The keypad of a telephone showing the buttons for numbers 1 to 9
What About Those Great American Symphonies?

What About Those Great American Symphonies?

The keypad of a telephone showing the buttons for numbers 1 to 9

A game involving lists of nine “desert island” symphonies has been making the rounds on Facebook this week, ostensibly inspired by a blogpost from back in January by DK Dexter Haven, although Jim Rosenfield played this same game with me last year at the American Academy of Arts and Letters Ceremonial.

Basically the challenge is to come up with a list of nine symphonies by nine different composers that are titled with the numbers one to nine; un-numbered symphonies are disqualified (which even includes single symphonies by composers who did not designate them as “No. 1”). Since we’re New Music USA after all, I thought I’d further up the ante with a list devoted exclusively to works by American composers. But since I’m also FJO, I couldn’t limit myself to one per number and even broke a few of the rules (as you’ll see)…

1. While I’m extremely partial to Irving Fine’s sole symphony, he didn’t number it so I can’t include it. But it’s still worth acknowledging, as is John Vincent’s sole symphony, John Duffy’s Symphony No. 1 “Utah,” Meira Warshauer’s Symphony “Living Breathing Earth” (which was her first and thus far only symphony), Elliott Carter’s Symphony No. 1 (he actually did number it, even though he composed two symphonies after that and didn’t number either of them), and Aaron Jay Kernis’s Symphony in Waves which retroactively must be considered his Symphony No. 1 since his next symphony was Symphony No. 2. But I’m reserving this slot for Ellen Taaffe Zwilich’s first symphony from 1982, which was the first composition by a female composer to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Music (1983). The sticklers may cry foul here since ETZ originally titled the work “Three Movements for Orchestra.” Well, tough…

2. Among the Philip Glass symphonies, I have always had a particular fondness for his Second, which has some amazing polytonal harmonies. I was really torn, however, because I also really adore the second symphonies of Chen Yi and Colin McPhee, both of which are fascinating amalgams of Eastern and Western traditions.

3. Another difficult decision. One of the most powerful live performances I have ever attended was the world premiere of John Corigliano’s Circus Maximus for wind band which he has titled his Symphony No 3, and another Symphony No. 3 for wind band by Vittorio Giannini is also extraordinary. Everyone loves to single out the third symphonies of Aaron Copland and Roy Harris as candidates for “the great American symphony,” but what about the unjustly neglected third symphony of Florence Price, a fascinating African-American symphonist whose works have recently been revived through the efforts of the Chicago-based Center for Black Music Research? Since hers is the least known and is equally worthy, I’ll cede the No.3 slot to her.

4. For once, I’ll go with my gut and choose the Fourth Symphony of Charles Ives which was not premiered in full until 11 years after Ives’s death (when the American Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Leopold Stokowski, with the help of two additional conductors, made its way through this legendary complex score on the stage of Carnegie Hall). The Grateful Dead used to spin the original Stokowski LP recording of that prior to going on stage for inspiration. How can I challenge them on that? This piece was one of the pieces that made me a lifelong devotee of contemporary music. That said, I also have quite a fondness for Lou Harrison’s fourth and final symphony which features narration by Al Jarreau.

5. I’d like to play trickster here and include the Fifth Symphony of Bohuslav Martinů whom some may balk at the inclusion of on this list since he was born in the Czech Republic and he returned to Europe toward the end of his life. But the first five of his six symphonies were all written in the United States during the 12 years he lived here, and that’s good enough for me. If it’s not “American” enough for you, you can replace it with the wonderful Fifth Symphony of Kamran Ince, but since he divides his time between the United States and Turkey and his music reflects his bi-cultural heritage, I don’t offer an easy alternative.

6. Playing trickster once again, I want to give this slot to the Symphony No. 6, subtitled “Devil Choirs At The Gates Of Heaven” by Glenn Branca, which is scored for an ensemble of electric guitars and drums. Folks horrified that I have manipulated the rules here and have thrown in a piece that is not for orchestra (though technically it qualifies) might want to substitute it with the wonderful Symphony No. 6 by Howard Hanson which breaks different rules; instead of being in the typical fast, slow, and ultimately fast mold, it opts for slow, fast, and slow—to great effect. I say go for broke and include them both.

7. I had to choose a symphony by Henry Cowell—he completed 20 and was at work on No. 21 when he died. Folks who only know of Cowell from his inside-the-piano and tone-cluster pyrotechnics might be surprised by the lush Symphony No. 7 from 1952, which is similar in style to his numerous Hymn and Fuguing Tune compositions for various forces. The “Symphony Seven” by Charles Wuorinen (whose symphonic numbering is somewhat confusing since several have no numerical prefix and some numbers he avoided altogether)—is also a worthy candidate here, but sadly it still awaits a commercial recording.

8. One of the only clearly audible tone rows in a composition occurs at the very beginning of Roger Sessions’s Symphony No. 8, a powerful work created during the height of the Vietnam War. Another wonderful Eighth Symphony is the one by Vincent Persichetti—I’m particularly smitten with the voicings in the second movement. I’ll let you choose.

9. But for the ninth symphony slot, I’d like to propose another emotional rollercoaster from the 1960s, William Schuman’s Symphony No. 9 “Le fosse Ardeatine,” a searing work written in memoriam for the victims of the Fosse Ardeatine massacre of 1944. Then again, another really cool No. 9 is that of Irwin Bazelon, but technically it’s his tenth since after his Symphony No. 8, he titled his next one Symphony 8½ and that piece is pretty interesting, too.

10. According to the rules of this game we’re supposed to stop at nine, because Beethoven did, but many important American composers wrote more than nine symphonies and some of their best work is to be found in these higher numbers. I love the 15th Symphony of Gloria Coates, the most recent one I know of, and if I had to choose one of the 67 symphonies of Alan Hovhaness (who really belongs on this list), I’d have to go with either No. 17 for metal instruments (scored just for flutes, trombone, and percussion) or No. 50 “Mount Saint Helens.” For sheer pranksterism, I also feel compelled to include the 67th Symphony of Dennis Busch, a New Jersey-based composer who writes in the style of middle-period Haydn. That one’ll keep folks scratching their heads all night!

I’m sure there’s tons of other worthy stuff I left out, so please tell me what I’ve missed!

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47 thoughts on “What About Those Great American Symphonies?

    1. Frank J. Oteri Post author

      Thanks for your thoughtful response. I have a fondness for all of the pieces you list here. There are actually four numbered Sinfonias by George Walker and I particularly like the most recent one, but playing by the rules (in so far as I did) only allowed me to choose works that were called “Symphony” followed by a number, hence the Olly Wilson and George Walker works technically don’t qualify nor do the two Carter pieces. (The only Carter work that does is his Symphony No. 1 which I did cite.) While Olly Wilson’s Sinfonia was not followed by a number, one could perhaps argue that the George Walker Sinfonia No. 4 I just mentioned is really his Symphony No. 4 since “sinfonia” is merely an Italian translation of symphony. (Well, actually “symphony” is an English translation of the original Italian word “sinfonia.”) It is interesting, though, that he chose to avoid the English word. That perhaps is fodder for another discussion. (E.g. did Béla Bartók call his great American orchestral composition Concerto for Orchestra instead of Symphony in part to eschew the Germanic symphonic tradition which in the 1940s would have been, at least in part, a political statement? Is John Adams’s Naive and Sentimental Music a symphony in all but name? And what to do with works called Chamber Symphony?)

      Anyway, I already broke a lot of the original rules of this game–e.g. I refused to list just one per number, one of the pieces I chose is not scored for a symphony orchestra, and I refused to stop at nine. All of which, I think, is as it should be. We should never look to lists such as these to limit what we listen to, but rather to expand our listening horizons! So in that spirit I’m eager to see more repertoire suggestions here!!

  1. Allan J. Cronin

    Wonderful choices. For the sake of argument let me suggest Adolphus Hailstork and Bernstein for 1, 2, 3. Daniel Asia for 1-4. And for 1-6 the sometimes Brucknerian Primous Fountain. These are just off the top of my head inspired by your list so I apologize for those I have missed.

  2. George Grella

    Thanks, Frank, for putting the American stamp on this, the 20th century is so full of great American music and symphonies, this is just as fun. These would be my nine off the top of my head:

    Barber, Symphony No. 1
    Diamond, Symphony No. 2
    Harris, Symphony No. 3
    Ives, Symphony No. 4
    Mennin, Symphony No. 5
    Rochberg, Symphony No. 6
    Coates, Symphony No. 7
    Persichetti, Symphony No. 8
    Schumann, Symphony No.9

  3. Alvaro Gallegos

    As usual, FJO is extremely persuasive to arouse our interest in American works.
    His funny style and enthusiasm is inspiring.

    My list (on American composers):
    1: Carter: Symphony No.1
    2: Ives: Symphony No.2
    3: Roy Harris: Symphony No.3 (along with Bernstein’s “Kaddish”)
    4: Antheil: Symphony No.4
    5: Bolcom: Symphony No.5
    6: Antheil: Symphony No.6
    7: ?
    8: Schuman: Symphony No.8
    9: ?

    1. Frank J. Oteri Post author

      Álvaro, George and Allan,

      Thanks for bringing up Bernstein, William Bolcom, Adolphus Hailstork, Peter Mennin, David Diamond, and Primous Fountain whose Symphony No. 2 I now have blaring in my headphones thanks to a page of QuickTime audio embeds on his website. (I’ve never been able to track down any commercial recordings of Fountain’s music, though I would if I could, especially since his website only features excerpts which is very frustrating….)

      I actually considered breaking even more rules than I already did by including George Antheil’s A Jazz Symphony, an un-numbered piece written between his official First and Second Symphonies. (Actually, there are additional un-numbered Antheil symphonies before “No. 1” and between it and “No. 2”, you still with me here?) Antheil’s pioneering synthesis of jazz harmonies and sonorities with more avant-garde musical gestures was allegedly considered too radical for performance by Paul Whiteman (the self-proclaimed “King of Jazz” whose legendary “Experiment in Modern Music”concert introduced the world to George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue) . Another holy grail piece along those lines is the Blues Symphony by Vera N. Preobrajenska which I believe has yet to be performed and was either written during or shortly after her studies at Mills College with Darius Milhaud in the late 1940s. (Milhaud of course was the composer of La création du monde, a work that often gets cited along with the Gershwin Rhapsody as the pioneering synthesis of “jazz” and “classical” music, to the neglect of Antheil’s important contribution as well as those of James P. Johnson whose Harlem Symphony should perhaps also be considered for this list of American symphonies we’re pondering here despite it also being un-numbered!)

      1. George Grella

        I would extra-advocate for Gloria Coates on everyone’s list, since she has more than enough numbered symphonies (15 IIRC) and has a truly unique voice in the form.

  4. Paul Mathews

    This is a thoughtful list and achieves your goal directing attention to less-familiar literature. I will definitely be looking for some of these pieces.

    To continue in a similar vein, I would include the Seventh Symphony of Asger Hamerik. He was Danish, but — like Henry Cowell — he composed his Seventh Symphony while teaching at Peabody.

  5. Rodney Lister

    Thomson Symphony on a Hymn Tune (his first)

    I think also Sessions #3 is a very wonderful piece.

    What about the Blitzstein Airborne Symphony?

    Also Ives Second, which I’ve always thought was the real New World Symphony…

    I was very impressed by the Harbison Sixth Symphony

    Also the Shapero Symphony for Classical Orchestra

  6. Everette Minchew

    One of my all time favorite symphonies has always been Paul Creston’s Symphony No 2. It’s so exciting.

  7. Ella

    Corigliano: Symphony No.1
    Puts: Symphony No.2
    Copland: Symphony No.3 (with either ending!)
    Rouse: Symphony No.4
    Diamond: Symphony No.5
    Harris: Symphony No.6
    Glass: Symphony No.8 (because I find it hypnotic, it is always on my iPod)

    as for 7 & 9, it is a brain teaser…

  8. Elizabeth R. Austin

    Frank, no one has done any personal ‘horn-tooting’, so I’ll be the first: my Wilderness Symphony #1 (Parma/Capstone) for 2 reciters & orchestra sets Carl Sandburg’s powerful and relevant poem, “Wilderness”. “There is a wolf in me”: the first line, unpacks the psychological menagerie of our subconscious mind, lying in wait to erupt. I quote ‘Petrouchka’, the puppet come to life.

  9. Jim Rosenfield

    Hey Frank, I love it, thanks for the shout-out. The game was conceived by my buddy the erudite Ramon Khalona, the founder of the legendary annual Brucknerthon in Carlsbad, CA.

  10. Dennis Bathory-Kitsz

    I’m with Frank on the Cowell, Coates, and his post-script mentioning Hailstork, for sure … though following Elizabeth Austin’s lead, I feel one work of mine actually does belong on anybody’s “Top Nine” list (or anybody who can abide 1,110 measures of basically one chord): from 1986, the relentlessly pulsing, 25-minute, single-movement “Mantra Canon” (Symphony No. 3) for orchestra, six percussionists, two pianos, chorus and high descant soprano.

    1. Frank J. Oteri Post author

      Dennis, Thanks for sharing info about your 1986 “Mantra Canon” and for making the University of Vermont Orchestra’s performance of it, which I just finished listening to,available via YouTube as well as for putting a link there to a PDF of your original handwritten manuscript of the score for it. (You were too humble to link to them in your comment which is why I’m doing so here.)

      It’s a fascinating piece, for sure, but I’m curious to learn why you decided to call it your “Symphony No. 3”, which (my being ever so slightly the curmudgeon) I must point out is not how you list it either on YouTube or the score. Why certain pieces get called symphonies and others do not is a question that has long fascinated me since I am paradoxically a huge fan of the genre but have never composed one and have felt little urge to do so. An early musical mentor of mine, Lionel Chernoff, had some very strict rules (which, for the record, I don’t share) about what he considered to be a symphony involving key relationships and contrasts between movements. (He claimed that Shostakovich was trying to fight his own mortality (the 9 symphony syndrome) by naming several pieces he claimed were non-symphonies, like No. 13 and 14, as symphonies….)

      One of my favorite symphony designation stories involves Einojuhani Rautavaara’s Symphony No. 4. Rautavaara’s Third Symphony is a formidable work from 1959-60 that’s basically twelve-tone Bruckner. His Fifth was completed a full 25 years later by which time a 4th symphony he had composed, which premiered in the 1960s, was taken out of circulation. But at the time he composed the 5th, he decided to designate his 1962 totally serial orchestral piece Arabescata as his rightful 4th symphony. Though Rautavaara moved away from a rigorous combinatorial approach in his subsequent music and never again created something as austere as Arabescata (which is quite remarkable), it is now hailed as the first “total serial symphony,” but that’s something of a canard since the designation of it as such happened retroactively and long after the fact. One of my ultimate holy grails is to one day track down the piece that was originally designated as his Symphony No. 4. I’ve long wondered if it there was a radio broadcast of it when it premiered that survives on a reel-to-reel in someone’s archives….

  11. Russell Platt

    Fascinating list, Frank. My own would include:

    Barber: Symphony No. 1 (tie with Kernis “Symphony in Waves”)
    Rochberg: Symphony No. 2
    Harris: Symphony No. 3
    Bolcom: Symphony No. 4 (“The Rose”)
    Schuman: Symphony No. 5 (Symphony for Strings—perhaps the finest American symphony of all)

    After that, the ground thins, but Peter Menin’s Ninth is perhaps his best.

  12. Gil Ros

    The Irving Fine Symphony tops my list (look for a BMOP/sound release of his complete orchestra works, including the Symphony next week) I would also like to add all 4 Symphonies by Lukas Foss to this list. The 1st Symphony gives Roy Harris & Copland 3rd a run for thier money as the “great American Symphony”. Foss’ 2nd (commissioned by the Albert Schweitzer Society) is a mid century masterwork. BMOP/sound will release all 4 Foss symphonies this spring. Also don’t forget:
    Rochberg – Symphony #2
    Fussell – Wilde Symphony
    Bolcom – 3rd Symphony

  13. Dennis Bathory-Kitsz

    I actually have five symphonies, two juvenilia and called symphonies (and quite hidden; you’re welcome), a three-movement one with mezzo-soprano called “Winter: Three Songs on the Nature of Armageddon” (Symphony No. 4) and the unfinished “Dripworks” (Symphony No. 5) — I stopped about 50 minutes into it in the early 2000s, but three movements were completed and separately titled.

    The name should be “Mantra Canon (Symphony No. 3)” both on the YouTube entry and in my works list, but not on the video itself nor the score. I didn’t use form titles for many years. You know I come out of the avant-garde era but also compose for traditional architectures; so for both me and my (small) audience, “Symphony No. 3” seemed more off-putting than the more colorful “Mantra Canon”. I also have three string quartets (two given titles and only parenthetically called string quartets: “Hoots & Honks” and “L’Estampie du Chevalier”), and a passel of traditional groupings such as sonatas, piano trios and quartets, etc., all given titles. Only the symphonies and string quartets are now also identified by their forms.

    To try to answer your question: I might think of them by their shapes and sizes (“it’s a symphony”) but prefer colorful names instead. And with the enormous number of new music instrument groupings, form names become fewer by default. I called “Plasm over ocean” an opera; it has characters and scenes, but it’s composed for my own unique instruments. So is it? Is Partch’s “Delusion” more an opera than a play?

    Thanks for linking, by the way!

    1. Frank J. Oteri Post author

      Philip, while it is indeed important to note that “great” and “esoteric” are not the same, “famous” (or “familiar”) and “great” are also not equivalent. In addition, although there are quantifiable ways to measure whether something is either “famous” or “esoteric”, “great” is a qualitative term determined by personal taste. This is why I very assiduously avoided limiting myself to one piece per number and claiming those pieces to be the “best” pieces so numbered. This is not a “these are the best pieces” list, rather a list of pieces I admire. There are many others I admire as well, which I was reminded of last night at an all 20th-century New York Philharmonic concert featuring music by three American composers all of whom wrote symphonies: Christopher Rouse, Samuel Barber, and Serge Rachmaninoff (who became a naturalized U.S. citizen). Admittedly Rachmaninoff’s symphonies were composed before he came to the USA so they are disqualified by the additional rules I added to the “nine symphonies” game, although No. 2 which they performed last night was transformative, particularly the third movement where a short and drop-dead-gorgeous tune wanders from instrument to instrument, gaining new nuances with each iteration. But Rouse and Barber (neither of whose symphonies were performed last night) each wrote really wonderful symphonies that I did not have an opportunity to mention on my initial list. The insistent three note motive that keeps repeating in the middle of Rouse’s First Symphony is, IMHO, one of the most exciting moments in contemporary orchestra music and the gradual transformation from joyous to somber in his new Fourth, which I heard last year, is utterly remarkable. Barber’s two numbered symphonies, like his stunning violin concerto which was performed last night, are both finely crafted pieces that stand up to the so-called “standard repertoire.” The ultimate point of my making a list was to get people thinking about repertoire and for all of us to share pieces we are excited about. Thanks to comments herein, I even learned about a few new pieces myself which has been the best reward of all!

  14. Phlogiston

    No mention at all of William Grant Still’s Symphony No. 2 (Song of a New Race)? It’s beautiful, moving, and should be on the list at 2.

    Glad you did include some women too!

  15. Walter Simmons

    Since my musicological life essentially centers around the American symphonic repertoire, I can’t resist submitting my own list. Each work below is currently available on recording:
    Symphony No. 1—Nicolas Flagello
    Symphony No. 2—Paul Creston
    Symphony No. 3, “Sinfonia Breve”—Ernest Bloch
    Symphony No. 4—Vittorio Giannini
    Symphony No. 5 (for strings)—Vincent Persichetti
    Symphony No. 6, “Celestial Gate”—Alan Hovhaness
    Symphony No. 7—Peter Mennin
    Symphony No. 8, “Trinity”—Arnold Rosner
    Symphony No. 9, “Le Foss Ardeatine”—William Schuman

  16. Jim Farrington

    It seems forgotten that there were American symphonies being written before the mid-20th century, including 2 by Gottschalk, a few by Bristow, several by Chadwick that are quite good, Henry Hadley (a very ambitious 4th symphony), and Amy Beach as well (I particularly like her Gaelic Symphony, her only work in that genre). Oh, and even though people only know his second symphony, Hanson had some very nice moments in his other 5 symphonies, which are now largely ignored. William Grant Still is another composer whose symphonies are not often played. Much of my favorite American orchestral writing, however, falls outside the symphony as a form.

  17. Lloyd Arriola

    Great GREAT list. How about a Symphony by David Diamond? Maybe HIS 9th. I hear thay Diamond’s 10th Symphony is a massively superheavyweight, mammoth superdreadnought of a piece that has lain unperformed. He is a fine, quite neglected master.

  18. CK Dexter Haven

    Thanks for the shout out, thanks for playing along, and thanks for adding this very cool twist. As Doc Holiday once said (or at least the one played by Val Kilmer): “I’m your huckleberry.”

    For starters, I’m gonna confess right now that once you get passed #5, I’m not as familiar with American composers’ symphonies as I should be, and the ones I do know I’m not particularly fond of (cough, Glass, cough cough) — after all, this is a desert island list, not a “best” or “weirdest” or etc. So for the most part, I’m going to punt after that, otherwise I’d be lying. That said, here we go:

    Symphony No. 1: Corigliano — This one was easy, since I included it in my original list. An alternate could have been Steven Stucky’s “Symphony” (sans number) . . . yeah, I know it’s breaking the rules, but you did it on here your website already, so I’m just going with the flow . . . Bernstein’s 1st is a possibility too, but if I were to be completely honest, I appreciate the outer movements really only love the middle movement. But if you forced me to pick something other than the Corigliano just to be different than my original list, I’d go with the Carter 1st, mainly because it’s sooooo different than everything that you’d expect if all you knew were his later works, kind of like how Prokofiev’s 1st is all cute and perky.

    Symphony No. 2: Barber — This one should’ve been easy too, but then the sudoku-like nature of this puzzle raises it’s ugly head. I really wanted to put Ives because, well, it’s the Ives 2nd. It kicks ass. ‘Nuff said. Except I wouldn’t have found a place for Barber to show up somewhere on this list, so . . . we’ll find another good place for Ives. I recently heard the Bernstein 2nd live and was reminded why I don’t really make a point to listen to it much.

    Symphony No. 3: Harris — Yeah, I know, predictable, but hey, it’s good stuff

    Symphony No. 4: Ives — See? Told you he’d pop up somewhere

    Symphony No. 5: Stravinsky, “Symphony of Psalms” — I really like this piece. My favorite of Stravinsky’s symphonies. Yeah, I know I’m totally cheating here because Stravinsky isn’t American nor is this symphony numbered at all; HOWEVER, the final version was published in 1948, making it his 5th symphony, and he published that version while living in Los Angeles (the city in which he lived longer than any other city during his entire lifetime). So I’m not totally TOTALLY cheating . . . Of course, if I were to follow the rules strictly, I’d probably put the Piston 5th here.

    Symphony No. 6: punt

    Symphony No. 7: Hanson — I heard his “Sea Symphony” once and enjoyed it enough, which is more than I can say about other stuff that could otherwise fit in this slot (cough, GLASS again*, cough cough). But I could have easily punted here too.

    Symphony No. 8: punt

    Symphony No. 9: Schuman “Le fosse Ardeatine” . . . Again, my knowledge of other American 9ths is limited, but I like Schuman in general and I like this one specifically . . . For a brief moment, I pondered being really lame and putting the Dvorak 9th here for “New World” justifications just to ruffle some feathers, but I won’t stoop that low.

    My apologies for my ignorance. I’m going to go listen to some of the choices you and the other commenters put on their list.


    *note: for the record, I don’t dislike all of Glass’s music, just his symphonies. I really like the music from “Einstein on the Beach,” pre-maturely air conditioned supermarkets and the rest of it.

  19. John

    This article is great just because it bring responses with many many works that readers may not have considered. Bravo.

  20. Roy Kalish

    Favorite American symphonies
    Philip Glass: Low,2,3,Heroes,8,especially 9
    John Adams:Harmonieliere,Naive and Sentimental Music,Dr. Atomic Symphony.
    Michael Gordon:Rewriting Beethoven’s Seventh Seventh Symphony
    Tan Dun:Heaven ,Earth,Mankind,Symphony 2000
    Kamran Ince,Symphonies 2,3,4
    C. Curtis-Smith:The Great American Symphony and Symphony No.2
    Lou Harrison:4 Symphonies,especially No.4
    Tod Machover:Symphony for Perth
    Henry Cowell:symphony No.2,Etc
    William Bolcom:Symphony No.5
    Aaron J.Kernis:Symphony in Waves,Symphony No.2
    Daniel Asia:Symphonies 2,3
    Anthony Korf:Symphony No.1

  21. Garrett Schumann


    This is fantastic! Today, I went to the UM Music Library and got scores for four of the pieces you mentioned (Duffy 1, Zwilich 1, Schuman 9, Persichetti 8). I can’t wait to get to know all of these, and more, over the next few days.

    I just wanted to add that, on her website, Meira Warshauer, indeed calls her “Living Breathing Earth” Symphony ‘Symphony No. 1’, so please rest easy that the primary sources back up your presumption.

    Thank you for this treasure of an article!

    – Garrett

  22. Ellen Bacon

    Hi Frank,
    Adding to your fascinating list of American symphonies, I want to call to your attention the 3 symphonies composed by my late husband, Ernst Bacon. The first, #1 in D Minor, was awarded a Pulitzer Fellowship in 1932. It has never been recorded, and I’ve never heard it, except for the beautiful slow movement, “Passacaglia and Air,” which Kent Nagano performed with the Berkeley Symphony as a tribute to Ernst after his death in 1990.
    Symphony #2 is full of Americana, from “big band” sounds to a charming scherzo featuring 2 Southern folksongs (also available as an independent piece titled “Smoky Mountain Scherzo”) and a finale that is a full jazz fugue. A live performance by the San Jose Symphony is available on a demo CD. Bacon’s first two symphonies are published by G. Schirmer.
    Symphony #3 is sub-titled, “Great River: the Rio Grande.” This symphony, based on a narration from Paul Horgan’s Pulitzer-winning book by the same title, is a dramatic description of the geography and history of the Rio Grande – the origins of the river in the mountains (one of the sources of which Bacon and Horgan actually tracked down themselves from an underground spring) and the history of the Spaninsh and Indian peoples who lived along its banks. This picturesque symphony is organized in programmatic sections. It was premiered by Walter Hendl with the Dallas Symphony in 1957 and played again at the first concert of the Syracuse Symphony in 1961. A demo CD of a live performance is available.

    1. Lloyd Arriola

      Dear Mrs. Bacon–
      Is this First Symphony scored for piano and orchestra? Also, did he write a piano concerto? I would love to obtain scores of both works. How might I contact you directly im order to get these scores?
      Very truly yours,
      Lloyd Arriola

  23. Ellen Bacon

    Hello, Lloyd,
    Thanks for your message.
    The first symphony has a piano part but is not a concerto. Ernst did write two piano concertos, however. The first is in the the form of a geographical suite – 10 short, picturesque movements describing 10 places, mostly in the U.S. Some of the movements can be cut if it ‘s too long. The second piano concerto was composed in the early ’80s to fulfil a commission by the Berkeley Symphony, led by Kent Nagano. As the deadline was approaching, Ernst had to spend some time in the hospital, and there was some confusion, which probably explains why there are some discrepancies between the score and live recording. The performance was wildly successful.
    All 3 of the above pieces are in manuscript. Ernst’s output was large, and the Ernst Bacon Society will need a sizeable grant to finish engraving his music. The slow movement of the first symphony, called “Passacaglia and Air,” can stand as an independent piece and IS engraved. The last movement of the first piano concerto, “Pico Perdido” which has a lively Spanish flavor, can also stand alone and has been engraved. In the second piano concerto, the last movement is based on a Texas legend, “The Lobo Girl of Devil’s River,” telling of a girl who was abandoned as an infant and raised by wolves. This movement too could be played independently (about 10 minutes) and will be one of our next engraving projects, if we can find the money.
    I have live recordings of the two piano concertos, the first one with Bacon at the piano in 1963. If you would like to have a perusal score or CD, please contact me at Thank you for your interest in Ernst Bacon’s music.
    Best wishes, Ellen Bacon

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  25. John Shaw

    Antheil’s First Symphony has remarkable points of contact with Ives’ Three Places in New England, despite it being impossible for Antheil to have known that work in 1919. His Third, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Symphonies are all masterful works that somehow fuse Soviet procedures with American content (both Shostakovich and Prokofiev come to mind occasionally, though they wouldn’t have included the jazz and blues rhythms and harmonies that Antheil does). I’m disappointed that nobody included Jerome Moross’ lovely Symphony #1, any of the five attractive symphonies of William Grant Still, the wonderful Third Symphony of Florence Price, the Symphony on a Hymn Tune (First Symphony) of Virgil Thomson, or any of the symphonies of Roy Harris, Leonard Bernstein or John J. Becker.

  26. ron wilson

    Late to the thread but the Diamond 10th is fantastic. Like the 11th is has extensive organ solos. Seek both out and you will hear a composer writing music in his 70’s and 80’s as fresh as his sound in the 1940’s. I love his 2nd, 3rd and 4th. So different from each other. My personal favorite movement from an American symphony is the 4th movement of the 2nd. There is no more exciting finale in American orchestral music. Big claim, but listen, it will blow your mind and especially after the adagio that precedes it.

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