Until the 20th century, "serious" music in America was shaped by European standards and idioms. A notable exception was the music of composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1869), son of a British father and a Creole mother.Gottschalk enlivened his music with plantation melodies and Caribbean rhythms that he had heard in his native New Orleans. He was the first American pianist to achieve international recognition, but his early death contributed to his relative obscurity.

Edward MacDowell (1860-1908).

More representative of early American music were the compositions of Edward MacDowell (1860-1908), who not only patterned his works after European models but stoutly resisted the label of "American composer." He was unable to see beyond the same notion that hampered many early American writers: To be wholly American, he thought, was to be provincial.

A distinctively American classical music came to fruition.

A distinctively American classical music came to fruition when such composers as George Gershwin (1898-1937) and Aaron Copland (1900-1990) incorporated homegrown melodies and rhythms into forms borrowed from Europe. Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" and his opera Porgy and Bess were influenced by jazz and African-American folk songs. Some of his music is also self-consciously urban: The opening of his "An American in Paris," for example, mimics taxi horns.

As Harold C. Schonberg writes in The Lives of the Great Composers, Copland "helped break the stranglehold of the German domination on American music." He studied in Paris, where he was encouraged to depart from tradition and indulge his interest in jazz (for more on jazz, see chapter 11). Besides writing symphonies, concertos, and an opera, he composed the scores for several films. He is best known, however, for his ballet scores, which draw on American folk songs; among them are "Billy the Kid," "Rodeo," and "Appalachian Spring."

Charles Ives (1874-1954).

Another American original was Charles Ives (1874-1954), who combined elements of popular classical music with harsh dissonance. "I found I could not go on using the familiar chords early," he explained. "I heard something else." His idiosyncratic music was seldom performed while he was alive, but Ives is now recognized as an innovator who anticipated later musical developments of the 20th century. Composers who followed Ives experimented with 12-tone scales, minimalism, and other innovations that some concertgoers found alienating.

There has been a trend back toward music.

In the last decades of the 20th century, there has been a trend back toward music that pleases both composer and listener, a development that may be related to the uneasy status of the symphony orchestra in America. Unlike Europe, where it is common for governments to underwrite their orchestras and opera companies, the arts in America get relatively little public support. To survive, symphony orchestras depend largely on philanthropy and paid admissions.

Some orchestra directors have found a way to keep mainstream audiences happy while introducing new music to the public.

Some orchestra directors have found a way to keep mainstream audiences happy while introducing new music to the public: Rather than segregate the new pieces, these directors program them side-by-side with traditional fare. Meanwhile, opera, old and new, has been flourishing. Because it is so expensive to stage, however, opera depends heavily on the generosity of corporate and private donors.