An American Nine

Alex Ross wrote recently about a blogging challenge to name nine favorite symphonies, one for each numbered slot. While the lists I’ve read range widely in terms of the nationality of the composer, what if one tried to devise a list of nine American symphonies?

Speaking only of pieces I have heard, either live or on recordings, I can’t come up with a piece for every numeric slot. On the other hand, there are multiple possibilities for some of the lower numbers. Here’s a by no means exhaustive list of favorite American symphonies of mine without regard to the numbered slots or the limit of nine. I am surely forgetting some great stuff, but this is what comes to mind at the moment. I did make the tough decision to pick a favorite piece by those composers from whom I have heard more than one symphony (Corigliano, Ives, Harbison, Rochberg, Rouse, Sessions, Wernick), and have included pieces that are not designated with a number by their composers. (Adams would be on this list if he used the name “symphony” for a piece like Naive and Sentimental Music.)

Copland: Short Symphony
Corigliano: #1
Currier: Microsymph
Hanson: #2
Harbison: #2
Harris: #3
Hartke: #3
Ives: #4
Persichetti: #6 (for band)
Rochberg: Symphony #2
Rouse: #2
Schuman: #3
Sessions: #2
Stucky: Symphony
Wernick: #1
Wuorinen: Percussion Symphony
Zwillich: #1

I really don’t know how I would trim this to nine. If you forced me to try to do so, I can say that the Ives and Rochberg would definitely be on the list, probably the Copland, but after that…

I probably would never have heard the Hanson if I had not heard it used as the sign-off music for WCLV-FM when I was growing up in Cleveland. The Persichetti also has sentimental associations, since I played it in college. (However, it is not listed just out of sentimentality, as I have heard more than one person say that it is one of his best pieces.)

I’ve heard only part of the symphonic output of several of the composers listed above (including Sessions, Harris, and Schuman among the older generations), and there are plenty of composers whose symphonies I have not heard at all (Piston, Ran, Harrison, to name just three). And, I repeat, I am surely just forgetting something at the moment. What pieces would you add to a list of favorite American symphonies?

 

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