American art song

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The composition of art song in America began slowly in the Colonial and Federal periods, expanded greatly in the 19th century, and has become a distinguished and highly regarded addition to the classical music repertoire in the 20th and 21st centuries.

18th-century American art song[edit]

Francis Hopkinson, American patriot and composer

Francis Hopkinson (1737–1791), Philadelphia native and signer of the Declaration of Independence, is usually considered the first important American song composer. His most famous song is "My Days Have been so Wondrous Free", and his Seven Songs for the Harpsichord were composed in 1788 and dedicated to George Washington.

Other 18th-century American song composers

19th-century American art song[edit]

In the 19th century, many Americans composed songs for amateur musicians to sing at home (usually called parlor songs). In the middle of the century Stephen Foster (1826–1864) emerged as one of the best known American composers of songs. While many of his vocal pieces were written for minstrel shows, the simple but effective melodies of his "songs for the hearth and home" are widely popular, often mistaken for American folksongs.

By the end of the 19th century, serious American composers were travelling to European countries to study, especially with German and French composition teachers, and they gained a thorough understanding of Romantic style, including an understanding of the Lieder tradition. American songs written between 1870 and 1910 are often dismissed as sounding too "derivative", although the compositional craft shown in these works is quite high.

Other 19th-century American song composers

20th-century American art song[edit]

American composers began to break from European traditions in the early part of the 20th century. Charles Ives (1874–1954) composed songs in a variety of styles, including both traditional and experimental sounds, and self-published his important collection 114 Songs. Other publications of American song, such as those in The Wa-Wan Press editions presented works by less-known American composers.

By the end of the 20th century, several composers emerged as the leaders of American art song composition, especially Aaron Copland (1900–1990), Samuel Barber (1910–1981), and Ned Rorem (1923–2022).

Richard Hageman, composer of film scores and many fine American art songs

Other 20th-century American art song composers

William Grant Still is known for his vocal compositions, especially opera and art songs

21st-century American art song[edit]

American art song composition continues to be lively and strong in the early 21st century. Commissions from well-known singers have added a number of new works to the repertoire, and composers such as Tom Cipullo, Ricky Ian Gordon, Daron Hagen, Jake Heggie, Lori Laitman and John Musto are establishing themselves as the current generation of leading American art song composers.

Other 21st-century American art song composers

See also[edit]


  • Villamil, Victoria Etnier (2004). A Singer's Guide to the American Art Song: 1870-1980 (paperback ed.). Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press. ISBN 0-8108-5217-9.
  • Kimball, Carol (2006). Song: A Guide to Art Song Style and Literature (paperback ed.). New York: Hal Leonard. ISBN 1-4234-1280-X.
  • Stevens, Denis, ed. (1970). The History of Song (paperback ed.). New York: Norton. ISBN 0-393-00536-4.
  • Clifton, Keith E. (2008). Recent American Art Song: A Guide (paperback ed.). Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press. ISBN 978-0-8108-5940-1.
  • Carman, Judith E.; et al. (2001). Art Song in the United States 1759-1999: An Annotated Bibliography, 3rd ed (hardcover ed.). Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press.

External links[edit]