William Schuman’s Third Symphony: An American Monument

The ten years between 1935 and 1945 produced a handful of contenders for the title of “great American symphony.” The list includes Samuel Barber’s epic 1936 Symphony in One Movement, the third symphonies of Roy Harris and Aaron Copland, and David Diamond’s Second Symphony, as well as symphonies by Howard Hanson and Walter Piston, among others. Many of these commissions were initiated by Serge Koussevitzky, the influential music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, …

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Three Youthful American Overtures: Music of Barber, Copland, and Schuman

Festive American music will be as much on the menu as hot dogs and hamburgers this week as we celebrate Independence Day across the United States. In anticipation of the holiday, here are three thrilling and festive American overtures from the mid twentieth century. The indomitable spirit of youth permeates all three of these pieces: Barber: Overture to “The School for Scandal,” Op. 5 This was the young 21-year-old Samuel Barber’s first …

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A William Schuman Fourth

In celebration of Independence Day, here is Chester, the final movement of American composer William Schuman’s 1956 New England Triptych. It’s a setting of one of the most famous hymn tunes of William Billings (1746-1800), America’s first choral composer. Originating in Billings’ 1770 songbook, The New England Psalm Singer, Chester became a marching song for the Continental Army during the American Revolution. Schuman’s Chester opens with a statement of the simple hymn melody before the music erupts into a spirited, celebratory …

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The Manipulative Power of TV News Music

From the ominous minor second “shark motive” in Jaws, to E.T.’s soaring “Flying Theme,” to the terror of Psycho’s blood-stained shower, music plays an obvious role in heightening the drama of our favorite movie scenes. Music has the unique capability to transcend the literal and transport us into the world of metaphor, a place where fundamental truths are most deeply and directly experienced. In some cases, music may be the most important dramatic ingredient. For example, video footage of …

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