Music Mix for July 4

Happy Independence Day! The Classical MPR staff have put together an online music mix of a few of our favorites, for your holiday listening. This list is only a sampling–what are some of your favorite pieces for Fourth of July? Would you like to hear other similar mixes? Enjoy the music, and let us know your thoughts.

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Here’s the playlist:

Alf Houkom, arr: Oh, Shenandoah

Dale Warland Singers

Blue Wheat (American Choral Classics 122)

Here, a classic American ballad meets the great Minnesota choral tradition.

John Williams: Liberty Fanfare

John Williams/Boston Pops

By Request (Philips 420 178)

In 1986, the Statue of Liberty was 100 years old. To mark the anniversary, the Statue got a complete restoration–and this fanfare.

Aaron Copland: At the River, from Old American Songs

William Warfield, baritone; Aaron Copland, piano

Modern American Vocal Works (CBS/Sony 60899)

It wouldn’t be the Fourth of July without Aaron Copland, who enriched the repertoire with classics like “Appalachian Spring,” “Billy the Kid,” “Lincoln Portrait,” and the “Old American Songs.”

Jerome Moross: Main Title, from The Big Country

Tony Bremner/Philharmonia Orchestra

The Big Country Soundtrack (Silva 1048)

One of the classic Wild West themes, by a composer who wrote for Hollywood, the concert hall, and Broadway.

Stephen Foster: Hard Times Come Again No More

James Taylor, guitar and vocals; Yo-Yo Ma/Edgar Meyer/Mark O’Connor

Appalachian Journey (Sony 66782)

Stephen Foster was born on the fourth of July–literally. Over the years, his songs have been sung everywhere from vocal recitals to summer camp. As this performance suggests, his songs continue to resonate with American musicians of many genres.

Joseph Lamb: Ragtime Bobolink

Virginia Eskin, piano

American Beauties (Koch 7495)

Joseph Lamb was a contemporary of Scott Joplin, and brought his own elegant, personal style to ragtime.

Randall Thompson: Largo, from Symphony No. 2

Leonard Bernstein/New York Philharmonic

Bernstein Century: American Masters (Sony 60594)

If you’ve sung in a church or school choir, you may have sung Randall Thompson’s “Alleluia,” one of the classics of American choral music. As this section of his Second Symphony shows, he could also express himself eloquently in orchestral music.

George Gershwin: Summertime

Kathleen Battle, soprano; Andre Previn/Orchestra of St. Luke’s

Honey and Rue (DG 437 787)

A memorable melody–and equally memorable words. Stephen Sondheim points out that it would have been easy to write, “Summertime, when the livin’ is easy.” Of course, it’s actually, “And the livin’ is easy” – one little word makes all the difference.

Earl Robinson: Joe Hill

Paul Robeson, bass-baritone

Songs of Free Men (Columbia/Sony 63223)

This is the best-known piece by Earl Robinson, who also wrote “Ballad for Americans” (also recorded by Robeson), “The House I Live in” (recorded by Frank Sinatra), and a concerto for banjo.

Leonard Bernstein: Make Our Garden Grow, from Candide

Original Broadway Cast Recording

The Bernstein Songbook (CBS/Sony 44760)

Voltaire’s novel “Candide” ends with the words, “We must cultivate our garden.” At the end of his stage version, Leonard Bernstein turns that terse observation into a soaring, expansive anthem.

Joplin: Maple Leaf Rag

New England Conservatory Ensemble

The Red Back Book (EMI 47193)

The iconic rag.

MacDowell: To a Wild Rose

Roderick Phipps-Kettlewell, piano

Singer (Amade 6395)

Edward MacDowell was one of the first Americans to play a part on the international classical music scene on an equal footing with European musicians. He excelled in the musical miniature, such as this favorite, played by Minnesota pianist Roderick Phipps-Kettlewell.

Stephen Foster: Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair


Chanticleer: A Portrait (Teldec 49702)

Here’s Chanticleer, giving a sophisticated close-harmony spin to Foster’s ballad.

John Klohr: The Billboard

Frederick Fennell/Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra

March World, Vol. 4 (Brain 7504)

You may not recognize the title of this march, or the composer–but you’ll definitely recognize the big tune.

Leonard Bernstein: Tonight, from West Side Story

Original Cast Recording

West Side Story (Columbia/Sony 32603)

“West Side Story” is still going strong, 52 years after its premiere. Check out this online exhibition from the Library of Congress.

Virgil Thomson: Allegro, from Symphony on a Hymn Tune

Howard Hanson/Eastman-Rochester Orchestra;

(Mercury 434310)

Virgil Thomson was an American original: a Missouri boy who went to Harvard, moved to Paris in the Jazz Age, knew everyone from Picasso to Frank O’Hara, and wrote some of the most memorable music criticism of any American. This symphony shows off some of his Parisian cheekiness–but his affection for his Baptist childhood comes through.

Kurt Weill: September Song

Walter Huston, vocals; Victor Young & His Orchestra

Hits of ’46 (ASV 5246)

Hard to guess from listening to this bittersweet ballad that it comes from a Broadway show satirizing Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Peter Schickele: Lively, from Piano Quintet

Lark Quartet; Peter Schickele, piano

Schickele on a Lark (Arabesque 6719)

Peter Schickele says that his quintet “couldn’t be more American” — echoes of the blues, boogie and fiddle music abound.

The e-Comp begins!

The Minnesota International Piano-e-Competition is underway at Hamline University’s Sundin Hall. I was there for all of day one (Tuesday) which included solo recitals from five of the 21 contestants. Highlights for me came from German pianist Andrej Yussow and Han-Chien Lee of Taiwan. Jussow, 28, captured my attention with his diverse program (Schnittke, Bach, Beethoven and Chopin), his overall musicianship, and his willingness to play softly. What I liked most about Han-Chien Lee’s playing was her interpretation of Ravel’s Miroirs. It illustated her deep understanding of impressionism and her ability to exhibit that in the colors she drew from the piano.

The Recital Round continues through Friday. Playing begins at noon and runs until 8 pm. The public is welcome to attend and, best of all, admission is free. If you decide to stop by, be sure to bring a sweater or two. It’s cold in there!

Listen to my conversation with John Birge

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