Happy July 4th! What You Didn't Know American Nationalism in Classical Music

When discussing nationalism in classical music, often the first American images that come
up are apple pie, the West, and patriotic marches. Yet the American experience for centuries have included the music from all over the globe and from indigenous societies. American music for centuries included influence from Africa, the West Indies, Europe, Asia, indigenous groups, and Latin America. 

In fact, when Anton Dvorak, a nationalist Bohemian composer, traveled the United States to gain inspiration for his New World Symphony, he based it on the music of the Native Americans and the African spirituals. To his European ears, the fresh and new American music that he heard was the music most unlike his own.

American music traditions and music from the New World (Western Hemisphere) are often overlooked until the 20th century. In the 20th century, European traditions had grown so much in the Americas, that talented composers insisted on training in Europe to complete their studies. However, the cultural shift changed throughout the last century, and New York City, USA, became as prestigious a musical hub as Rome or Vienna or Paris.

With nationalistic music, the composer has the advantage of knowing the music and culture very well. For example, American composer Aaron Copland in the 20th century studied the music of Appalachia and incorporated these sounds into his music, like Appalachian Springs. Copland was a 20th century nationalist.

A composer writing music based on national music traditions will spend time studying music from a particular region. Studying the music involves more than listening to what is popular from the region. A composer will study the melodies, harmonies, instrumentation, instruments, rhythms, and tone color of a particular region. The composer is immersed in the music. The composer attends concerts, reads books, talks to local musicians, and listens to lots of music.

The best composers mix their own compositional style with key elements of the culture's music. Sometimes the composer may ask for specific folk instruments, incorporate well known melodies from nationalist tunes, copy the scales and harmonies of the region, or make orchestral instruments (like the harp) copy the folk style.

You can find nationalism in many types of classical music. This July 4th take a moment to enjoy American national pride with patriotic marches and music.

Award-winning composer Sabrina Peña Young is a foremost expert on social media, music TED Talk on musicians and Internet collaboration to cutting edge opera like Libertaria: The Virtual Opera, Young is dedicated to exploring the cutting edge of technology and music.

If you like this article, take a moment to explore Libertaria: The Virtual Opera, an exciting "groundbreaking" film.


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