American Masters A trio of great composers from the USA

In the 20th century, America became a second homeland to artists from all over the world. Highly original and diverse works created by the immigrants became a valued element of United States’ national legacy. The best-known American composers are George Gershwin, Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein.

Born in 1898 in New York in a family of Jewish immigrants, little George Gershwin was very interested in music. He took piano lessons, but he never received a thorough musical education. He has been writing songs, musicals and music for films since his teens. He achieved fame with the Rhapsody in Blue, composed in 1924 on a commission from Paul Whiteman. Beginning with a glissando of the clarinet, this “urban landscape painted in sound” was originally written for piano and jazz band. That same year, Gershwin wrote the musical Lady Be Good. The title song from that show is still performed today in many different arrangements. A trip to France inspired Gershwin to compose a symphonic poem called An American in Paris. In that work, the artist used three kinds of saxophones, as well as the horn of a Parisian taxi! Another of Gershwin’s well-known works is the opera Porgy and Bess, whose protagonists, for the first time in the history of the genre, was a pair of Afro-Americans. The work premiered in October of 1935. The “King of jazz” died less than two years later, after an unsuccessful operation to remove a brain tumour. His death was an enormous loss for America. Writer John O’Hara said: “George Gershwin died on July 11, 1937, but I don’t have to believe it if I don’t want to.”

When Gershwin was becoming increasingly popular thanks to the Rhapsody in Blue, Aaron Copland returned to the United States from France. Born in 1900 in New York, the composer travelled to study with Nadia Boulanger at the age of 20. Many American composers studied with the “First Lady of Music”, including Philip Glass, whose works we will also have an opportunity to hear at La Folle Journée de Varsovie. After a three-year sojourn at the conservatory in Fontainebleau, Copland began to compose, as he described it, “light music”. He mixed classical music with jazz, country melodies, and elements of dance music. Copland was one of the founders of the American Composers’ Alliance, established in 1937. He wrote books, gave lectures and travelled around the world as an ambassador of the arts. Copland’s style is highly original, combining warm, folk sounds with sound experiments. His most important works include the Fanfare for the Common Man, A Lincoln Portrait (written in 1942), the ballet Rodeo and the suite Billy the Kid. In the two latter works, Copland conveyed the atmosphere of the American Wild West by means of cowboy melodies and country rhythms. Another well-known work is the jazz-inflected Clarinet Concerto written for Benny Goodman. The composer is hailed as the father of American contemporary music. In 1950 he received an Academy Award for music to the film The Heiress.

In 1937, at a concert in New York, Copland met the last of the great trio – Leonard Bernstein, then a student at Harvard. Despite the difference in age, both artists became great friends. Their friendship lasted until both men died in 1990. Copland helped his younger colleague many times during his artistic career. Leonard Bernstein (born in 1918) was a musician of many talents. He composed symphonic and chamber music, film scores, ballets and musicals, the most famous of which is West Side Story. A performance in Carnegie Hall in 1943 was the starting point of his conducting career. He later became the director of the New York City Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic, and the musical director of the Metropolitan Opera. He was the first American conductor to appear at the La Scala. Bernstein was greatly interested in popularising classical music. He hosted educational programmes on television, as well as the Young People’s Concerts cycle. Enormous knowledge, charisma, sense of humour and ease of establishing contact with his audience caused him to become an icon of American music culture of the 20th century. Ned Rorem wrote about the famous composer: “His books and lectures changed the way in which America listens to music.” Bernstein was an eight-time Grammy Award winner. In 1985 he received the prestigious Grammy Lifetime Achievement award.

Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man and Gershwin’s An American in Paris will open La Folle Journée 2014. Other works by the “great trio”, and by many other composers who had ties with America will be played over the three days of the Festival in various auditoriums in Teatr Wielki – National Opera.


Tickets priced 7 – 12 zł are available in the box office of Teatr Wielki – National Opera, on the web: and and in e-Bilet and Empik locations. More details are available at: 

The organisers of the Festival would like to invite everyone to join an adventure with American music!

  • The Festival is organised by: Sinfonia Varsovia Orchestra, CREA (Centre de Réalisations et d’Études Artistiques à Nantes), “Ogrody Muzyczne” [Musical Gardens] Foundation, with the co-operation of the Grand Theatre-National Opera and the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage
    • Honorary Sponsorship: Minister of Culture and National Heritage, Ms. Małgorzata Omilanowska, the Ambassador of France, Mr Pierre Buhler
  • Festival Sponsors: Auchan, Saint-Gobain, Agence Diane du Saillant
  • Festival Partners: the Capital City of Warsaw, the Centre for Artistic Education, the Muzyka jest dla wszystkich [Music is for Everyone] Foundation, The Music Teachers’ Association, the Embassy of France, the city of Nantes, Folle Journée de Nantes, the BNP Paribas Foundation, the Sinfonia Varsovia Foundation, Polservice,, Empik, Silesia Music Center, Kawai, NIFC, Renault,, No Limit, State Music School Complex No. 1 in Warsaw, Raddisson Blu, Zaiks, Siemens, Weil Gotshal
    • Partner for concerts in Matrix Hall: McDonald’s
  • Head Media Patron: RMF Classic
  • Media Patrons: TVP2, TVP Kultura, TVP Warszawa, Polityka, Polish Market, Gazeta Wyborcza,,,

La Folle Journée

„Szalone Dni Muzyki” is the Polish edition of the international La Folle Journée festival, founded by its artistic director, René Martin – organiser of festivals and numerous concerts of classical music around the world. He is also the founder of the Centre de Realisations et d’Etudes Artistiques à Nantes (C.R.E.A.). The Festival was held for the first time in Nantes in 1995. Soon, its annual editions moved to Portugal, Spain, Japan, Brazil and Poland. Previous Warsaw editions of La Folle Journee were devoted to the music of Chopin (2010), Brahms, Mahler, Liszt, Strauss and Szymanowski (2011), Russian music (2012) and music of France and Spain (2013). So far, concerts performed by thousands of artists were attended by an audience of more than 130 000, while associated educational activities were attended by a total of approximately 13 000 children from Warsaw’s primary schools. /

Szalone Dni Muzyki
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