African American music. He created a convincing synthesis of music from several traditions. Similarly inclined was Leonard Bernstein, who at times mixed non-tonal music with Jazz.

Many of the major classical composers of the 20th century were influenced by folk traditions, none more quintessentially, perhaps, than Charles Ives or Aaron Copland. Other composers adopted features of folk music, from the Appalachians, the plains and elsewhere, including Roy Harris, Elmer Bernstein, William Schuman, David Diamond, Elie Siegmeister, and others. Yet other early to mid-20th century composers continued in the more experimental traditions, including such figures as Charles Ives, George Antheil, John Cage and Henry Cowell.

It was during the 20th Century that film music was first created. Over the evolution of the cinema the music took on greater and greater sophistication. Significant composers of film music include Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Bernard Hermann, Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams.

The 20th Century also saw important works published by such significant immigrant composers as Igor Stravinsky and Arnold Schoenberg who came to America for a variety of reasons, including political persecution, aesthetic freedom and economic opportunity.

Philip Glass

In the 1980s, after a period during which self-defined American "classical" composers like John Cage adopted atonal structures, Philip Glass revived tonality and traditional genres, such as opera in works like Einstein on the Beach. Glass helped create a mass market for "classical" music after audiences outside of the avant-garde had simply generally refused Modernist, atonal music.

A pessimist model, shared by Aldous Huxley and Theodor Adorno, of the classical tradition in Europe was that it peaked with Beethoven. Aldous Huxley believed that subsequent classical music was vulgarized with the re-entry of the unsublimated erotic and Adorno believed that commodification entered with Wagner. "American classical music" flourished much after Beethoven. Some might say, beyond the pessimism of European sentimentalities.

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