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Nationalism in Music

Page history last edited by PBworks 15 years, 10 months ago

Nationalism in Music


by Rose Bridges and Greg Sakorafis





Nationalism was one of the leading political forces of the nineteenth and early-to-mind twentieth centuries, but it was a potent artistic force as well. From England in the west to Russia in the east, Spain in the south to Finland in the north, artists, musicians, and writers across Europe sought the interests and ideas of their own country as essential to their art. It even made its way to the United States. This wiki focuses on nationalism specifically in music, which lasted chronologically from the end of the Early Romantic Period in the mid-19th century to the Modernist Period in the early 20th century.

Different influences, even contrasting ones, helped spread this movement across Europe. Often it was countries who were unifying or creating empires, such as Germany or Russia, who wondered why their great, powerful nations were still relying on structures formed centuries ago in Italy and France, and sought to focus instead on native stories or songs for inspiration. Other times, the countries they were conquering saw a music that represented their lands' unique cultures as a force for revolution. Additionally, countries like England and Spain, which had once been centers for musical learning but had since lost their influence, saw an inward focus as a perfect way to reenter the pages of musical history. Lastly, emerging countries such as the United States saw creating their own type of music as a way to get current powers to take them seriously.

This wiki goes country-by-country to show the different types of nationalism in Europe and the United States.





Russia had always been somewhat isolated - geographically, technologically, and culturally - from the European continent. As a result, it had never been a center of musical learning. However, in the mid-nineteenth century, a revolution in musical and artistic thinking took place. Russians earned their place in the halls of literature, art, and music by forging an art with uniquely Russian interests. Russian composers stood at the forefront of European nationalist music and inspired both nationalist and non-nationalist composers across Europe and the world.


Mikhail Glinka




Considered to be the father of Russian Nationalism, Glinka was the first well-known composer to come from Russia. His music started out very Western-influenced, from his years of studying in Western Europe, including Milan and Berlin, after retiring from the civil service in 1828. He did occasionally quote from Russian folk music, but little more than Beethoven did in his Razumovsky quartets.

However, when Glinka returned to Russia and met the writers Aleksandr Pushkin and Nikolai Gogol, he was inspired by them to do for Russian music what they had done for Russian writing, and began looking to create a uniquely "Russian" kind of music by drawing inspiration from Russian folk tunes. He decided to write a "Russian" opera by looking to Ivan Sussanin, a peasant who misdirected an invading Polish army and thereby gave his own life to save the life of the first Romanov. The opera planned to contrast Russian folk music with Polish folk music in order to tell the story. The opera, Ivan Sussanin (or A Life for the Czar), premiered December 9, 1836, to great material and critical success. That date more or less marks the birth of Russian nationalism, as it gave the world the first opera on a Russian story, about a Russian commoner instead of a nobleman, and which quoted Russian folk tunes.

While he never repeated the success of Ivan Sussanin, Glinka continued to write Russian concert music. Another opera of note was Russlan and Ludmilla, and while not nearly as successful as his first, Russlan and Ludmilla was much more nationalistic, especially in a musical sense. It didn't merely quote from Russian folk tunes; it used the whole-tone scale and other non-standard elements to give it a distinctly non-Western feel. He also later wrote an orchestral fantasy based on Russian idioms, called the Kamarinskaya.

Glinka was so important to Russian music that, when he died in 1857, other composers mourned him like a national hero. "Beethoven and Glinka!" exclaimed Anton Rubinstein; he was not kidding, and his fellow Russian composers, particularly five largely self-taught revolutionaries under the leadership of Mily Balakirev, wholly agreed.


The Mighty Five


The "Mighty Five," "Russian Five," or "Mighty Handful" were the next rulers of Russian art music, after the death of Glinka. The interesting thing about the Handful is that all of them were amateurs, self-taught (though some of them later taught others at conservatories) and making their living in other fields (for example, Mussorgsky was a civil servant, Cui was an army general). However, their impact on Russian music was shattering. Their music eventually eclipsed that of their hero Glinka, and now their works (especially those of Borodin, Mussorgsky, and Rimsky-Korsakov) are much more well-known and more frequently played. Their radical approach - to go for a Russian sound and a Russian sound only, rejecting not just music from other lands but fellow Russian composers whose music they deemed too "Western" - proved successful and influential.


Mily Balakirev




The leader of the "Five" and more or less "czar" of Russian art music with the death of Mikhail Glinka, Balakirev began composing as a young man before learning much at all about the rules of music writing. He was a true amateur; violinist Peter Baborikin, a friend of Balakirev's, said that the man did not own any books on theory or orchestration. Balakirev, however, had an excellent ear, and when he moved himself to St. Petersburg and met Glinka in person, he decided to fully devote his life to music.

Today, Balakirev is known much better for his leadership role in the Five than for the actual music he wrote. One of the only Balakirev pieces still a member of the modern concert repertoire is the piano piece Islamey. In the past, there have been some Balakirev fans among the stars of music who have tried to get his other pieces noticed. After these stars died, though, these pieces faded back into obscurity. Yet, Balakirev will always remain in the history books for the remarkable contribution he made to Russian music by organizing the Five.


Aleksandr Borodin




Borodin, the last to join the Five (in 1862), had a day job as a chemist and had attended the Academy of Medicine. He would be reprimanded more than once by his teachers there because it seemed he enjoyed music much more than his medical studies. Borodin is one of the more famous of the Five; his works frequently make it onto today's concert programs. One of his more popular orchestral works is In the Steppes of Central Asia, essentially a one-movement tone poem describing an Eastern caravan traveling through the steppe lands of the Russian countryside under the protection of Russian troops. Borodin uses three themes to represent three ideas in his symphonic poem - a "Russian theme" to represent the Russian troops (in keeping with the nationalistic style this is the dominant theme throughout most of the work, and is heard alone at the beginning and end of the piece), an eighth-note "traveling pattern" most commonly played pizzicato in the low strings, and another soloistic pattern, the "Eastern pattern" to represent the Eastern travelers.

Borodin also wrote operas. One of his great operas was Prince Igor, although it was left unfinished at his death and had to be completed by Rimsky-Korsakov and Aleksandr Glazunov. While musically it is based on French opera, Prince Igor comes from the Russian tale of how the title character defended Russia against Polovsti invaders. The part of the opera which Borodin actually wrote contains the masterful Polovstian Dances, in Act II, where the captive Igor is taken to the land of the Polovstis to be entertained by a spectacle of music and dance, in honor of their leader, Khan Kontchak. These dances are one of the masterworks of the choral-orchestral repertoire, especially since they contain virtuosic passages for both the voices and the instruments.

Two of Borodin's other pieces which have earned him acclaim today are his B-minor Symphony (his 2nd), and his String Quartet No. 2 in D.


Cesar Cui




Cesar Cui was the first to join Balakirev's Handful, in 1856. He worked as an army officer, and never abandoned this job for life as a full-time musician. Considered by many to be the least talented and least important of the Five, very little of Cesar Cui's music still exists in the modern concert repertoire, and all of it on the fringes. Some of his pieces that are still occasionally played today include his chamber work Orientale, his children's opera Puss-in-Boots, and his orchestral suites. Ironically, Cui actually left behind a large body of work, composing in virtually every genre available at the time except for the symphony and the tone poem. He was particularly proficient at operas (especially children's operas) and art songs. Cesar Cui, however, has left behind a great reputation as a music critic, having written over 800 articles on music between 1864 and his death in 1918.


Modest Mussorgsky




After Rimsky-Korsakov, Mussorgsky is likely the most important of the Five, and is considered by many to be the most talented and original, if only he could have gotten past his alcohol and gambling problems. He started out as an officer in the civil service, and it seemed that his two greatest talents were drinking and playing the piano, the latter of which he had learned from his mother as a child. He loved music more than anything else in the world (except maybe booze), and when he met Balakirev in 1857 he decided to quit the civil service for good to study music, having a substantial amount of money in the family in order to support himself in his new career path. However, when the serfs were emancipated in 1861, and landowning families like the Mussorgskys ran into financial trouble, Modest reluctantly took back up his job in the civil service.

Mussorgsky's piano-playing prowess led him to compose a number of amazing piano works, including his most famous piece, Pictures at an Exhibition, composed for friend and artist/architect Viktor Hartmann, who had recently died. The piece is programmatic, with each movement showing a different work by Hartmann, from his frightening gnome nutcracker (Gnomus) to his colorful sketches for a gate to the city of Kiev, Ukraine (The Great Gate of Kiev). Between the movements are shorter movements, called Promenades, consisting of different variations on the same theme (which is introduced in the first Promenade at the beginning of the work). These are designed to show Mussorgsky walking between the works at an exhibition of his friend's body of work, and range in mood from triumphant (the first Promenade) to dark (the Promenade between Bydlo and the Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks) to spiritual (Cum mortuis in lingua mortua, Latin for "With the Dead in the Dead Language," designed to show the skulls speaking in the Catacombs). The piece is one of the most famous of all time, and his been orchestrated and arranged for dozens of ensembles by countless other composers. The most famous version is the orchestration by French impressionist composer Maurice Ravel, which is now one of the most popular works in the symphony orchestra repertoire.

Mussorgsky wrote a number of other famous works as well. Others include his opera Boris Gudonov, based on a drama by the famous Russian writer Aleksandr Pushkin, and his tone poem Night on the Bald Mountain, about a witch's sabbath on a mountain in Russia. The latter is another very popular work of Mussorgsky's and was included in the first of Disney's Fantasia movies, made in 1940. Mussorgsky was also well-known for his art songs and song cycles, particularly the cycle Songs and Dances of Death.

Mussorgsky was the most unstable of the Five, and his works often were left incomplete. Night on the Bald Mountain, which Mussorgsky left incomplete at his death, was actually finished by Rimsky-Korsakov.


Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov




Rimsky-Korsakov came to Balakirev in 1861 as a young naval officer with very little knowledge at all of music. He did not play any instruments at a virtuosic level (although he dabbled on the cello) and he knew little to nothing of theory. However, he desperately wanted to compose, and despite his lack of music learning, Balakirev took him in. Little did Balakirev know that Rimsky-Korsakov would become the most famous and admired of his Five.

He had already produced a number of great works as a young man in the Five. As his musical learning increased, he began to be able to truly use his great talents, and conservatories started taking notice. In 1871 the St. Petersburg Conservatory invited Rimsky-Korsakov to become Professor of Practical Composition and Instrumentation, although even then he knew very little about music. The new job he took forced him to constantly study theory, always trying to keep a little ahead of his class. Within a few years he knew enough to be a fantastic teacher, and some of his pupils grew to be masters of 20th century music, including Aleksandr Glazunov, Sergei Prokofiev, Igor Stravinsky, Anatol Liadov, and many others. His particular talent was orchestration, an area in which he is still, to many, the undisputed master. His text Principles of Orchestration remains one of the great orchestration texts even today.

Rimsky-Korsakov composed some of the greatest operas in the repertoire, certainly in the Russian repertoire. His operas include The Snow Maiden, Christmas Eve (or Christmas Night), Sadko, The Czar's Bride, The Story of the Czar Sultan, The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh, and The Golden Cockerel. When it came to operas in the "Russian" style - based on Russian tales and utilizing Russian folk melodies - Rimsky-Korsakov was paralleled by none except Mussorgsky. These operas are especially known for their great range of orchestral color, that special Rimsky-Korsakov touch.

Naturally, Rimsky-Korsakov was also one of the greatest masters of orchestral music. His three most popular orchestral pieces are the Capriccio espagnol (based on Spanish themes, as the title suggests), Scheherazade (based, naturally, on the tales from her 1,001 Nights), and the Russian Easter Festival Overture (going back to the nationalist style). He wrote other masterful works that are now absent from the repertoire - his Symphony in E-flat minor and Symphony in C. Still around, but not as common as works like Scheherazade, are two very nationalistic pieces: a one-movement Piano Concerto inspired by Russian melodies, and his Antar Symphony, one of his most nationalistic works of all.


The Second Five


Another Five replaced the first Five, united around Mitrofan Belaiev. Belaiev was instrumental in setting up organizations and programs to help other Russian composers, including a publishing house with international copyright, and the Russian Symphony Concerts in St. Petersburg. The other members of the Five this time included Anatol Liadov, Aleksandr Glazunov, Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov, and Anton Arensky. As the first Five had worshipped Glinka, so this time the Five were faithful disciples to their teacher, Rimsky-Korsakov.


Other Russian Composers


Was Tchaikovsky a Nationalist?


Tchaikovsky belonged to the more conservative "European" school of Russian composers, with Anton Rubinstein and, later, Sergei Rachmaninoff. So, technically, he is not a nationalist, because his influences came more from the past music of Western Europe than from Russian folk music. However, Tchaikovsky did occasionally take influences from the native music and lore of Russia; Russian dances can be found alongside more conventional waltzes in his ballets, for instance, and he used Pushkin's novel Eugene Onegin as the inspiration for an opera of the same name. He was also an avowed disciple of Glinka and a friend of the Mighty Five (although he occasionally criticized the latter).

One of his most popular works stands as a towering example of Tchaikovskian nationalism: the 1812 Overture. Composed for the anniversary of Russia's defeat of Napoleon, a source of great pride for the Russian people, Tchaikovsky contrasts the French national anthem "La Marseillaise" with Russian hymns and folk songs in order to show the Russian army triumphing over Napoleon and his men. This was a technique first used by Glinka in his opera Ivan Sussanin and later by Borodin in In the Steppes of Central Asia (see above).


Later Russian Composers


As a result of Glinka, Tchaikovsky, and the Five (among others), Russia was now being seen as one of the hot spots of musical learning - a sort of Italy or Germany of the East. Therefore, with their new presence of the worldwide musical stage, Russia became more open to musical influences of other lands, and Russian composers became more internationalist. However, few forgot their roots, and even in the 20th century many Russian composers still looked to their own literature, history, and folk music for inspiration. After all, many of the great 20th-century Russian composers had been taught by Rimsky-Korsakov.

For example, Stravinsky's ballet The Rite of Spring, while owing much more to modern musical innovation than to Russian folk music, is based on the history of Russia. Stravinsky wrote it to illustrate a pagan rite in ancient Russia, where a young virgin dances herself to death in sacrifice to the spring gods. It certainly wasn't the music of Glinka or the Five, but that didn't mean it owed nothing to their musical nationalism.

In addition, some music scholars have found comparisons between certain themes in The Rite of Spring and Russian folk melodies.


Czech Republic



The Czech lands, including Bohemia (where both Smetana and Dvorak are from) and Moravia (Janacek's homeland) were divided between the empires of Prussia (later Germany) and Austria. It seemed natural that these proud people, desiring independence from these powers but unable to gain it without a violent backlash, were going to try to find sneakier ways to agitate for independence. One of these ways came in the form of music - in the forging of a type of concert music based on Czech folk idioms, as the Russians were doing at the same time. Composers began looking to their roots for inspiration in their works, the first of them Bedrich Smetana.


Bedrich Smetana




Bedrich Smetana was essentially the father of Czech nationalism. His music absorbed the strong nationalism that was everywhere in nineteenth-century Bohemia, weary from years of Austrian rule. Smetana began his musical life, like many composers, as a pianist, studying in Prague and earning his living by playing concerts and teaching piano. He also was a participant in the Prague Revolution of 1848, showing that his nationalistic beliefs went beyond the musical realm. He also lived in Sweden for a number of years where he opened a music school in Goteborg. It was in Goteborg where Smetana began to compose. He started out writing tone poems, including Richard III and Wallensteins Lager. These weren't as nationalistic as later works. He began writing nationalistic music in the early 1860s, after enduring his wife's death, a new marriage, and several trips back and forth between Bohemia and Sweden.

He returned to his country for a final time in 1861. Czech national feeling had become stronger after French armies had triumphed over those of Austria. The Prague Provisional Theatre had also just opened, and he hoped to become conductor of it. This was when he started to write more nationalistic music, including an opera, Branibori v Cechach (The Brandenburgers in Bohemia). This included a libretto by a nationalistic poet, Karel Sabina. It became very popular. Much more popular today is Prodona nevesta (The Bartered Bride), which includes several native Czech dances. He became conductor of the Provisional Theatre in 1866.

Smetana's most famous piece is Ma vlast, which is usually translated as My Country but more literally translates to My Fatherland. It is a series of symphonic poems dedicated to the landmarks and history of the Czech lands. The most famous part of Ma vlast is Vlatava, more commonly known by the German title of The Moldau. It is one long musical ode to the river Vlatava in Bohemia, and the various things one can see while riding along that river. One part depicts a country wedding as the boat passes by - the wedding music starts out quiet, and as the boat approaches it, it grows louder and more jubilant. The music then dies out again as the boat moves away. Another one of his greatest pieces was his autobiographical string quartet Z meho zivota ("From My Life").

By this time, Smetana was fully deaf. Like Beethoven, Smetana was plagued with slowly encroaching deafness, but was still able to compose despite his loss of hearing. However, he took it much harder. Beethoven's deafness frustrated him; Smetana's drove him insane. He died lonely in an insane asylum in 1884. Luckily, Smetana's legacy would continue, and inspire yet another Bohemian composer who would reach much wider acclaim:


Antonin Dvorak




While Smetana started the Czech nationalist movement, Dvorak was the one who popularized it. One of the most influential of composers, Dvorak's 9th Symphony ("From the New World") is still one of the most popular pieces ever, and his Cello Concerto remains one of the greatest (and most difficult to play) in the instrument's repertoire. Dvorak's music exudes a strong pride in his country; even in his "New World" Symphony, supposedly based on the native music of the Americas, one can find examples of Bohemian folk music.

Though his parents were not musicians, his father did play the zither occasionally, and Dvorak grew up in rural Bohemia surrounded by native folk music. Dvorak got his early musical training by accompanying his father on the fiddle. When he moved to Prague at age 16, Dvorak was introduced to the music of Smetana (see above), and upon realizing that one could compose concert music based on the folk music he had grown up hearing, was immediately inspired to compose. He eventually became composition professor at the Prague Conservatory.

Dvorak eventually became friends with Johannes Brahms, which naturally served to further his musical career outside Bohemia. The two composers admired each other greatly; one can hear a Brahmsian influence alongside Czech folk tunes in many Dvorak pieces, particularly his symphonies. And upon hearing Dvorak's Cello Concerto, Brahms commented that if he knew one could write cello concertos like Dvorak's, he would have written one much earlier.

In 1892, Dvorak was invited to America to teach at their new National Conservatory of Music. It was here that he first heard American Indian and African-American music, as well as the music of American composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk (see below). He was convinced that America should have its own nationalistic school, and in a sense the compositions he wrote while in the United States are almost examples of what he wanted the American nationalist school to be. The "New World," while it has some Czech idioms that are inescapable in Dvorak's music, also has echoes of spirituals, Native American dances, prairie songs, and early blues. One of Dvorak's students even took the English horn solo in the Largo (second) movement and turned it into a spiritual. Other compositions written during Dvorak's stay in America include the "American" String Quartet (No. 12) and the Cello Concerto. However, his compositions show that he just could not escape his love for Bohemia, and eventually he moved back.

Some of Dvorak's other popular pieces include his 7th and 8th symphonies, his Humoresque, his Romance for Violin and Orchestra in F minor, his Serenades for Strings (in E major) and Winds (in D minor), and his Slavonic Dances. His symphonic poems, which are somewhat underrated, are also great examples of Dvorak's genius, particularly The Golden Spinning Wheel (others include The Noon Witch, The Wood Dove, The Water Goblin, and The Hero's Song). These are especially vivid examples of his nationalism, as they are all based on Czech folk tales and fairy tales, and are full of a Czech folk influence. He also wrote in numerous other genres, including choral music and opera (the most famous of the latter being Rusalka).

Dvorak was probably the sanest of all the Romantic composers (which actually doesn't say much in an era that included Schumann, Mahler, and Smetana), and certainly one of the most mentally and emotionally healthy composers of all time.


Leos Janacek




Janacek is considered the last in the great trilogy of Czech composers, but his is a particularly strong departure because he was the only one who composed well into the 20th century and absorbed much of its new musical techniques. He, with his friend Frantisek Bartos, created collections of a number of Czech folk songs, a practice that was to become standard in 20th century nationalist schools (see Hungary or England below). His music is very dependent upon speech patterns, to the point where some believe one must know Czech to understand it. His music, compared to that of Dvorak's, was very grim and dark, and he was not above tackling very dark subjects in his music: for example, Jenufa, an opera about the murder of a baby. This, along with his Piano Sonata, is a part of his more conventional early period. Later, he began to really depart from form with his later operas, such as The Makropoulous Affair and From the House of the Dead. Katya Kabanova, one of his most important works, is inbetween these two styles. Janacek is also known for his Glagolithic Mass.


Elsewhere in Eastern Europe


The nationalistic composers of Russia and the Czech lands were among the earliest and helped lead the rest of Europe in the nationalist cause. However, all across Eastern Europe, people rebelling against German, Austrian, or Russian rule began to turn to their own native folk lore and music for inspiration. Here are some other countries in Eastern Europe that were important to the nationalist movement:





Poland had already earned itself a place on the musical map with the great Early Romantic composer Fryderyk Chopin, whose body of work consists of some of the most popular piano music of all time, in addition to great works for cello and a few other instruments. A few of his countrymen were inspired by him to take up the composer's pen, this time hoping to create a more "Polish" sound in concert music.


Fryderyk Chopin - The First Polish Nationalist?


While his music is more commonly associated with the Early Romantic Period than with the Nationalist movement, Fryderyk Chopin's pieces were influenced by his country's native music. He wrote a number of polonaises and mazurkas, which are both types of Polish dances. Even the more orthodox forms he used, such as his waltzes, have elements of traditional Polish song in them.

For more information on Chopin, see Chopin and the Early Romantic Era.


Ignac Jan Paderewski




A man of many talents, Paderewski was known not only as a composer and pianist, but as a politician - he served as both Prime Minister of Poland and as his country's representative at the Paris Peace Conference, signing the Treaty of Versailles, as well as the opening sessions of the League of Nations. Paderewski started out his career as a struggling pianist; though he played piano most of his life, he didn't get good enough to play concerts until his mid-twenties. At that point, he began playing all across Europe, mostly works by Chopin and Liszt. He became famous for his piano-playing, even though scholars today consider his talent limited.

However, he was also known for compositions. He started out composing in the neoclassical style; one of his earlier great compositions was a minuet in the style of Mozart. It became very popular, and people began coming to his concerts simply to hear that work. He continued composing and eventually began writing more large-scale works, including a symphony, and opera, and a piano concerto. The opera, Manru, became one of his best-known works, and had a run at New York's Metropolitan Opera as well as numerous opera houses in Europe. These works all contained traces of Polish folk songs or themes based upon them.

He took his nationalism beyond the music world, and during World War I he began playing benefit concerts to help Polish victims of the war. This is what launched Paderewski into politics. He temporarily retired from musical life to pursue his political aspirations, befriending such important men as American President Wilson (who gained support from Paderewski on his Fourteen Points), as well as helping to increase Poland's power in the world as its Prime Minister and as a skilled diplomat. But in 1921, he retired from politics to resume his musical career. Paderewski was now loved throughout the world, and found himself playing concerts to everyone from President Hoover to the Pope. He continued playing until 1939, and died two years later.


Karol Szymanowski




Though he was actually born in Ukraine, Szymanowski was of Polish ancestry, and his pride in his country drips from his compositions, even more so than with Paderewski. He started composing in his teens, in a very Chopin-esque style. He studied at the Warsaw Conservatory starting in 1901, and later was educated in Berlin. There he met fellow Polish composers, and with them started a society called Young Poland in Music. In this period he wrote a number of piano and violin works - including the piano-and-violin work Fountains of Arethusa, Szymanowski's best-known work. He also wrote Love Songs for Hafiz and an opera called Hagith, which draw more from Oriental themes than from Polish music. The Polish inspiration in his music would not come out especially strong until the 1920s.

It was in that decade that Szymanowski truly emerged as Poland's top composer, as his music was becoming more widely known throughout Europe (thanks in part to their inclusion in the concerts of the International Society for Contemporary Music). The Warsaw Conservatory appointed him their director in 1926. During this period is when his Polish pride really started to blossom in his compositions. His ballet-opera Harnassie is based on Polish peasant music. Stabat Mater, written for soloists, chorus, and orchestra, is another composition reminiscient of Szymanowski's Polish heritage, this time contrasting it with Renaissance-era theory. He also wrote a 12-song cycle of folk songs from Poland's Kurpie region, along with a violin concerto (his second) and a Symphonie Concertante (for solo piano with orchestra) that contain Polish idioms. Szymanowski's music marks the high point of Polish nationalism, as it is truly overflowing with a distinct national character.





Like Poland, Hungary already had a prominent composer, Franz Liszt. In addition to composing, Liszt's main claim to fame was his brilliant piano playing, and he traveled about Europe playing concerts for huge crowds. Liszt's worldwide fame, too, inspired his fellow Hungarians. It would be up to these later Hungarian composers to create a sense of Hungarian nationalism in music.


Franz Liszt




Like Chopin, Liszt also was associated more with the Early Romantic period in general and was not a true nationalist. Yet, some of his pieces do reflect the folk music of his native Hungary, particularly his Hungarian Rhapsodies. Born to an official for the Esterházy family, who had once employed Haydn (see The Classical Era), Liszt became proficient with the piano and by age nine was giving piano recitals. Prince Nikolaus Esterházy was enamored enough to sponsor Liszt's musical education in Vienna. In Paris Liszt earned his fame as a piano virtuoso and composer, writing piano transcriptions of works by composers such as Paganini and Berlioz. During this time he also married and had three children (one of whom married Wagner). Later in his life he moved to Switzerland, where his career peaked; however, his experimentations with avant garde music led to disapproval from Weimar society.

Liszt's major style of composition dealt with the piano; his favorite forms were tone poems, programmatic symphonies, and virtuostic piano pieces. His most famous piece is by far the Second Hungarian Rhapsody in C# Minor, frequently featured in cartoons for its immense difficulty and public appeal. All of the rhapsodies utilize gypsy tunes native to Hungary.


Bela Bartok




Born in present-day Romania (then the Hungarian Empire), Bartok learned the piano at an early age, and by age four he knew 40 pieces. His accomplishments led him to a deep interest in his ethnic roots; in the years leading up to his first publication in 1906, Bartok began to research native areas of Hungary to gain thematic material for his compositions. In 1910 he married one of his pupils, and they had a child the same year. His first opera was also finished in this time, but it did not premiere until after his first ballet in 1918. His fame grew as a virtuoso pianist in the 1920s; however, he did not lose his interest in composition. He continued to experiment with Eastern European folk idioms and integrated new structural ideas into his work. Fearing the rise of Nazi fascism, Bartok and his family fled to New York. Bartok's last few years were largely inactive, as he gradually became more and more ill from a rare form of cancer. He finished two of his most well-known works, the Mikrokosmos, a series of small piano pieces designed for the instruction of his son, and the Concerto for Orchestra, completed in 1943 and performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra.


Zoltan Kodaly




A contemporary of Bartok, Kodaly raised the native music of Hungary to its fame by integrating it with Western styles. In 1906 he studied abroad in Berlin and Paris, but his studies were cut short by political intrigue. In 1906 his opera Háry János premiered in Budapest, and was an instant success. Unlike Bartok, he did not flee the Nazi occupation of Hungary during the Second World War. After the war, he composed little, and was more interested in the supervision of the publication of his collections of ethnic music.





Romania did not have the storied musical history of Poland or Hungary, but its native music had inspired more than a few other composers. While Romania never had a huge impact on classical music, it was to emerge with at least one major nationalist composer, who also earned fame as a great violinist:


Georges Enescu




Although known more as a violinst than as a composer (and a world-class violinst at that), Enescu's compositions are full of the spirit of his native land. He started studying music from a very young age, learning the violin at 4 and beginning his compositions at 5. He quickly earned fame as a violinist - he began musical studies in Vienna at age 7, and had his first formal concert at age 8. One of the first concerts of Enescu's own compositions was presented in Paris in 1897. A year later, he premiered a notable nationalist composition, his orchestral work Poeme romain.

However, Enescu's most notable contribution to the composing world came in 1903: the premiere of his two Romanian Rhapsodies. Both of these are overflowing with Romanian folk idioms. The first Romanian rhapsody includes a large variety of different Romanian dances: beginning with the clarinet solo at the start of the piece, a highly pleasant and cheerful dance in A major that almost sounds flirtatious; to the dance at m. 103 in a G# minor mode, which is darker and with a gypsy-like quality to it. The second Romanian Rhapsody is much more repetitious, consisting mostly of one theme passed throughout the orchestra (the strings in particular), although it does include other melodic material. Particularly interesting in this Romanian Rhapsody is the fiddle dance at the end of the piece in the second violins and violas. Quiet and unassuming, with an effect like that of a fade-away ending in a recorded song, it provides a sharp contrast to the expressive, soloistic playing required earlier in the piece. Both Romanian Rhapsodies show Enescu to be a talented melodist and orchestrator, in addition to a true Romanian patriot. Because these (particularly the First) became Enescu's most popular pieces (and virtually the only pieces written by him still commonly played), they became an enormous thorn in his side when he tried to depart from them, but found that nothing else he wrote would stand up to them in the public's eyes. Some of his other works were not as nationalistic, such as his opera Oedipe, possibly as a way of trying to break out of the mold established by the Rhapsodies. However, Romanian folk elements can still be found in the majority of Enescu's pieces. Some of his very last compositions were nationalistic, including the unfinished Caprice romain for solo violin and orchestra. In addition, Enescu served as court violinist to the Queen of Romania and established an annual prize in 1912 for Romanian composers, further contributing to his country's musical legacy.

Interesting Fact: During a job as a violin teacher in Paris, he taught a number of talented violinists, including the (then) rising star Yehudi Menuhin.


Germany and Austria



Some musicologists argue that there was no such thing as German or Austrian nationalism, but composers from these regions did enjoy showing off the folk music native to their country in their works.


Anton Bruckner




Bruckner began his musical career as an organist, but was also a schoolmaster in two villages. Eventually, he returned to St. Florian Cathedral where he began composing. His first few compositions were insignificant, but after hearing a performance of Wagner's Tannhäuser, he was immediately inspired to compose his own symphonies in a nationalistic style. The workload involved with his composing was so overwhelming that he suffered a nervous breakdown. This did not prevent him from earning a professorship position at the Vienna conservatory, however. Bruckner suffered from horrible harassment by his opponents. Frequently musicians declared his symphonies unplayable or sabotaged his performances. It was not until his seventh symphony that he was able to gain critical support of his work. He died unmarried, but left specific instructions about how he was to be embalmed.


Richard Wagner




Wagner represents the cornerstone of German musical nationalism. His works are considered to be staples of operatic literature. As a youth, he was influenced by Weber, and tried to write his own opera, using his own libretto. He soon realized the difficulty in this, so he aborted his first one. However, as his style of composition matured, he began to create music at an extraordinary level. Working in many locations, Wagner's talent and tenacity spread quickly across Europe. However, his life was not without trouble. In Paris he suffered from large amounts of debt and was forced to flee with his wife to London. There he gathered more musical styles and synthesized them into his own. In Dresden, his operas were successful, but the revolution of 1848 forced him to leave the area. He began work on his famous opera Lohengrin when he entered another great debt. He also discovered that his wife had been cheating on him for some time. However, he actually used this as an inspiration to write Tristan and Isolde. In Munich things became worse as his affair with another woman caused more upheaval with his wife. His sponsors repaid some of his debts but he was then forced to leave (again) because of Bavarian opposition to his presence. In Bayreuth Wagner became much more forward-looking than reminiscent of German Romantic opera. Der Ring des Nibelungen, a 12-hour set of operas, was an experimentation with his Leitmotifs, in which he referenced certain characters through musical ideas. His last opera, Parsifal, dealt with the search for the Holy Grail and was an enormous success. Wagner himself conducted the last scene of its final performance. Two weeks later, in Vienna with his family, Wagner died of a heart attack.


Gustav Mahler




Mahler was born Jewish, but later converted to Catholicism. He was the contemporary of great thinkers like Sigmund Freud. His Jewish past and connection to Freud led to a great dislike of him by many. His first interaction with German nationalism began with his encounter with the Weber family. He had been shown the poetry collection Des Knaben Wunderhorn and began to write music to match the poems. Between these compositions he worked as the conductor for the Royal Opera in Budapest, and he also mingled with the first three of his symphonies. In Vienna he was appointed conductor of the State Opera (to perform operas by Wagner) and became a very distinguished maestro. Mahler then began to write his later symphonies. They were rather neglected during and shortly after his life, because of the scale of the size of the ensemble they required. His eighth symphony is often called the “symphony of a thousand.” After being removed from his position in Vienna, Mahler and his family moved to New York in 1908. In 1911, his family moved back to Austria, where he came to die of a serious illness. His tenth symphony was completed posthumously. Today, his connection to German literature marks him as a significant nationalist.







Edvard Grieg




As a child, Grieg's mother, who studied the piano, taught him to love the music of Mozart, Weber, and Chopin. Grieg's growing interest in music led to a recommendation by virtuoso violinist Ole Bull for young Edvard to study at the Leipzig Conservatory in Germany. His career, though, didn't really begin until after he had arrived in the Norwegian city of Bergen. There and and also in Copenhagen had Grieg and Norwegian nationalist composer Rikard Nordraak planned to create a society to promote Norwegian music. In 1868, Grieg discovered a volume of Norwegian folk songs and used them to write his Piano Concerto in A minor. Later in his life, Grieg began working with playwrights to create incidental suites, one of the most famous being Peer Gynt. By 1900 Grieg was suffering from a lung disease. Nevertheless, he kept his devotion to folk music alive. He died on a trip to England, and was cremated; his ashes were spread off a cliff in Norway.





Jean Sibelius




Born to a Swedish-speaking family, Sibelius was not very much interested in his Finnish roots during his youth. He was a skilled violinist, and he wanted to persue his passion and become a soloist. However, his personal conflicts led him to begin his studies in the field of Law. He changed his mind and began to study music. During his early career, he made many influential friends, but suffered from a drinking problem that would come back to haunt him later in his life. In 1891 he returned to Finland, where he established himself as an influential Finnish composer. He made his allegiance to the nationalist movement by marrying the daughter of a Finnish general seeking to break Finland from Russia. Although he never explicitly copied Finnish folk tunes, his works were all based off Finnish folklore. His most famous work, a tone poem called Finlandia, became widely popular. Despite his fame, his drinking problem forced him into heavy debt. Luckily for him, the government intervened with a pension to support him. Later in his life, he travelled abroad, writing incidental music and tone poems. However, some of these works suffered from an operation he had performed in order to remove a suspected cancer of the throat. The First World War marked the end of his career. He composed nothing for the last 31 years of his life, and died as a recluse.





England had made a name for itself with the talent of Baroque composer Henry Purcell, and previously had seen a great number of talented composers during the Renaissance period. However, since Purcell England had seen very little of its own talents find fame outside their country. England's place as a musical center had been cemented by the foreign talents it attracted - Handel and Mendelssohn, for instance.


English Musical Scene in the 19th Century


British Romantic composers were more strongly influenced by Felix Mendelssohn than any other Romantic composer. In Britain, Mendelssohn became even more popular than he was in his native Germany. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert befriended Mendelssohn and encouraged their country's composers to do what they could to sound just like him. As a result, English music of the early Romantic period is highly unoriginal, and little of it found acclaim south of the English Channel. The last great English composer had been Purcell, nearly two centuries before. It wasn't until Edward Elgar that England began to be seen as fertile ground for new and original composers.


Sir Edward Elgar




Though more of a musical Romantic than a Nationalist, Elgar's music can be seen as nationalistic because it glorifed England, not to mention returned her to prominence in the musical world. He was the most popular composer in England of his time, and even today his legacy continues. He was featured on Britain's 20-pound note until quite recently (when he was replaced by economist Adam Smith).



Elgar's most famous piece today is the first of his four Pomp and Circumstance marches, which has become a staple of secondary school and university graduation ceremonies throughout the world. Another widely-performed work is the Enigma Variations, where each variation represents a different person Elgar knew, including his wife, his friends, his fellow musicians, and possibly even a former love. The last variation, "E.B.U.," represents Elgar himself (as "Ebu" was his wife's nickname for him). Other popular pieces of his include concertos for violin and cello (the Cello Concerto probably ranking third among Elgar's best-known works); two symphonies; Falstaff, an enormous tone poem; and one of his most celebrated works, a choral work called The Dream of Gerontius. This work shows him as a master of choral music, a genre in which he wrote a number of pieces.

Elgar became the musical embodiment of Victorian and Edwardian England; his music perfectly expresses the elegance and decadence of that period of English history. He became a national hero in his country, by re-creating England as a musical center, a trend which continues today.  To this day, Elgar is the best-loved native composer in Great Britain.


Ralph Vaughan Williams




Vaughan Williams was more of a musical nationalist than Elgar because much of his music was actually influenced by English folk music. He, along with Holst, was involved in the collection of a number of English folk tunes. He stubbornly resisted the influence of foreign composers (particularly those of the German school) over English music. One of his famous quotes was: "As long as composers persist in serving up at second hand the externals of the music of other nations, they must not be surprised if audiences prefer the real Brahms, the real Wagner, the real Debussy or the real Stravinsky to their pale reflections." In Vaughan Williams's mind, British composers should write British music, and leave the Wagnerisms and Straussisms to their fellow Germans.

Therefore, despite his 19th- and 20th-century background, Vaughan Williams's music is full of the spirit of medieval and Renaissance England.

Vaughan Williams wrote nine symphonies, starting with A Sea Symphony, A London Symphony, and the Pastoral Symphony. He also wrote a number of operas, including Hugh the Drover and Sir John in Love (where he writes a fantasia on the old English folk tune and popular Christmas song, "Greensleeves"). Another popular work, for double string orchestra, was his Fantasia on a Theme by Tallis.

Many of his pieces are alive with English folk music, including the Fifth and Ninth Symphonies. He also wrote song cycles, such as On Wenlock Edge, based on English ideas. His English Folk Song Suite is one of his most popular band works, and is yet another piece based on native songs of England. He also wrote a number of pieces based on Shakespeare's works.

However, despite his strong nationalistic philosophy, he occasionally did write non-nationalistic pieces, such as The Wasps, which is based on a play by the Ancient Greek dramatist Aristophanes. However, even in this piece, English folk music can be found, such as a section resembling a sea chantey in the "March Past of the Kitchen Utensils."


Gustav Holst




Holst is not commonly thought of as a nationalist, because most of his fame rests on his The Planets Suite, which was overall not a nationalistic piece (the movement Jupiter serving as the exception). Yet, Holst did write a number of nationalistic compositions. He was a close friend of Vaughan Williams and with him helped in collecting a number of English folk tunes.

Holst's next best-known work after The Planets was his St. Paul's Suite, which is based on English folk tunes and even quotes "Greensleeves" in the last movement, the Dargason. (It was likely written in honor of St. Paul's Girl's School, where he worked as music teacher for a number of years.) He also wrote two Suites in E-flat for Military Band, both of which are based on folk music. The first suite was based upon a melody that, while written by the composer, was reminiscient of English folk songs. Each movement of the second suite was based on different existing English folk songs.

Choir music was important to England, and as a result Holst, as a true English nationalist, was adept at writing choral music as well as instrumental music. His two most well-known choir compositions are The Hymn of Jesus and Ode to Death. In addition, Holst also wrote a number of operas, including The Perfect Fool, At the Boar's Head, and The Wandering Scholar. Holst also had a chance to teach at the Royal College of Music, helping to inspire even later generations of composers.

However, while Holst was composing, nationalism in England was beginning to go out of style, as the modernist school (and Igor Stravinsky in particular) began to reach acclaim and composers were expected to imitate them. Drawing inspiration from English folk song was seen as old-fashioned, and therefore composers like Holst lost popularity. As a result, Holst has never quite gained back the fame he once had, and his Planets is one of his only works that is still popular today.


Other English Composers


Not all English composers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were nationalists. However, in a sense they all served a nationalistic cause by returning England to one of Europe's leading musical centers. Below are some of the important composers in England during the late Romantic and Modernist periods:


Sir Arthur Sullivan



Sullivan saw himself primarily as a composer of serious music, such as the opera Ivanhoe. Yet, very few of those works are remembered today. What gave Sullivan (and playwright William Gilbert) lasting fame was his numerous operettas, poking fun at the society of Victorian England. Some of the operettas include the H.M.S. Pinafore, The Mikado, The Pirates of Penzance, Iolanthe, Princess Ida, The Sorcerer, The Yeomen of the Guard, The Gondoliers, and Ruddigore. An operetta is an opera, usually a comic opera, that includes some spoken words in addition to music: in short, a musical. So, in a sense, Gilbert and Sullivan helped launch musical theatre as a genre that would come to dominate the 20th century.


Dame Ethel Smyth



One of the first female composers ever produced by England, Smyth was determined to become a composer despite the customs of the day dictating it improper for women to pursue her field. She was a feminist outside the musical realm as well; she wore masculine clothing and was an active supporter of women's suffrage. The pieces she wrote include everything from operas to orchestral works to chamber music to choir music - virtually every genre available in her day. Her operas were her most celebrated works, especially since she wrote all her own librettos - unusual for male composers, but especially for women. Her most important work was her opera The Wreckers, written in 1904, and still a part of the modern repertory. However, few of her other pieces are still played today.


Frederick Delius



Delius was actually one of the most important composers in England at the turn of the century, but was not a nationalist. In fact, Delius mostly despised England, and fled the country. His music was highly personal, and difficult to classify. Though it was tonal, it was also highly chromatic. He composed in a variety of genres, including orchestral works, operas, and choral works. His greatest masterpiece is considered his A Mass of Life, written for vocal soloists, choir, and orchestra. Other more popular works of his include the opera Koanga, another opera, A Village Romeo and Juliet, his tone poem On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring, and another tone poem, Brigg Fair: An English Rhapsody, the closest he ever came to nationalism (because it quotes English folk tunes). Other pieces of Delius's that are still in the regular repertoire are another tone poem, Paris: Song of a Great City, two concertos, and another symphonic work, Life's Dance. One of his English fans was Sir Thomas Beecham, who helped to popularize Delius's music in his native country. American film composer Bernard Herrmann was also strongly influenced by Delius. However, while perhaps equally important, Delius was never as popular as Elgar or Vaughan Williams, and as a result his pieces are not commonly performed.


Benjamin Britten



Britten probably belonged to too late a generation to be considered one of the nationalists. However, he was inspired by the operas of earlier generations of English composers, such as Purcell. (His admiration for Purcell is shown in his Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, which is essentially a variations on one of Purcell's melodies, moved throughout the orchestra in order to show each instrument's color and tone.) He also is known to quote earlier English music in his pieces. Britten is credited with the revival of English opera. His operas include Peter Grimes, The Rape of Lucretia, Albert Herring, Gloriana, The Turn of the Screw, and Death in Venice. He also wrote a cantata, Rejoice in the Lamb. However, his two most famous pieces are his War Requiem and the Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra.





During the Renaissance and Baroque periods, Spain had been a cultural center like Italy, France, and England. In addition to becoming the adopted home of Domenico Scarlatti, it produced a number of its own great composers. However, by the 19th century, Spain had become culturally isolated, with a reputation for reactionary and closed-minded thinking. It no longer was seen as a center for learning or culture (music included). Talented Spanish composers had to leave the country to study, as there was no conservatory in Spain that had any professional standing.

Yet musicians across Europe had always had a fascination with Spanish folk music, with everyone from the French (Bizet's Carmen, Lalo's Symphonie Espagnole, several Ravel pieces) to the Russians (Rimsky-Korsakov's Capriccio espagnol) composing pieces under Iberian influences. Realizing this, Spanish composers in the late 19th-century decided that looking to their own folk songs would be the best way to put themselves back on the musical map. And as native Spaniards, they also knew that they could write Spanish music better than anyone else.


Musicology in 19th Century Spain


In the middle of the 19th-century, Spaniards began to see the great inspiration their native songs held on composers across Europe, and decided to investigate it better themselves. There was a great movement to better understand the history of Spanish folk music, starting with Felipe Pedrell (1841-1922). He edited works of earlier Spanish composers and complied a famous book about the history of Spanish music, Cancionero musical popular espanol. Pedrell also composed, but was much better known for his work as a musicologist. Still, even purely through his studies of older Spanish music, he was to set the tone for later Spanish composers:


Isaac Albeniz




In the same way that Mozart showed amazing talent with the piano, Albeniz was also a child prodigy, his first public appearance occurring at age four. He began a tour at age eight, and was a member of the Madrid Conservatory at age nine. However, Albeniz did not like to stay around one place. His travels took him to Leipzig, Brussels, London, Leipzig, and even South America. In 1883 he settled briefly in Barcelona, where he married.

Albeniz's most important works were written for solo piano, each using different aspects of local Spanish folk music. His Iberia suite would later influence impressionist composers Debussy and Ravel.


Enrique Granados




A friend of Albeniz, Granados was also a brilliant pianist. He was seven years younger than Albeniz, but his career sparked even later in his life. It wasn't until he was 31 that his comic opera Maria del Carmen was finally produced. Granados was not a full-time composer either – he was busy teaching and performing as well. Of his compositions, his piano works were most successful; these and his his stage works were all inspired by Spanish themes or other works of Spanish art. Granados's death was rather tragic; he and his wife were traveling aboard a ship when it was struck by German torpedoes. He died trying to save his wife.


Manuel de Falla




Albeniz and Granados passed the torch to Manuel de Falla, who represents a 20th-century approach to Spanish nationalism. One of his greatest works is his La vida breve (The Brief Life), an opera which won him a national prize. More great nationalistic works by Falla include his ballets El amor brujo (Love, the Magician)and El sombrero de tres picos (The Three-Cornered Hat, which, despite the name, is not at all related to "The Carnival of Venice"), the latter of which has spawned two popular suites. El sombrero de tres picos is particularly interesting because of the wide variety of different native Andalusian dances it offers, from light-hearted dances such as the Dance of the Neighbors to the very "macho" Miller's Dance. Noches en los jardines de Espana (Nights in the Gardens of Spain) is another popular work, for piano and orchestra. Later in his life Falla abandoned his nationalistic roots for a more Stravinskian style of composition, and spent the last decade of his life in Argentina working on the choral-orchestral L'Atlantida, which he left unfinished at his death. He composed very few pieces, however, Falla is perhaps one of the most popular of the Spanish nationalist composers, as the majority of his pieces are still part of the modern repertoire.


United States



When the first settlers came from Europe to America, they brought with them a long legacy of great music. The Second Migration in the late 1800s, with immigrants coming from Eastern and Southern Europe in addition to Anglo-Saxon areas, brought even more different types of music to the New World. However, America, though it was politically important by this time, had yet to produce its own cultural legacy, apart from that which its citizens had brought with them. While it was beginning to make headway in literature, it still was lagging behind in music. All that was to change, though, in the late 19th and 20th centuries, with the advent of jazz, blues, country, and other uniquely American forms of music. American composers realized they had a unique advantage over their contemporaries in Europe: they could access music from all over the world without ever leaving their native land. And this combination of different musical cultures produced music found nowhere else in the world.


Dvorak's Visit to America and the Beginning of US Nationalism


When Antonin Dvorak, a leader in the Czech school of nationalism (see "Czech Republic," above), came to America, he saw in America great potential for nationalist composition. He saw many emerging composers in the New World and also became acquainted with its native music - Native American music and slave songs. He advised Americans on how to create their own form of nationalism: by listening to the music that was unique to their country, particularly folk music. He saw the music of Native Americans and African-Americans as the music that American composers should draw on for inspiration.

When the American school of composition began gearing up, many composers did begin to look to that music, including George Gershwin (below), who drew on jazz for inspiration in both his musicals and his concert pieces. However, many, like Charles Ives (also below), looked more to their own individual heritage (in Ives' case, the music of his native New England) for inspiration.


Early American Composers


Long before the 20th century, the American school was gearing up, inspired in equal parts by its own native folk music and the hundreds-of-years-old legacy of European art music. It was these composers who would inspire Dvorak's "New World" Symphony when he came to America.


Stephen Foster



While he didn't write concert music, Foster was a terrific songwriter, and is important as one of America's earliest composers. He wrote a number of famous folk songs, including "Camptown Races," "Beautiful Dreamer," and "Oh! Susanna." Two of his songs, "My Old Kentucky Home" and "Swanee River," became state anthems (for Kentucky and Florida, respectively). His legacy is legendary, both in America and abroad, and he's inspired numerous other songwriters in all genres of music (including Gershwin, whose first hit song was named "Swanee").


The Boston Classicists


Far from being nationalists, the Boston Classicists were a school of composers in New England around the last turn of the century who were inspired in large part by the great European composers of their age. Most of them went to Europe to complete their musical education, and were particularly influenced by Brahms.

Two of the most important composers of this style were not actually members of the Classicists, but had similar musical influences. One was Amy Marcy Cheney Beach (1867-1944), who still ranks as one of the greatest female composers of all time. She started her musical career as a renowned pianist, and started composing in her teens. She had a very traditional approach to music, taking influence from Schumann and Brahms more than anyone else. She wrote in a variety of genres, including an opera and a piano concerto (the latter of which she played in a tour). Her Gaelic Symphony was the first symphony by an American female composer. Though she fought convention by writing music as a woman, she also gained universal respect for her fantastic music.

Another important composer was Edward MacDowell (1860-1908), who, like Beach and the Classicists, was also a very non-nationalistic composer, though he used nationalistic-sounding titles sometimes (like Woodland Sketches and the Indian Suite). He was as popular in America at his time as Elgar was in England. Very little of his music survives in the modern repertory.


Scott Joplin



Scott Joplin, the "Father of Ragtime" and one of the grandfathers of jazz, was another very influential American composer. He was a very talented pianist who start playing at a young age, and by seventeen was making a living playing in bars. Eventually, he started composing and made his living publishing his pieces, which became wildly popular. His musical style, which was a very danceable blend of European music and African-American blues, became known for its "ragged-time" by listeners because of its irregular beat. The name was later shortened to "ragtime" and the pieces were called "rags." His most popular rags include the Maple Leaf Rag and the Entertainer (from a nickname used for Joplin while he was playing in bars). He wrote numerous other pieces, though, including the Pineapple Rag, and an opera, Treemonisha. His Maple Leaf Rag was the first piece of sheet music to sell over one million copies. Treemonisha even won him a posthumous Pulitzer Prize in 1972.


Louis Moreau Gottschalk




Gottschalk was the first nationalistic American composer, and possibly the first great American composer of art music. He came from New Orleans and was of Creole ancestry. His life in New Orleans, among so many different cultures, helped inspire his music. As a young musician hearing the mazurkas of Chopin, Gottschalk wondered if he couldn't write music that was inspired by his own cultural background. As a result, in addition to more traditional concert music influences, Gottschalk's music was full of African-American and Caribbean melodies, as early as the 1850s! Could Gottschalk's music, by combining African and Cuban music with classical norms, have set a precedent for the century-later innovation of Latin fusion in jazz? Who knows? He certainly did affect Dvorak when he came to the United States and began trying to write "American" music. However, dying at age 40, Gottschalk did not live long enough for his music to have a very immediate impact. The world would have to wait another half-century before another nationalistic American composer came on the scene:


Charles Ives




Insurance salesman by day (and quite a good one at that), composer by night, Ives was one of the most influential American composers ever. While his music is known more for its dissonances than for its nationalism, Ives's music is full of the American spirit. Ives was a proud, patriotic American who would write the president letters suggesting new amendments to the Constitution. And all of Ives's music is full of memories of his childhood in New England.

Ives was hardly known in his day, and made virtually no money off his music (his entire living came from his estate planning), which makes it difficult to gauge Ives's influence during his own lifetime as very few of his contemporaries knew he existed (although film composer Bernard Herrmann became one of his early admirers, often writing to Ives for copies of his scores). Some of his most famous pieces include The Unanswered Question and his Second and Third ("The Camp Meeting") Symphonies. (The Third even won the Pulitzer Prize.)

Three Places in New England is an excellent example of Ivesian nationalism, as each of the three movements illustrates a different place from Ives's life there. The first, "St. Gaudens in Boston Common," is an old Civil War monument; "Putnam's Camp, Redding, Connecticut," which was a strategic battle place during the Battle of Bunker Hill in the American Revolution; and the "Housatonic at Stockbridge," the name of a river (the Housatonic). Ives frequently borrows famous American folk tunes and hymns in this piece, utlizing such popular tunes as "Yankee Doodle" and "The Battle Cry of Freedom."

What makes Ivesian nationalism so interesting is mainly its dissonance. It doesn't seem like proud, patriotic music, except for the quoting of favorite American songs. His "Variations on America," for example, while definitely patriotic at the beginning and end of the piece, seems like almost like a protest in the middle, with Ives's unsettling use of bitonality in one of the variations. With his pieces continously surprising their listeners, it's no wonder that Ives is still so popular and influential today.


George Gershwin




Gershwin's music seems to straddle the divide between jazz and concert music. All of his concert works seem to have an element of the blues in them, while the musical numbers he wrote with his brother Ira seem more "polished" than what would commonly be considered jazz. The music he wrote spans numerous genres, from orchestra works ("An American in Paris" and "Cuban Overture") to jazz band pieces ("Rhapsody in Blue," although it was later orchestrated by Ferde Grofe and is more commonly known that way), to piano works (the Piano Concerto in F, the Three Preludes) to string music (the posthumously-published "Lullaby"), to even an opera ("Porgy and Bess," the first all-black opera). And of course, there are the musicals (some of the popular songs include "I Got Rhythm," "S'Wonderful," and "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off").

Gershwin is not commonly thought of as a nationalistic composer, but in some respects it's hard to think of him as anything else. After all, virtually all of Gershwin's classical works have tinges of jazz in them (even the "Lullaby"), and jazz is still considered to be one of the most uniquely American varieties of music.

Gershwin would have a titanic effect on later generations of American composers, particularly Leonard Bernstein, another American composer who often bridged the divide between jazz and classical music.


Aaron Copland




Warmly regarded by enthusiasts of American Classical music, Copland is considered next to Gershwin as the definition of the genre. He grew up in New York as the son of Russian/Lithuanian Jews, and he had a great interest in music. He studied in New York for some time but then moved to Paris, where he felt he would have more success. After being overwhelmed by the diversity of the music in Paris, he returned to the United States with a goal: to write music in a style that was truly American. His music celebrated American traditions, particularly those from the Western Frontier. His ballet Rodeo is recognizable by most Americans, not to mention his other works such as Appalachian Spring. After the Second World War, Copland's popularity was taken by the young Leonard Bernstein, allowing Copland to become more abstract with his style. In his later years, Copland was recognized for his work and was heavily honored, winning a Pulitzer Prize.


Ferde Grofe




Grofe was born into a French Family living in the US. His father died while he was still young, and his mother took him abroad. During his excursions he gained a great deal of interest in music. At the age of fourteen he left the house to work. His first jobs had little to do with music, but he continued his efforts with the piano and the violin, and joined the Paul Whiteman Orchestra. His compositions mainly dealt with jazz, imitating Gershwin. In fact, Grofe is known for arranging Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue from solo piano to piano and orchestra. Of his original works, he is most famous for a trilogy of suites dedicated to three American landmarks: the Grand Canyon Suite (which was used in the movie A Christmas Story), Death Valley Suite, and his first, the Mississippi Suite.


Other Great American Composers


Some other American composers of the Modernist period, not associated with nationalistic composition, would include Samuel Barber, who was one of the most influential American composers. His most famous piece was the Adagio for Strings. He also won the Prix de Rome. Leonard Bernstein, although primarily famous for conducting the New York Philharmonic, was also a great composer, especially known for his musicals, including Candide and the wildly popular West Side Story, although he wrote amazing concert music as well. Another commonly underrated composer was Bernard Herrmann, one of the first great film composers and one of the fathers of film scores as a serious musical genre. Some of his legendary scores include Citizen Kane, Fahrenheit 451, and Taxi Driver in addition to numerous Alfred Hitchcock films, including Psycho, Vertigo, North by Northwest, and The Man Who Knew Too Much. He would help to establish a great American school of film composing that would continue well into the latter half of the 20th century and 21st century.


Music Library


Want to listen to the composers described above? Here's your chance!



Mikhail Glinka - Russlan and Ludmilla Overture



Franz Liszt - Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 in C# Minor



Richard Wagner - Prelude to the March of the Meistersingers



Richard Wagner - Ride of the Valkyries from Die Walkurie (Ring Cycle)



Edvard Grieg - Piano Concerto in A Minor



Jean Sibelius - Finlandia



Aaron Copland - "Hoe-Down" from the Rodeo Ballet





Mussorgsky - Pictures at an Exhibition: The Hut on Fowl's Legs (Baba-Yaga) and the Great Gate of Kiev (Ravel orchestration)


Tchaikovsky - Nutcracker Ballet: Russian Dance (Mariinsky Ballet, St. Petersburg, Russia)


Smetana - The Moldau from Ma Vlast (Vladimir Ashkenazy conducting Czech Philharmonic)


Dvorak - Slavonic Dance No. 8


Enescu - Romanian Rhapsody no. 1 part 1 part 2 (Sergiou Celibidache conducting Bucharest Philharmonic)


Grieg - Peer Gynt Suite No. 1: Morning Song


Elgar - Enigma Variations: Nimrod (Daniel Bareinboim conducting Chicago Symphony at Carnegie Hall)


Falla - El amor brujo: Danza ritual del fuego (Daniel Barenboim conducting Chicago Symphony)


Gershwin - Rhapsody in Blue. part 1 part 2 (Leonard Bernstein playing piano, with New York Philharmonic)


Grofe - Grand Canyon Suite Painted Desert, Sunrise On the Trail Cloudburst Sunset, Finale 

Listening Logs


Works Cited


1. Burkholder, J. Peter, et al. A History of Western Music 7th ed. W.W. Norton and Co. New York: 2006.


2. Krull, Kathleen. Lives of the Musicians: Good Times, Bad Times (And What the Neighbors Thought) Illus. Kathryn Hewitt. Harcourt, Inc. Orlando: 1993.


3. Pogue, David, and Speck, Scott. Classical Music for Dummies IDG Books Worldwide. Foster City, CA: 1997.


4. Schonberg, Harold C. The Lives of the Great Composers 3rd ed. W.W. Norton. New York: 1997.


5. Wade-Matthews and Wendy Thompson. The Encyclopedia of Music. London: Anness Publishing, 2003.


6. Biography Resource Center. Infotrac Databases.


Comments (2)

Anonymous said

at 5:09 pm on Feb 9, 2007

Hi Greg!
Please let me know when you're done editing this so I can add my information.

Anonymous said

at 9:12 pm on Feb 9, 2007

I'm totally done, so feel free to edit now. Sorry I took so long. You should probably include something about von Weber under the Germans - it seems like the Early Romantic group isn't doing anything with him, so it's probably our job to include him.

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