One tries in vain to see the development of American music or any single phase of it as a simple organic process of growth. Rather, it developed, like the country itself, from a number of different starting points and in a number of different directions at once. It was always the product of at least two different forces, and sometimes more, each encounter working irretrievable changes in the quality, quantity, and direction of the forces coming together. (Thus begins the book American Music by Irving L. Sablosky).

Those two different forces, or should we say cultural influences, are the encounters between European-American music and Afro-American music. These conflicts did not help in establishing a solid and steady foundation from which true American music could grow and flourish as easily as it did in other nations. Add to that the fact that Americans, being a young nation just newly settled, had to put most of their efforts in establishing and building a nation before being capable of nurturing a strong artistic community.

At first, the English influence was so strong that the bulk of the music played during the early 1800s was traditional church hymns, or songs and madrigals from the pens of Dowland or Byrd. But after a while native musicians, especially in New England, began to assert themselves. Some of the very first American composers were, for example, Lowell Mason, Thomas Hastings, William Batchelder Bradbury, Isaac Baker Woodbury....some of these writing textbooks for home study. Most of these pioneers of American art music were eventually overshadowed by Stephen Foster, considered the first American minstrel. After a while, with more and more foreigners coming to America, a parade of musical virtuosi began invading the country, which brought about the first American instrumental giants, like Louis Moreau Gottschalk. In the late 1800s, some of the more prominent composers were John Knowles Paine, George Chadwick, Arthur Foote, Edward MacDowell ... who were considered the Faurés and the Elgars of America.

And of course, the 20th century saw the rise of composers and musicians with a decidedly American sound in their veins. Aaron Copland, William Schuman, Roy Harris, Charles Ives, George Gershwin, Leonard Bernstein, Philip Glass, etc. .. Still, most American composers, even the well-established ones, are constantly being overlooked by record labels and concert halls, who still rely on the old status quo classics like Mozart, Vivaldi and Brahms, to name but a handful.

The Naxos label has once again defeated the odds by launching their "American Classics" series a few years ago, which has constantly been growing by leaps and bounds, with no end in sight. Some of the top highlights of the series are, for example, a comprehensive group of CDs on the music of Samuel Barber, a first rate recording of Leonard Bernstein's 'West Side Story', brand new recordings of Elliott Carter's string quartets, celebrating his 100th anniversary, Aaron Copland symphonies, Philip Glass symphonies, Scott Joplin rags, chamber works by Charles Ives, the list goes on. But what truly makes this collection remarkable is the attention and focus that Naxos is shining on all the ignored or forgotten American composers, like Cecil Burleigh, John Cohn, Dennis Eberhard, Benjamin Lees ... all names that require our renewed interest and attention.

The executives at Naxos are driving down American roads and highways rarely travelled by other labels, and unearthing lost or forgotten treasures in the process, and establishing once and for all the identity of American music for all of us to enjoy!

With over 300 titles in the series, Naxos have pre-arranged all your travel plans. All you need to do is get out of your Gershwin easy-chair and say goodbye to uncle Copland, and go visit all the distant and sometimes strange relatives that make up this big American Classics family.