Jazz-Inspired Classical Music

Early last century, when jazz was still young, classical composers were inspired by the new and exotic genre, which must have seemed avant-garde to them. Jazz offered new sounds and rhythms to explore and brought fresh inspiration. The adventurous American music genre came to European classical composers through early jazz records, and through a growing community of African-American immigrants in the cultural centres of Europe. Jazz remained a significant influence on the development of classical music throughout the twentieth century.

Darius Milhaud

The French composer Darius Milhaud adopted elements of jazz as early as 1923 in his ballet “The Creation of the World”. He uses typical jazz instruments, and the polyphonic structure of the New Orleans Dixieland jazz to create a sense of “swing”.

Dmitry Shostakovich

During the 1920s and 30s, jazz was very popular in the Soviet Union. Between 1934 and 1938, Shostakovich composed two suites for Jazz Orchestra.

Erik Satie

Erik Satie was one of the first classical composers to incorporate elements of jazz and ragtime into his music. He wrote his eccentric short ballet “Parade” between 1916 and 1917. Its musical style was one which had never before been heard in a ballet performance. The piano arrangement of the rag, written by Satie in 1919, is still played today.

Maurice Ravel

Ravel was captivated and inspired by the rich and diverse rhythm of jazz music when he travelled to the United States in 1928. In 1931, he wrote his Piano Concerto in G, which is infused with jazz elements.

Igor Stravinsky

Igor Stravinsky composed several pieces which are influenced by jazz. The Soldiers Tale (1918) only hints at jazz, but compositions like Ragtime for Eleven Instruments (1918), and Piano-Rag-Music, contain distinct elements of Ragtime, even in the name. His Ebony Concerto, written in 1945, was composed for the famous American jazz clarinettist, Woody Herman, who was also the one to premiere it.