The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Today is the Fourth of July. Independence Day is the right time to celebrate American classical composers and patriotic concert music. Here are three ways to do that | July 4, 2018

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the Fourth of July – Independence Day.

That makes it exactly the right time to think about American composers and American patriotic music – both of which have been receiving well-deserved airplay all week on Wisconsin Public Radio.

Here are three items that seem appropriate because they pertain to American composers and American classical music.


Tonight at 7 p.m. on the King Street corner of the Capital Square in downtown Madison, guest conductor Huw Edwards (below) will lead the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra in its Concert on the Square for the Fourth of July.

The “American Salute” program includes: “American Salute” by Morton Gould; the Overture to “Candide” by Leonard Bernstein; “Wisconsin Forward Forever” by march king John Philip Sousa; and, of course, “The 1812 Overture” by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

Blankets can go down on the ground starting at 3 p.m. For more general information about attending the concert including weather updates, rules and etiquette, and food caterers and vendors, go to:


Can you name 30 American classical composers? The Ear tried and it’s not easy.

But thanks to Capital Public Radio in Sacramento, California – which will also play and stream (click on the Listen tab) such music today — it isn’t hard.

Here is a link:

You can click on the link “Playlist for Independence Day” and see the photo of the composers and the titles of compositions that will be played.

You can also click on the composer’s name in the alphabetized list and see a biography in Wikipedia.

Can you think of American composers who didn’t make the list? Leave the name or names – Henry Cowell and Virgil Thomson (below)  come to mind — in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Finally, given the controversial political issues of the day surrounding immigration, The Ear offers this take on perhaps the most virtuosic piano transcription of patriotic music ever played.

It was done by someone who immigrated permanently to the U.S. in 1939 and then became a naturalized citizen in 1944. He also raised millions through war bonds during World War II.

He was the Russian-born pianist Vladimir Horowitz, here playing his own celebrated virtuoso arrangement – done in 1945 for a patriotic rally and war bonds concert in Central Park — of ”The Stars and Stripes Forever” by John Philip Sousa.

Here is a link to his biography in Wikipedia:

And here is the YouTube audio of his own performance of the Sousa piece, with the score, including all the special technical demands, especially lots of Horowitz’s famous octaves, to follow along with. It’s a performance that has become justifiably legendary:


  1. How’s this list, done with out consulting Google (though I did consult my Amazon Music because I could not pull Ned Rosen from my brain):

    Louis Moreau Gottschalk
    2. Edward McDowell
    3. Charles Ives
    4. Aaron Copland
    5. Leonard Bernstein
    6. Morton Subotnick
    7. Morton Gould
    8. Milton Babbitt
    9. Norman Dello Joio
    10. William Schuman
    11. Virgil Thomson
    12. Philip Glass
    13. John Adams
    14. Steve Reich
    15. Carlisle Floyd
    15. Joan Tower
    16. Alice Parker
    17. Robert Shaw
    18. Libby Larsen
    19. Randall Thompson
    20. Vincent Persichetti
    21. William Grant Still
    22. Stephen Paulus
    23. Dan Diamond
    24. Samuel Barber
    25. George Gershwin
    26. Duke Ellington
    27. Eric Whitacre
    28. Roy Moore
    29. Ned Forum
    30. Leo Sowerby


    Comment by Guy Stalnaker — July 4, 2018 @ 8:04 am

    • God I hate autocorrect … Ned Rorem!


      Comment by Guy Stalnaker — July 4, 2018 @ 8:05 am

    • Sorry, your list misses lots of good American composers like John Williams, Alan Hovhaness, Amy Beach, Arty Shaw, Morten Lauridsen etc. The one linked to in the story is much better.


      Comment by fflambeau — July 4, 2018 @ 6:42 pm

  2. Hi, Jake — a happy 4th to you!

    It appears that the people who chose the list of 30 made a special point of emphasizing the diversity of contributors, which is definitely an appropriate approach in today’s toxic environment. And it really is a well-chosen cross-section of influences in American Classical music. But of course several who were once really major figures were left out — those that come to mind for me are Edward MacDowell, Charles Griffes, Roy Harris, Norman Dello Joio, and Vincent Persichetti.


    Comment by Tim Adrianson — July 4, 2018 @ 7:47 am

  3. How could they leave out Charles Ives’ Variations on America?Ives / Variations on ‘America’ – YouTube
    Cal Bruce


    Comment by CALVIN S BRUCE — July 4, 2018 @ 7:19 am

    • To me the most amazing miss on the list is Howard Hanson. Former founding Dean of the Eastman School of Music and a prolific and talented composer. They also did not need to include Dvorak, even with the asterisk noting he is not American.


      Comment by fflambeau — July 4, 2018 @ 6:46 pm

  4. We tend to think of American composers only in terms of nationalism and bombast: John Philips Sousa (who really wrote circus music) for instance.

    There are many other wonderful, thoughtful composers who get little exposure such as:

    1) Amy Beach;
    2) William Grant Still;
    3) Howard Hanson;
    4) Alan Hovhaness;
    5) Jack Gallagher (his “Quiet Reflections” played on WPR recently is lovely);


    Comment by fflambeau — July 4, 2018 @ 1:17 am

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