How much of the European lieder tradition is there in American vocal and choral music, and is there a strand of impressionism as well?
We think yes. 4 of the songs we have been practising for our upcoming concert are written by American composers ranging from the brightest star of American music, Morten Lauridsen, whose works have been championed by the likes of the Los Angeles Master Chorale, to Z Randall Stroope who has been as much an established choral conductor as an established choral composer, to the “young gun” of the lot, the highly gifted 31-year-old Daniel Elder, whose music has been championed by none other than the Eric Whitacre Singers as well as the Westminster Choir (who recorded a full album of Elder works) and Cantus, amongst others.
Elder himself sees his music to owe its roots to the impressionist movement and speaks about “music that you can see”. Of course, Gershwin, one of the earlier generation of American composers was himself much influenced by the impressionism of Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy.
Elder also cites Morten Lauridsen as a significant influence on his music, while Lauridsen himself cites the “classical” European tradition of Schubert, Brahms and Schumann as an influence in addition to the composers for the Broadway stage: Porter, Rodgers, etc.
Elder’s “Ballade to the Moon”, the first of his 3-piece Nocturnes (2011), is a most beautiful and visual piece that has some impressionistic element.
Another piece where the visual element seems embedded into the music is “The Heart’s Reflection” (2011) …. This song was the title song of Westminster Choir’s album of Daniel Elder music and here is their performance.
We do see eclectic influences but it seems like the European tradition is strongly in the mix.