Considering the forbidding aspect of their new land, it is not surprising that the music of the early settlers was essentially prayer set to song. The first music published in the Colonies appeared in the 1698 edition of the Bay Psalm Book.
In the early 1700s the well-to-do imported manuscripts of music from Europe to play for dancing and concerts. In the early 1800s more people had time and money for the pursuit of culture, and the music of European courts and concert halls was widely heard, especially in the cities.
By the mid – 1800s European romantic melodies were the favorite music. Into this “sea” of romanticism sailed American first great songwriter, Stephen Foster, who became famous in the 1850s for “My Old Kentucky Home” and other “plantation songs”, as he called them. America, at last, was beginning to find a voice of its own, and Foster’s melodies were sung in the minstrel shows popular
in his day.
With the wave of German immigration in the mid-19th century came many trained musicians who – as performers, composers, and teachers – spread an enthusiasm for romanticism and for that romantic instrument, the piano. The already growing piano business increased tremendously. One of the chief manufacturers was Henry Steinweg, a German immigrant, who changed his name to Steinway. By 1860 there were 22000 pianos in America.
The Civil War brought martial music, and this music, in its turn, accelerated the development of the bright sound of the brass band, which – with Sunday concerts in the park – became one of America’s most popular musical institutions for the next half century. Enthusiasm for martial ensembles spread so rapidly that by the turn of the century more than 20000 amateur and professional brass bands were giving regular concerts in towns and villages throughout the country.
At the turn of the 20th century the music most widely representative of this country was gaining a fast-growing audience. This appealing new freewheeling sound was called jazz. Rooted in the field hollers and work songs of the plantations, levees, turpentine camps, and prisons, early jazz and the blues had haunting echoes of an American past. This music, in all its cultural and ethnic permutations, has perhaps done as much to create understanding and respect among all races as any other single force in American history.
The popular song, that tuneful product of Tin Pan Alley, and country Western music are two other American creations that have struck responsive chords around the world.
Until the early 1900s most classical music and most of the conductors and soloists came from Europe. Then a few American musicians, such as Charles Ives and Henry Cowell, began to create new sounds in their own way inspiring interest in contemporary music. Encouraged by outstanding schools of music, this interest has made the United States a leader in musical experimentation and innovation. Classical music composed in the US today is as American as folk music and jazz.