The Howard Hanson First Symphony, which is Americanized Sibelius; the Romantic Second Symphony; and the Dvorakian Third are all, to these ears, soporific. By the time he wrote the Sixth Symphony he was already considered something of an anachronism. That doesn't matter. Richard Strauss was considered an anachronism by the press when he wrote his later work. What does matter though is Howard Hanson was not very good at his anachronistic writing.
Insert: old fashioned and good, not a bad thing to try for. See J S Bach.
Roy Harris' When Johnny Comes Marching Home is a funny potboiler, an American Wellington's Victory, much more fun than the staid, boring Epilogue for JFK, which has I-Am-An-Official-Composer written all over it.
Walter Piston's only claim to fame is his his Orchestration book, now dated but still beloved, and the fact that he's a link to Paul Dukas. My favorite quote of his, "The major problem for the composer must be to preserve and develop his individuality."
Wallingford Riegger's Concerto for Piano and Woodwind Quintet almost reminds me of Russian Constructivist music. The bright orchestration, jazzy 12 tone tangos can't hide that Henry Cowell did it years back and better. Still, he was one of the first Americans to write 12 tone. Like Creston, he was a Martha Graham fan and did his time in dance classes (as did we all!). His 3 Canons for Woodwinds (1930) leads directly to Wuorinen. The New and Old (1947), 12 short piano pieces, are a link to Ligeti's piano work. He wrote various duos which, I think, deserve a second hearing.
I like her songs, dissonant, Ivesian, text by Carl Sandburg, but otherwise Ruth Crawford Seeger bores me to tears. Babbitt stole from her Piano Study when he wrote his more-or-less Minute Waltz. Her husband was both her teacher and Henry Cowell's. She was the original folky: her stepson was the great Pete Seeger and, without him, we'd have no Bob Dylan.
It's hard to believe Edmund Rubbra wrote the Advent Cantata, the spitting image of Elgar, in 1968. And where would Part be without Song of the Soul, a Skriabin-esque extravaganza with
I happen to like Belshezar's Feast, having played it in high school, but Wiliam Walton's Variations on a theme by Hindemith does go on and on.
Ernst Bacon wrote over 250 art songs and some of them are quite good. His great influence was Schubert.
Ernst Bloch, my teacher's teacher, may not be as intellectual as Carter, nor as uncompromising as Sessions but Sessions took Bloch's long line and his rhythmic fluidy and made something of it--more echt.
Anyone who writes F***Y**! on a grant application automatically gets my vote. Ralph Shapey liked Sessions, Carter, Boulez, Perle and writes like them but with an interesting twist. I like the way he uses timpani as a cantus firmus. His sometimes brutal dodecaphony reminds me sometimes of
Douglas Moore's Ballad of Baby Joe : "Ever Yours" is a beautiful aria. His is a combination of lyrical Copland, Broadway and homespun Virgil Thompson. Tobias Picker's Emmerline owes everything to Douglas Moore.
Lastly, Ben Johnston's 3 Chinese Lyrics: Partch used the Ezra Pound translation but he left three poems not put to music and they are the ones