Searching For The Great American Symphony

The American Symphonic Legacy: Not Just For White Guys

George Walker is considered the elder statesman of today's African-American composers.

George Walker is considered the elder statesman of today's African-American composers. Gregory Walker/Courtesy of the artist hide caption

itoggle caption Gregory Walker/Courtesy of the artist

This summer, NPR Classical has been looking for the great American symphony — or at least some idea of what it might sound like.

Up until recently, the likely composers of the great American symphony looked remarkably similar: all white, overwhelmingly male. But the relative ease of access to sheet music today — as well as a substantial decrease in the cost of recording — has opened up the doors to composers who were once lost to history. And that means the great American symphony may have already been written by someone most Americans have never heard of.

Jeffrey Mumford is one of the American composers striving to create that symphony. He's also a teacher, and he studied with some composers in the pantheon of greats, including Elliott Carter and Lawrence Moss. He spoke with Weekend Edition Saturday guest host Celeste Headlee about how African-American composers have contributed to the elusive "American sound." Hear their conversation at the audio link, and check out Mumford's picks below.

Hear The Music

Violin Concertos by Black Composers.
Cedille

Chevalier De Saint-Georges: Violin Concerto In A Major - Rondeau

  • Artist: Rachel Barton Pine
  • Album: Violin Concertos by Black Composers of the 18th & 19th Centuries

Purchase Featured Music

Song
Violin Concerto in A major, Op. 5/2 [Rondeau]
Album
Violin Concertos by Black Composers of the 18th & 19th Centuries
Artist
Rachel Barton Pine
Label
Cedille Records
Released
1999

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Orchestral works by George Walker.
Albany Records

Sinfonia For Orchestra No. 3 - Quarter Note = 54

  • Artist: Ian Hobson
  • Album: George Walker: Great American Orchestral Works, Vol. 1

Purchase Featured Music

Song
Sinfonia for orchestra No. 3 [Quarter note = 54]
Album
George Walker: Great American Orchestral Works, Vol. 1
Artist
Ian Hobson
Label
Albany Music
Released
2008

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Music by Olly Wilson.
Albany Records

Ikef (From 'Of Visions And Truth')

  • Artist: New Black Music Repertory Ensemble
  • Album: Recorded Music of the African Diaspora

Purchase Featured Music

Song
Ikef (from Of Visions and Truth)
Album
Recorded Music of the African Diaspora
Artist
New Black Music Repertory Ensemble
Label
Albany Music

Your purchase helps support NPR Programming. How?

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