I am, I believe, about to further complicate the question “what is American music?”
Having just performed Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony, I thought it would be interesting to look into how his music influenced popular music from the mid to late 20th century after being informed by my parents about Eric Carmen’s “Never Gonna Fall In Love Again” using Rachmaninoff’s theme from the third movement. There are, of course, many other songs that are based on works by other famous composers, but I wanted to focus on Rachmaninoff in particular.
Looking through UCLA’s Sheet Music Consortium, I was not able to find anything on Eric Carmen, however. But, I was able to find a work by Buddy Kaye and Ten Mossman titled “Full Moon and Empty Arms” (1945) that was popularized by Frank Sinatra. It is based on a theme from the third movement of Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto.
Returning to Eric Carmen, another popular American singer, he had two popular songs based on themes by Rachmaninoff; “All By Myself” (1976) and “Never Gonna Fall In Love Again” (1976). The first song is another piece that is based on a theme of Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto, while the second piece is based on the third movement of Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony. I will focus on the second piece as I am more familiar with Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony than his Second Piano Concerto.
Rachmaninoff’s theme from the third movement first shows up at 0:32 of the above recording of “Never Gonna Fall In Love Again.” The reason being that Eric was classically trained and was a fan of Rachmaninoff. Thinking his music was in the public domain, he used that theme to create his song.
Returning to the original question, “What is American Music?”, this crossover music helps identify what I consider to be “American Music.” Looking at Frank Sinatra and Eric Carmen’s careers, they are easily identifiable as Popular American Singers, with her music defining “American: popular music of their time. However they both drew on themes composed by a Russian composer, and on top of that, much of Carmen’s style is based on those of the British Invasion of the 1960’s, evident from his time with The Raspberries.
Finally, I will actually ask the question: What is American music?
Like many things regarding identity today, there is no singular answer as it lies on a spectrum. For me, it is the curation (appropriation could be another way of describing it) of cultural and racial identities into ones own “authentic” voice. America is known as the “melting pot” or the “salad bowl,” and although today those references are often scene as a negative way of describing it, America is a center (not the only one) of culture and ethnic diversity. With regards to the music of Eric Carmen, Buddy Kaye, and Ten Mossman, credit is given to Sergei Rachmaninoff which sets an example for how one should borrow from other influences other than your own, while still creating a new and authentic form of that music.
Ankeny, Jason. “The Raspberries | Biography & History.” AllMusic. Accessed October 23, 2017. https://www.allmusic.com/artist/the-raspberries-mn0000416245/biography.
Kaye, Buddy and Mossman, Ted, “Full Moon And Empty Arms : Based on Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2” (1946). Vocal Popular Sheet Music Collection. Score 856.