If one had to choose one American Composer who was most influenced by Kurt Weill, it would have to be Leonard Bernstein (1918–1990). Less than ten years after Weill completed his Seven Deadly Sins, the 23 year old Bernstein published his first piece, a Clarinet Sonata. The work, over the coming decades would enter the repertoire of every serious clarinetist on Earth. (One of the earliest memories of my infancy was hearing my parents endlessly rehearse this piece in our tiny New York City apartment!)
Two years after the publication of Bernstein’s Clarinet Sonata, Aaron Copland (1900–1990) celebrated the premier of his ballet Appalachian Spring, a collaboration with the extraordinary American choreographer Martha Graham. In some ways Appalachian Spring follows in the footsteps of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony. The Romantic vision of bucolic country living has been a fascination for many composers in spite of the fact that sophisticated urban intellectuals like Copland and Beethoven had little direct knowledge of what life was really like for rural people. For Copland, rural life is simply exotic. A source of inspiration similar to what orientalism was for Puccini in Madame Butterfly and primitivism was for Stravinsky in Le Sacre du Printemps.
Samuel Barber (1900–1981) wrote many wonderful instrumental works but for me his greatest music, like Weill, Copland and Bernstein was for the theater. His opera, Vanessa was one of the first operas I ever conducted and remains one of my favorite pieces. The Adagio for Strings (1936), by far his most beloved work has some unintended theatrical associations due to its use in many popular Hollywood films, most famously, Platoon (1986).