Beginners Guide to American Composers

It’s no surprise that the home of Hollywood and Broadway produces some of the finest composers in the world. Here are just a few of the most famous American Composers for you to take note of.

Philip Glass

Philip Glass is considered to be one of the greatest contemporary composers.

Over his illustrious 50 year career he has carved out a unique musical style that has helped set him apart, making his compositions instantly recognisable. Some of his most popular opera songs include ‘Hymn to the Sun’ from Akhanten and the ‘Evening Song’ from Satyagraha, as well as producing an array of notable works like his classical album ‘Glassworks’.

Outside of the operatic universe, Glass has had success with a range of mediums including musical theatre and movie soundtracks. He has even been nominated for an academy award. But it’s his Portrait Trilogy that keeps audiences coming back for more. All based on prominent figures (Gandhi, Albert Einstein and Akhenaten) the Portrait Trilogy’s are like no other operas. They are visually spectacular, sung in ancient languages and have a large historical influence. 

One of ENO’s all-time favourite composers, Philip Glass has produced some of the most famous contemporary operas, such as Akhnaten, Satyagraha, Orphée and more. Discover some of his arias and interludes below.

George Gershwin

Arguably one of the most recognisable names on our list, George Gershwin has firmly secured his place in the American Composer hall of fame. His popularity today is largely due to his most famous opera, Porgy and Bess, however he originally drew fame for his classical compositions, including Rhapsody in Blue and American in Paris.

Gershwin’s musical style is instantly recognisable thanks to the way he beautifully interweaves jazz into his operatic compositions. Although he is of Jewish and Russian descent, his works have a large African-American influence.

From incorporating the music genres from African-American communities (jazz, gospel and blues) into his work, to telling the stories of the people from these neighbourhoods. Porgy and Bess was also one of the first operas to be performed by a cast of majority African-American singers, which was groundbreaking at that time of its first performance (1935).

His pioneering ideas have led to Gershwin still being beloved by audiences today, as well as his popular opera songs like ‘Summertime’ still being added to opera playlists everywhere thanks to a number of blues and jazz covers, as well as being performed on the likes of America’s Got Talent.



Take a look at some of the different versions of ‘Summertime’ from the past 80 years.

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Erich Wolfgang Korngold

Korngold is an Austrian born American composer. Somewhat of a child prodigy, he took Vienna by storm, premiering his first ballet, The Snowman (Der Schneemann) when he was just 11 years old!

Following that was a series of successful works and notable operas. Arguably his most famous opera, The Dead City (Die tote Stadt), was composed when he was only 23. Still a favourite among audiences today, The Dead City is an exploration of love and loss and is an incredible insight into how people deal with grief.

Korngold then found himself in Hollywood after fleeing the rise of Nazism. Here he began his successful career writing scores for blockbuster films. Some of his film scores include, Captain Blood (1935), Anthony Adverse (1936) and The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), all of which received Oscar nominations. 

Jeanine Tesori

Everyone should get to know the name Jeanine Tesori because she is one of the most prevalent American composers of our time.

Primarily known for composing musicals like Thoroughly Modern Millie and an array of movie soundtracks, she has quickly acquired critical acclaim – receiving 5 Tony nominations. 

In recent times, Tesori has begun branching out into the world of opera. However, there is one thing that ties all of her works together – they are deeply intertwined with American culture. From her musical stylings inspired by jazz and Motown, to her operas being a form of commentary on the social and political state of America. For example, her powerful new opera Blue explores the themes of race, justice and inequality and how this can impact the internal politics of a typical African-American family.