(Photo: iStockphoto)

We feature American music and the composers who created it all day this Tuesday on CPR Classical. The celebration includes fireworks music, like the "1812" Overture and "Stars and Stripes Forever" in the 8 p.m. hour.

Independence Day wouldn't feel quite so American without her music. That includes music of today, even though it might not sound so American to most.

George Gershwin (1898-1937)

There is plenty to call American music, from 17th century songbooks to traditional American folk tunes to soulful gospel music and Broadway. And if you enjoy classical music, the Fourth simply isn't the same without the greats of the 20th century who developed styles we eagerly call American.

Howard Hanson, Henry Cowell, Charles Ives, Aaron Copland, Roy Harris and David Diamond are just a start. These composers learned in the European tradition, but sought out their own sound. An independent sound. An American sound, if only indirectly.

As the century progressed new schools of thought began to take shape -- notably minimalism, whose composers railed against the avant-garde and reclaimed melodic turf, beginning with Steve Reich, Philip Glass and Terry Riley. 

Composer Aaron Copland at the piano.

(Photo: Public domain)

Subsequent generations of American composers have found voice by exploring a rich amalgam of styles that reach far back in history and ignore boundaries of genre and culture. You can't place a label on much music from today's younger composers -- like Caleb Burhans, Nico Muhly and Boulder-based Carter Pann -- though future generations will likely coin one upon looking back. 

There's a rich new world of music right now exploding with surprise, new ideas and unabated joy in its making. Perhaps in this way -- though it doesn't sound like Ives, Gershwin or Bernstein -- today's music is more American than it's ever been.

Some highlights of what you'll hear on the Fourth of July:

  • 8 a.m.: Virgil Thompson: "Alleluia"
  • 9 a.m.: Aaron Copland: "Lincoln Portrait"
  • 11 a.m.:  George Gershwin: "Rhapsody in Blue"
  • 1 p.m.: George Whitefield Chadwick: "Symphonic Sketches"
  • 4 p.m.: Joan Tower: "Made in America"
  • 8 p.m.: Aaron Copland: "Rodeo" and fireworks music including 1812 Overture and Stars and Stripes Forever 
  • ... And 21st-century composers like Caroline Shaw, Mason Bates and Colorado's Carter Pann and Daniel Kellogg.