Some, like Puccini, crossed the Atlantic to premier new works, others like Gustav Mahler and Bela Bartok stayed for longer periods to compose, study and conduct.
But all were shaped by the energy of New York, just as the city's musical culture was shaped, in turn, by them.
Behind this extraordinary cultural exchange lay a deeper question: what should a truly American "classical" music sound like? Did it lie outside the concert hall and with the Broadway musical, as envisaged by Kurt Weill? Or was it Dvorak's iconic New World symphony, with its powerful invocations of the black American spiritual, that pointed the way?
Filled with the sounds of NYC, British composer and New York resident Tarik O'Regan presents a vivid portrait of the city which electrified these great composers and, through their works composed and premiered in New York, transformed the wider world of classical music.
Producer: Simon Hollis
A Brook Lapping production for BBC Radio 4.