Celebrate Veterans Day the classical way with this playlist of great American music. We hope this selection of familiar favorites and hidden gems brings the joy of music to your day. If you like having the freedom to listen to whatever music you want—thank a veteran!
Copland: Lincoln Portrait
Composed in 1942, Copland’s Lincoln Portrait includes a narrator delivering Abraham Lincoln’s inspiring Gettysburg Address. The 16th president’s unforgettable words remind us of the freedoms our veterans have served to protect.
Adams: Tromba Lontana
The Houston Symphony commissioned John Adams’ Tromba Lontana (“Distant Trumpet” in Latin) in 1986 to mark the 150th anniversary of Texas’ independence from Mexico. When performed live in the concert hall, two trumpets play from the boxes in the hall, creating an echo effect that evokes vast spaces. This piece reminds us of the distances servicemen and women travel around the world as they serve our country.
Bernstein: Three Dance Episodes from On the Town
This one’s for all the Navy vets out there! Leonard Bernstein’s hit 1945 musical On the Town told the story of three sailors on shore leave in New York City—a familiar sight to New Yorkers to this day. Bernstein took some of the dance music from the musical and turned it into this orchestral showpiece.
Still: Afro-American Symphony, III. Animato
The third movement of William Grant Still’s Afro-American symphony is a catchy, joyful dance with a jazzy lilt. We’ve included it here as a celebration of the diversity of America’s armed forces, which continue to promote values of tolerance and cohesion that help make us stronger as a country. If you like this, be sure to check out the other movements of Still’s lushly beautiful symphony based on the traditional music of black Americans.
Ives: Variations on “America”
Charles Ives composed his Variations on “America” during the time he spent as a church organist. The piece is a set of variations on the patriotic song “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.” As an early piece in Ives’ career, it mostly has a traditional harmonic language, but there are a few passages that hint at the dissonances for which the innovative composer is famous.
Tower: Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman
Joan Tower’s Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman is another Houston Symphony commission. Composed in 1987, Tower said that the piece “is dedicated to women who take risks and who are adventurous.” The title of the piece plays on that of Aaron Copland’s famous Fanfare for the Common Man (see below). We’ve included it here to honor the brave women who have served in the armed forces.
Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue
Regarding his most famous piece, Rhapsody in Blue, George Gershwin said that “I heard it as a sort of musical kaleidoscope of America—of our vast melting pot, of our unduplicated national pep, of our blues, our metropolitan madness.” This American masterpiece reminds us of the vibrant democracy our veterans have defended. You can hear the Houston Symphony play the original jazz-band version of Rhapsody in Blue on January 4, 5 & 6.
Barber: Adagio for Strings
Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings is a true American classic. Originally the second movement of Barber’s String Quartet, the Adagio was later arranged for string orchestra and became incredibly popular on its own. Its meditative mood has made it a frequent choice for musical memorials. We include it here to provide a moment of reflection regarding the noble sacrifice our veterans make for our country.
Copland: Symphony No. 3
The major work on this playlist, Aaron Copland’s Symphony No. 3 was written in the wake of World War II and celebrates the Allied victory and the return of peace. This uplifting, majestic work features Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man at the beginning of its fourth movement.
Sousa: The Stars and Stripes Forever
What Veterans’ Day playlist would be complete without The Stars and Stripes Forever? Thank you to all our veterans for your service, and happy Veterans Day!