As musicologists and scholars of American art music, we are forever indebted to Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein for their music, their conducting, teaching, and lecturing, and especially for their writings. It is still a relatively recent phenomenon in the history of music to possess writings from composers that explain, not only their own works, but their perspective on all aspects of the musical world in which they lived. One significant topic which both Copland and Bernstein addressed was the process by which a uniquely American sound began to develop and shape the music of the twentieth century.
Through a thorough examination of their writings, supporting research from other scholars, and original analysis of key musical works, this article will trace the beginnings of a nationalistic thread in American art music and identify the musical traits that communicate such nationalism. Both Copland and Bernstein identified influential figures in the development of an American sound, such as Antonin Dvorák, Nadia Boulanger, Charles Ives, George Gershwin, Aaron Copland, Virgil Thomson, William Schuman, Roy Harris, and Carlos Chávez. Also, jazz, folk music, and Latin American music were highly influential to the art music of the twentieth century.
Looking back throughout history, there is rarely one defining moment when music changes completely. It is usually a combination of many and varied factors that occur throughout a period of time. In this study, identifying the causes and influences in the development of an American nationalistic sound, we have the distinct benefit of taking cues from some of the most influential figures in twentieth century art music who blessed musicians, music-lovers, and scholars with their words, eloquently bringing to light the serendipitous events that created the art music of the last century.
Copland, Bernstein, American music, Folk music, Jazz