Skip to main content
This program is over. Hope you didn't miss it!

The Great American Composers: Music Made in the USA

6 Session Afternoon Course

6 sessions from April 12 to May 17, 2022
Code: 1M2193
This program is part of our
Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.
Select your Tickets
Powered by Zoom

Duke Ellington at the KFG radio studio

In the 20th century, American composers finally achieved their place in the Sunday The earliest among them, Scott Joplin and Jelly Roll Morton, were long considered just popular musicians. Today, they’re recognized as seminal composers responsible for the creation of a new and distinctly American art form. Charles Ives, Aaron Copland, and George Gershwin followed, each combining the influence of their European inheritance with the songs and rhythms of their own country. Borrowing gratefully from the recent past, Duke Ellington and Leonard Bernstein brought the music into cabarets, concert halls, and the theater. Before the century was done, John Cage, Philip Glass, Steve Reich, and John Adams upended all expectations, treating us or shocking us, giving new meaning to the idea of American ingenuity.

Classical and American music expert Saul Lilienstein leads this joyful celebration of wonderful music. His talks are highlighted by film clips and music recordings.

April 12  Scott Joplin (1868–1917) and Jelly Roll Morton (1890–1941)

The sounds of ragtime flowed out of Missouri and New Orleans, evolving into early jazz. Hear samples of Joplin’s full musical range from Maple Leaf Rag to his opera Treemonisha. Compositions for piano by Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe (aka Jelly Roll Morton), including the classics King Porter Stomp and The Pearls, are presented along with music written for his ensemble Red Hot Peppers. The Library of Congress rediscovered and archived his achievements in 1938.

April 19  Charles Ives (1874-1954) and Aaron Copland (1900–1990)

Charles Ives’ 2nd Symphony and Three Places in New England nostalgically evoked small town life in Connecticut–while nodding in the direction of Johannes Brahms. Aaron Copland brought French training and his admiration for Igor Stravinsky back to the streets of New York, before discovering the rest of America. His music, from El Salon Mexico and Billy the Kid to Appalachian Spring, became immediate classics.

April 26  George Gershwin (1898-1937)

From the sidewalks of New York to the concert halls and opera houses of the world, Gershwin evolved into the quintessential American composer. Hear excerpts from his early opera, Blue Monday, to the triumph of Porgy and Bess. He was the son of immigrants and the tropes of Eastern Europe can be found in his concert works Rhapsody in Blue, Concerto in F, An American in Paris, and in various songs.

May 3  Duke Ellington (1899–1974)

Leaving Washington, D.C. for New York City, by the mid-1920s Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington eventually composed more than 1,000 musical works, working alone and in collaborations with members of his jazz orchestra. Gunther Schuller and others have referred to him as "the most significant composer of the genre.” Hear examples from his early masterpieces Mood Indigo and Black and Tan Fantasy to the Sacred Concert and the extended orchestral suites of his later period.

May 10  Leonard Bernstein (1918–1990)

Bernstein was our 20th century Renaissance man, but this session focuses on Bernstein, the composer. Hear excepts from the early works Jeremiah Symphony and Age of Anxiety (Symphony No. 2) to the later scores for theater and film including West Side Story, Candide, On the Waterfront and Mass. 

May 17  Into Our Own Time

The spirit of American ingenuity continues to astound us. John Cage (1912–1992) toyed with time and space in works like 4’33” (four minutes thirty-three seconds)—to be experienced in a superb, recorded performance by The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra—inspiring both Phillip Glass (1937- ) and Steve Reich (1936- ) to discover that less could be more. John Adams (1947- ) leads us into the next century with his opera Nixon in China and a series of brilliantly orchestrated pieces.

6 sessions

Patron Information

  • If you register multiple individuals, you will be asked to supply individual names and email addresses so they can receive a Zoom link email. Please note that if there is a change in program schedule or a cancellation, we will notify you via email, and it will be your responsibility to notify other registrants in your group.
  • Unless otherwise noted, registration for streaming programs typically closes two hours prior to the start time on the date of the program.
  • Once registered, patrons should receive an automatic email confirmation from
  • Separate Zoom link information will be emailed closer to the date of the program. If you do not receive your Zoom link information 24 hours prior to the start of the program, please email Customer Service for assistance.
  • View Common FAQs about our Streaming Programs on Zoom.