American history stands testimony to the rich heritage and distinctive culture it offers through its varied music styles. Bluegrass, Jazz, Ragtime, Hymns, etc., are among the many creations of various American classical music composers. Surely, it takes a lot for anyone to achieve the title of a “Great Classical Music Composer.”
The harmonious blend of discipline, dedicated extreme hard work, and raw talent is among the required traits needed to reach this level of acclaim. These amazing American classical music composers succeeded in touching millions of hearts through their tunes and melodies for years. Their music, now eternal, continues to do the same, just as they were touched when it first came into being.
In this article, we’re going to list ten of the greatest American classical music composers. You might know some of them already, while others you may not. With that in mind, let’s get started.
The 10 Greatest American Classical Music Composers
1. John Adams
When it comes to classical music in the contemporary period, John Adams is considered by many as the pioneer and the leader. A large section of people also mistake the late U.S. President for the classical music composer John Coolidge Adams. If you didn’t know, yes! They are indeed two different individuals.
The classical music composer was born in the year 1947 in Massachusetts’ very own Worcester city. John Adams is an acclaimed American classical music composer who’s bagged the Erasmus Prize and the Pulitzer Prize for Music.
Adams’ father was his first teacher, who taught him how to play the clarinet. Following this, at the tender age of 10, John Adams composed his first-ever classical music piece. This amazing conductor and composer is extremely popular and has written a number of beautiful operas.
It includes several single pieces and film scores, including Call Me by Your Name. You’ll also know him as the composer of The Death of Klinghoffer. John Adams attended Harvard University and got his bachelor’s degree there. Adams’ senior thesis was a musical composition, and he was the first ever individual to do this.
2. Charles Ives
This particular American classical composer is among the first ever to become globally renowned from the U.S. Charles Ives is also among the first to make use of experimental techniques to compose music. Charles Ives is from the city of Danbury, Connecticut. He was born in the year 1874.
You’ll be able to find tons of accomplished and famous works composed by Ives. Among these, the most popular ones are Symphony No. 4, Concord Sonata, Central Park In The Dark, Three Places In New England, and Variations on America.
The composer was 79 years of age when he passed away in the year 1954. The main cause was reported to be a stroke he suffered in the same year. Ives belonged to a certain category of legends whose work gained traction only after their passing. At the same time, that’s not to say he wasn’t popular.
Charles Ives received a variety of reputed posthumous awards. The most notable among them were the Pulitzer Prize and a Grammy Award. In the modern age, Ives’ music continues to receive praise and popularity from all over the globe.
3. Steve Reich
Born in the year 1936, New York City’s very own Steve Reich is considered by many a minimalist classical music composer. It was only around the 1960s when Reich really dwelled in the art of composing classical music scores. Over the following years, he has been a part of various independent projects and composed many film soundtracks.
In his long career as one of the greatest American composers, Reich has worked on various instrumentations as well. You might be unaware that Reich is also a skilled creative writer and has published books.
Among his most notable works, classical compositions such as Pendulum Music, Music For 18 Musicians, Different Trains, and It’s Gonna Rain surely stand out. Reich’s works maintain their relevance even in today’s contemporary classical music scene. It was in 2019 when Steve Reich last composed a classical music album.
4. Aaron Copland
If you were a teen or an adult during the golden 90’s generation, you must’ve come across the commercial titled “Beef: It’s What’s for Dinner.” It was none other than Aaron Copland who composed the said instrumental buildup.
The youngest child, the composer, was born in the year 1900 in Brooklyn city, New York. Out of all his siblings, Aaron Copland was the one who displayed the greatest interest in classical music. It was Copland’s mother who first laid the foundations of his career in classical music. He was only about 8 when he composed songs for the very first time.
At the expense of his father’s chagrin and mother’s delight, Aaron Copland pursued music at the Fontainebleau School of Music. He became a full-time classical music composer upon his return to NY City in 1925.
Segre Koussevitzky, the director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, was his mentor. Programs such as the Guggenheim Fellowships helped Copland support himself. The American classical music composer composed many music scores and ballets. Appalachian Spring is among his most notable pieces.
5. John Cage Jr.
When it comes to the experimental music style, John Cage Jr. is among the first names that come to anyone’s mind. Born in LA in 1912, he’s considered by many as among the 20th Century’s most influential American classical music composers.
His influence isn’t limited to classical music alone. John Cage Jr. is also known for his contributions to modern dance. John Cage’s perspective on classical music was quite different from many other composers of his time.
That’s because he believed, beyond all the technicalities and sophisticated notes classical music is known for, music should ultimately be fun. The same is evident from how his many compositions came into being. That is, not by design, but rather by chance. Variation III, Sonatas and Interludes, and 4’33 are among John Cage Jr.’s most popular compositions.
6. Florence Price
A classical music composer, teacher, organist, and pianist, Price donned a variety of roles during her active career. This female composer was from Little Rock, Arkansas, and was born in the year 1887. Price is among the few classical music composers who are from the African American community.
Florence Price was also the first woman from the community to be accorded the title of a symphonic composer. When Price was 4, she attended a piano recital for the first time along with her mother. At 11 years of age, Price was done composing her first work.
Over the long span of her career, she worked on a variety of pieces. It includes piano pieces, concertos, symphonies, and choral music, among many others. Summer Moon, Ethiopia’s Shadow In America, Fantasie Nègre, and Symphony No. 1 in E minor are among Price’s most reputed pieces.
Even today, Price and her music remain very relevant. In that regard, the inauguration of the Florence Price Festival comes as no surprise.
7. George Gershwin
In brief, this individual is among the best-remembered and greatest American classical music composers of all time. He’s from Brooklyn city, NY, specifically from the Yiddish Theater District. Gershwin started pursuing his career in classical music professionally at the age of 15 after leaving school and he worked on many well-known projects with his brother, Ira, a lyricist.
The famous Jewish composer heavily contributed to Broadway alongside William Dally, the songwriter and director. In 1919, he released his song Swanee which became a great hit. Other than that, Piccadilly to Broadway, a musical, is also among Gershwin’s most popular classical numbers.
His journey as a classical composer was really boosted by his work on Rhapsody in Blue, which many consider Gershwin’s best piece. A highly ambitious and talented classical music composer, Gershwin always focused on getting better, which is evident from his life.
8. Cole Porter
From a young age, Cole Porter, although trained in classical music, had a huge inclination toward theatrical music. That’s why you might notice that Porter has composed tons of musicals over the span of his career. It was 1928 when Porter released Paris, his first greatly successful musical piece.
The classical music composer was among the most successful and highly rewarded individuals by 1930. His most popular works included compositions such as Kiss Me, Kate, High Society, The New Yorkers, and Aladdin. On Broadway, there were very few individuals who’d compose the pieces and curate lyrics for the same. Cole Porter was rightly among such talented composers.
When we talk about the amount of success Porter was able to garner on Broadway, it was simply mind-boggling. On various Hollywood events and occasions, the said composer has been invited multiple times. With that said, it’s to no one’s surprise that several of Porter’s pieces have made it to the big stage.
Porter has also been inducted into the Hollywood Walk of Fame, albeit posthumously, earning him a star. During his lifetime, Porter suffered from many health conditions, specifically relating to ulcers. In total, he had to go through more than thirty surgeries.
Unfortunately, these surgeries didn’t amount to much, and his leg was amputated. Cole Porter passed away at the age of 73 due to kidney failure.
9. Clara Edwards
This American classical artist was among the most well-known woman composers around the 1920s and beyond. It was a particularly important period in Edwards’ musical career because that was when she started composing professionally. Not only was Edwards a talented and highly praised composer, but she was also a great pianist and singer.
Edwards was from Minnesota, specifically Decoria Township. She attended Chicago’s famous Cosmopolitan School of Music. Right after music school, she became a full-time professional singer. At that time, Edwards toured Europe and US and garnered a decent following. But she lost her husband and had to make the difficult choice of switching careers.
All these events cleared her path toward becoming a composer. It’s true that when you compare Edwards with other well-known composers, this female composer did have a late start. But that didn’t stop her from releasing more than 100 classical pieces. You probably will have heard of pieces such as Into The Night, With The Wind And The Rain In Your Hair, and By The Bend Of The River.
Check out The Ultimate List of Classical Piano Pieces right here.
10. Leonard Bernstein
Saving the best for the last, Bernstein is a resident of Lawrence, Massachusetts. The classical music composer was born in the year 1918. A humanitarian, author, music teacher, pianist, and conductor, Leonard Bernstein is rightly among the most qualified American classical music composers.
Originally his name was Louis Bernstein. But the composer changed his name to Leonard Bernstein legally (insisted specifically by his grandmother). You can find numerous accomplished American conductors, but none like Leonard Bernstein. The classical composer holds the title of the first American to achieve global fame as a conductor.
Not only that! We’re sure you’ve heard of the New York Philharmonic. Yes! That famous orchestral composition. Leonard Bernstein was also the first American to lead the orchestra. The classical composer possessed an extremely versatile compositional style. It ranged from choral and chamber to orchestral music to symphonic.
Bernstein began learning piano by the time he was 10 by teaching himself all the basics. Later, he took piano lessons. The classical composer attended the Curtis Institute of Music at Harvard University. He later continued his studies alongside the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
These were some of the greatest American classical music composers. All these individuals have left an irreplaceable mark on the rich history of the American classical scene. If you’ve found our article helpful, share it with your friends and families. Plus, don’t forget to mention which one of these classical composers is your favorite. And in case we missed out on anything, remind us by commenting down below.
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