“To a composer, music is a kind of language,” I Aaron Copland opens the first volume of his autobiography, Copland: 1900 Through 1942. “Behind the written score, even behind the various sounds they make when played, is a language of the emotions. The composer has it in his power to make music speak of many things: tender, harsh and lively, consoling and challenging things.” With his language, Copland has given America its language, a language of its land and its people, of its history and its myths. It is an indigenous American language spoken with emotion and understanding for the common American man.
Aaron Copland was born on November 14, 1900, in Brooklyn, New York. He showed an affinity with music early in life, composing songs when he was only eight-and-a-half years old. His formal training, however, did not begin until he was thirteen. Although this is an “old” age at which to begin musical studies, Copland’s desire and tenacity expedited his musical training. At fifteen, he took piano lessons from Leopold Wolfsohn, and at seventeen began studying composition with Rubin Goldmark, remaining under his tutelage for the next four years.
The young Copland’s modernist tendencies conflicted with Goldmark’s conservatism, however, and in 1921 Copland escaped to France to study at the newly formed Conservatoire Américain at Fountainebleau. Composition studies there with Paul Vidal continued along the same musical idiom as Goldmark’s, and Copland didn’t find release until, upon a friend’s urging, he visited the harmony class of Nadia Boulanger. It was a pivotal moment, one that wasn’t lost on the perceptive budding composer. He recounts in Copland: “[Boulanger’s] sense of involvement in the whole subject of harmony made it more lively than I ever thought it could be. She created a kind of excitement about the subject, emphasizing how it was, after all, the fundamental basis of our music, when one really thought about it. I suspected that first day that I had found my composition teacher.”
While Copland studied in Paris for the next three years with Boulanger, his senses developed amid what Donald Henahan, writing for the New York Times Book Review, labeled “an artistic hotbed.” Figures like the surrealist Andre Breton, expatriate writers T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, painters Georges Braque and Max Ernst, and composers Francis Poulenc and Darius Milhaud eschewed the past in search of a new aesthetic voice. Copland relates in his autobiography: “The air was charged with talk of new tendencies, and the password was originality—anything was possible…. Tradition was nothing; innovation everything.” This thoroughly modernist atmosphere pervaded Copland, and informed his first orchestral work, Grogh (1922-25).
Born November 14, 1900, in Brooklyn, N.Y.; son of Harris Morris (owner of a department store) and Sarah (Mittenthal) Copland. Education: Studied music (piano) privately under Leopold Wolfsohn, Victor Wittgenstein, Clarence Adler, and Ricardo Vines; studied composition with Rubin Goldmark, 1917-21, with Nadia Boulanger at Fontainbleau School of Music, 1921, and in Paris, 1921-24.
Composer, 1924—. Lecturer on contemporary music at New School for Social Research, 1927-37, and at Harvard University, 1935, and 1944; assistant director of Berkshire Music Center, 1940; Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard University, 1951-52; public lecturer throughout the United States.
Awards: First composer to receive Guggenheim Foundation fellowship, 1925, renewed, 1926; awarded $5, 000 for Dance Symphony by RCA Victor, 1930; Pulitzer Prize in Music, 1945, for Appalachian Spring; New York Music Critics Circle Award, 1945, for Appalachian Spring, and 1946, for Third Symphony; received Academy Award for musical score for The Heiress, 1950; recipient of gold medal from American Academy of Arts and Letters, 1956; Edward MacDowell Medal, 1961; Presidential Medal of Freedom, 1964; National Medal of the Arts, 1986; awarded Congressional Gold Medal, 1986.
Addresses: Office—c/o Boosey & Hawkes, 24 West 57th St., New York, NY 10019.
Upon returning to the United States in 1924, Copland intended to compose music in an American voice. “I was very conscious of how French composers sounded in comparison with the Germans, and how Russian [Igor] Stravinsky was,” Copland explained many years later to Edward Rothstein of the New York Times. “I became very preoccupied with writing serious concert music that would have a specifically American flavor.” Before he left France, Copland had been asked by Boulanger to compose an orchestral piece for organ for her upcoming tour as soloist with several American orchestras. The completed piece, Symphony for Organ and Orchestra, raised more than a few eyebrows at its premiere in New York. It was a time when, as Arthur Berger in his biography on Copland explained, “the public at large regarded a modern composer as something of a naughty boy by whom it was both amused and shocked.” Walter Damrosch, conductor of the New York Symphony, turned to the audience at the completion of the symphony and gave the now famous remark, “If a young man at the age of twenty-three can write a symphony like that, within five years he will be ready to commit murder.” Although critics both praised and panned the new work, Copland subsequently found that it had more of a European style than an American one. For his next two works, Music for the Theater (1925) and the Piano Concerto (1926), he incorporated American jazz. But this attempt at an American sound was too manufactured, and Rothstein admitted that “however influenced [Copland] was by cross rhythms and metrical freedom, one can hear, particularly in the concerto, how much more jazz was a ’sign’ of things American, rather than a personal expression.”
In addition to his own music, Copland propagated the American voice by championing the works of other young American composers at the time. He joined the League of Composers, became good friends with the eminent composer and proponent of modern music Serge Koussevitzky, and maintained and enhanced contacts with fellow composers such as Virgil Thomson and Roy Harris. In 1928, along with Roger Sessions, he founded the Copland-Sessions Concerts, which for several years offered New York audiences an opportunity to hear contemporary American music. In Copland, Thomson succinctly defined Copland’s activities at that time: “Aaron was president of young American music, and then middle-aged American music, because he had tact, good business sense about colleagues, and loyalty.”
With his increased activity in the modern music society came an increasingly complex quality in his music. Audiences were perplexed by his Symphonic Ode (1929) and subsequent works, not because of their dense structuring, but, ironically, because of their leanness, angularity, and spaciousness. Copland points out in his autobiography that “one can hear in the Ode the beginnings of a purer, non-programmatic style, an attempt toward an economy of material and transparency of texture that would be taken much further in the next few years in the Piano Variations, the Short Symphony, and Statements for Orchestra.” Julia Smith, in her biography Aaron Copland, argued that this shift occurred because Copland was “a man of his time, reflecting the spirit and mood of his age through his music,” its sparseness reflecting “the disillusion-filled depression years of the early thirties.”
This “abstract” period did not last long, however, as Copland continued to change his style (a characteristic he maintained throughout his career). Influenced by the social and political climate of the 1930s, he sought a way to lift the spirits of the American public, as well as heighten its musical knowledge. Some forty years later Copland told John Rockwell of the New York Times, “There was a problem with the public then. Composers were writing music that people were lost with. Writing music with a greater appeal was a kind of challenge for me. The usual assumption is that if you’re working with simple materials, it’s very easy. But that’s not necessarily true.”
His first work in the new “popular” style was El Salon Mexico (1936). Inspired by a trip to Mexico, specifically a dance hall in Mexico City, the work was grounded on Mexican folk melodies. This marked the beginning of his movement toward the incorporation of regional melodies in an attempt to capture, as he says in Copland, “that electric sense one gets sometimes in far-off places, of suddenly knowing the essence of a people—their humanity, their shyness, their dignity and unique charm.” Copland next looked to New England and Shaker hymnody and cowboy songs to capture the American “essence” that he had sought since his return from France in the early 1920s. The consequent simpler, plainer style that brought wide public approval also resulted in derisive comments from colleagues who felt Copland was betraying his art. In a letter to Arthur Berger, reprinted in Copland, the composer explained and defended his movement: “What I was trying for in the simpler works was only partly a larger audience; they also gave me a chance to try for a home-spun musical idiom similar to what I was trying for in a more hectic fashion in the earlier jazz works…. I like to think that I have touched off for myself and others a kind of musical naturalness that we have badly needed.”
In this new style Copland composed works for such diverse settings as high schools, The Second Hurricane (a play-opera, 1937) and Outdoor Overture (1938); plays, The Five Kings (1939) and Quiet City (1939); and radio broadcasts, Music for Radio (1937) and Letter From Home (1944). In addition, he tried to educate the public musically—in general and to his own efforts—by publishing two books, What to Listen for in Music (1939) and Our New Music (1941). But two areas for which he is most widely recognized, which yield the Coplandesque sound most often associated with him, are film scores and ballets.
After having written the score for the documentary film The City (1939), Copland attracted the attention of Hollywood. He scored five movies: Of Mice and Men (1939), Our Town (1940), North Star (1943), The Red Pony (1948), and The Heiress (1949). His determination to provide quality music that enhanced the action on the screen without overwhelming it has given a touchstone for film music since. He admits in his autobiography that for “some in Hollywood my music was strange, lean, and dissonant; to others it spoke with a new incisiveness and clarity.” For Wilfrid Mellers of the London Times Literary Supplement, Copland’s film scores were more than just incisive: “There’s point in the fact that in his film scores for Of Mice and Men and Our Town he produced perhaps the finest film music ever, honouring rural America by way of an intelligent subservience to a mechanized medium.” Hollywood didn’t fail to recognize these achievements. Copland received an Academy Award nomination for best dramatic film score for his first three motion pictures and was eventually given the Oscar for The Heiress.
His achievements in film music were not only matched by his work for ballets but were surpassed. Smith declared that “by means of the ballet form, Aaron Copland has expressed the strength, power, and conviction of our American traditions, marking them with a definitiveness of contemporary musical language never before achieved by an American composer. In so doing, he has laid the cornerstone of an American national art, established a recognizably American musical idiom.” Copland’s most famous works are the two cowboy ballets—Billy the Kid (1938) and Rodeo (1942)—and his masterpiece, Appalachian Spring (1944). This work, composed for choreographer Martha Graham (who chose the title from a Hart Crane poem), won the Pulitzer Prize for music in 1944 and the New York Music Critics’ Award as the outstanding theatrical composition of 1944-45. Of it, S. L. M. Barlow, quoted by Smith, wrote, “Here were the tart herbs of plain American speech, the pasture, without the flowers of elocution, … the clean rhythms … the irony and the homespun tenderness that, in afine peroration, reached a sustained exaltation.”
During this time of simplicity, Copland also produced works—Piano Sonata (1941), Violin Sonata (1943), and Third Symphony (1946)—in a more severe tone. As Copland indicated throughout his career, he never abandoned one style for another. And as Henahan explained, “He still wanted to be respected by what he called ’the cultivated audience that understands a sophisticated musical language.’” Copland’s subsequent works of the 1950s and 1960s, works like Piano Fantasy (1957), Connotations (1962), and Inscape (1967), pleased only a small following. In the early 1970s, he left composing for the conductor’s podium. Joseph McLellan, in the Washington Post Book World, defined Copland’s stature: “At that point, Copland had become a sort of national monument—a status that requires one simply to exist, to be visible and to do what has been done before.”
According to Copland’s long-time friend Harold Clurman, quoted in Copland, the composer’s only uttered ambition was “to be remembered.” In his autobiography Copland states that Stravinsky was important to him because “Stravinsky proved it was possible for a twentieth-century composer to create his own tradition.” Copland is important for this very reason—he has created and given America its tradition. Mellers declared: “There is no music which conveys the big-city experience more honestly than Copland’s; which is more compassionately human in its acceptance of spiritual isolation while being responsive to the thoughts and feelings of average men and women; which attains, through tension, a deeper calm. In his music, we can detect the neat, bland-eyed, rugged-souled early Americans of a Copley portrait, after they have lived through the physical and nervous stresses to which a machine age has submitted them.”
What to Listen for in Music, 1939.
Our New Music, 1941.
Music and Imagination, 1952.
Copland on Music, 1960.
The New Music 1900-1960, 1968.
Copland: 1900 Through 1942, 1984.
Grogh (ballet), 1922-25.
Symphony for Organ and Orchestra, 1924.
Music for the Theater, 1925.
Dance Symphony, 1925.
Piano Concerto, 1926.
First Symphony, 1928.
Symphonic Ode, 1929.
Piano Variations, 1930.
Short Symphony, 1933.
Statements for Orchestra, 1935.
El Salon Mexico, 1936.
The Second Hurricane (play-opera), 1937.
Music for Radio, 1937.
Billy the Kid (ballet), 1938.
Outdoor Overture, 1938.
The Five Kings (incidental music for play), 1939.
The Quiet City (incidental music for play), 1939.
The City (documentary film), 1939.
Of Mice and Men (film), 1939.
Our Town (film), 1940.
Piano Sonata, 1941.
Lincoln Portrait, 1942.
Rodeo (ballet), 1942.
Fanfare for the Common Man, 1942.
North Star (film), 1943.
Violin Sonata, 1943.
Appalachian Spring (ballet), 1944.
Letter from Home, 1944.
Third Symphony, 1946.
The Red Pony (film), 1948.
Concerto for Clarinet, 1948.
The Heiress (film), 1949.
Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson, 1950.
The Tender Land (opera), 1954.
Symphonic Ode, 1955.
Piano Fantasy, 1957.
Orchestral Variations, 1958.
Music for a Great City, 1963.
Emblems for a Band, 1964.
Duo for Flute and Piano, 1971.
Three Latin American Sketches, 1971.
Night Thoughts for Piano, 1972.
Berger, Arthur, Aaron Copland, Oxford University Press, 1953.
Copland, Aaron and Vivian Perlis, Copland: 1900 Through 1942, St. Martin’s, 1984.
Smith, Julia, Aaron Copland: His Work and Contribution to American Music, Dutton, 1955.
New York Times, November 12, 1975; November 9, 1980; September 9, 1984.
New York Times Book Review, September 30, 1984.
Times Literary Supplement, November 2, 1984.
Washington Post Book World, September 30, 1984.
Copland, Aaron , greatly distinguished and exceptionally gifted American composer; b. N.Y., Nov. 14, 1900; d. North Tarrytown, N.Y, Dec. 2, 1990. He was educated at the Boys’ H.S. in Brooklyn, and began piano study with Leopold Wolfsohn, Victor Wittgenstein, and Clarence Adler as a young child. In 1917 he commenced lessons in harmony and counterpoint with Rubin Gold-722 mark in N.Y., and soon began to compose. His first publ. piece, The Cat and the Mouse for Piano (1920), subtitled Scherzo humoristique, shows the influence of Debussy. In 1920 he entered the American Cons, in Fontainebleau, where he studied composition and orchestration with Boulanger. Returning to America in 1924, he lived mostly in N.Y.; became active in many musical activities, not only as a composer but also as a lecturer, pianist, and organizer in various musical societies. He attracted the attention of Koussevitzky, who gave the first performance of his early score Music for the Theater with the Boston Sym. Orch. in 1925; Koussevitzky then engaged Copland as soloist in his Piano Concerto in 1927; the work produced a considerable sensation because of its jazz elements, and there was some subterranean grumbling among the staid subscribers to the Boston Sym. concerts. Koussevitzky remained Copland’s steadfast supporter throughout his tenure as conductor of the Boston Sym., and later as the founder of the Koussevitzky Music Foundation. In the mean-time, Walter Damrosch conducted in N.Y. Copland’s Sym. for Organ and Orch., with Boulanger as soloist. Other orchs. and their conductors also performed his music, which gained increasing recognition. Particularly popular were Copland’s works based on folk motifs; of these the most remarkable are El Salon Mexico (1933–36) and the American ballets Billy the Kid (1938), Rodeo (1942), and Appalachian Spring (1944). A place apart is occupied by Copland’s Lincoln Portrait for Narrator and Orch. (1942), with texts arranged by the composer from speeches and letters of Abraham Lincoln; this work has had a great many performances, with the role of the narrator performed by such notables as Adlai Stevenson and Eleanor Roosevelt. His patriotic Fanfare for the Common Man (1942) achieved tremendous popularity and continued to be played on various occasions for decades; Copland incorporated it in toto into the score of his Third Sym. He was for many years a member of the board of directors of the League of Composers in N.Y; with Roger Sessions, he organized the Copland-Sessions Concerts (1928–31), and was also a founder of the Yaddo Festivals (1932) and of the American Composers’ Alliance (1937); was also a participant in such organizations as the Koussevitzky Music Foundation, the Composers Forum, the Cos Cob Press, etc. He was head of the composition dept. at the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood from 1940 to 1965, and from 1957 to 1965 was chairman of the faculty. He lectured extensively and gave courses at The New School for Social Research in N.Y and at Harvard Univ. (1935 and 1944); was the Charles Eliot Norton Lecturer at Harvard in 1951–52. He was the recipient of many awards: Guggenheim fellowship (1925–27); RCA Victor award of $5,000 for his Dance Symphony; Pulitzer Prize in Music and N.Y. Music Critics’ Circle Award for Appalachian Spring (1945); N.Y. Music Critics’ Circle Award for the Third Sym. (1947); Oscar award for the film score The Heiress from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (1950); Gold Medal for Music from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1956); Presidential Medal of Freedom (1964); Howland Memorial Prize of Yale Univ. (1970); he was also decorated with a Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit in West Germany; was elected to honorary membership of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome. He held numerous honorary doctor’s degrees: Princeton Univ. (1956); Brandeis Univ. (1957); Wesleyan Univ. (1958); Temple Univ. (1959); Harvard Univ. (1961); Rutgers Univ. (1967); Ohio State Univ. (1970); N.Y.U. (1970); Columbia Univ. (1971). About 1955 Copland developed a successful career as a conductor, and led major sym. orchs. in Europe, the U.S., South America, and Mexico; he also traveled to Russia under the auspices of the State Dept. In 1982 the Aaron Copland School of Music was created at Queens Coll. of the City Univ. of N.Y. In 1983 he made his last appearance as a conductor in N.Y His 85th birthday was widely celebrated; Copland attended a special concert given in his honor by Zubin Mehta and the N.Y. Phil, which was televised live by PBS. He was awarded the National Medal of Arts (1986). As a composer, Copland made use of a broad variety of idioms and techniques, tempering dissonant textures by a strong sense of tonality. He enlivened his musical textures by ingenious applications of syncopation and polyrhythmic combinations; but in such works as Piano Variations, he adopted an austere method of musical constructivism. He used a modified 12-tone technique in his Piano Quartet (1950) and an integral dodecaphonic idiom in the score of Connotations (1962).
DRAMATIC Grohg, ballet (1922–25; not perf.; material incorporated into Dance Symphony); Hear Ye! Hear Ye!, ballet (Chicago, Nov. 30, 1934); The 2nd Hurricane, play-opera for high school (1936; N.Y, April 21, 1937); Billy the Kid, ballet (Chicago, Oct. 16, 1938); From Sorcery to Science, music for a puppet show (N.Y, May 12, 1939); Rodeo, ballet (NY., Oct. 16, 1942); Appalachian Spring, ballet (Washington, D.C., Oct. 30, 1944); The Tender Land, opera (N.Y, April 1, 1954); Dance Panels, ballet (1959; rev. 1962; Munich, Dec. 3, 1963; arranged for Piano, 1965). F i l m M u s i c : The City (1939); Of Mice and Men (1939); Our Town (1940); North Star (1943); The Cummington Story (1945); The Red Pony (1948); The Heiress (1948); Something Wild (1961). I n c i d e n t a l M u s i c t o P l a y s : Miracle a t Verdun (1931); The 5 Kings (1939); Quiet City (1939). ORCH.: Music for the Theater (Boston, Nov. 20, 1925); Sym. for Organ and Orch. (N.Y., Jan. 11, 1925; rev. version without organ, designated as Sym. No. 1, 1928; Berlin, Dec. 9, 1931; also as Prelude for Chamber Orch., 1934); Piano Concerto (1926; Boston, Jan. 28, 1927); Symphonic Ode (1927–29; composed for the 50th anniversary of the Boston Sym. Orch.; Boston, Feb. 19, 1932; rev. 1955 for the 75th anniversary of the Boston Sym. Orch. and rededicated to the memory of Koussevitzky; Boston, Feb. 3, 1956); A Dance Symphony (1930; based on the ballet Grohg; Philadelphia, April 15, 1931); Short Symphony (Sym. No. 2) (1932–33; Mexico City, Nov. 23, 1934); Statements (1932–35; 1st complete perf., N.Y, Jan. 7, 1942); El Salon Mexico (1933–36; Mexico City, Aug. 27, 1937); Music for Radio (Prairie Journal), subtitled Saga of the Prairie (CBS, N.Y, July 25, 1937); An Outdoor Overture (N.Y, Dec. 16, 1938; arr. for Band, 1941); Quiet City, suite from the film for English Horn, Trumpet, and Strings (1939; N.Y, Jan. 28, 1941); John Henry for Chamber Orch. (CBS, N.Y, March 5, 1940; rev. 1952); Our Town, suite from the film (CBS, N.Y, June 9, 1940); Billy the Kid, suite from the ballet (NBC, N.Y, Nov. 9, 1940); Lincoln Portrait for Speaker and Orch. (Cincinnati, May 14, 1942); Rodeo, 4 dance episodes from the ballet (1942; Boston, May 28, 1943); Music for Movies for Chamber Orch. (from the films The City, Of Mice and Men, and Our Town; 1942; N.Y, Feb. 17, 1943); Fanfare for the Common Man for Brass and Percussion (1942; Cincinnati, March 12, 1943); Letter from Home (N.Y. broadcast, Oct. 17, 1944; rev. 1962); Variations on a Theme by Eugene Goossens (with 9 other composers; 1944; Cincinnati, March 23, 1945); Appalachian Spring, suite from the ballet (N.Y., Oct. 4, 1945); Danzon Cubano (orig. for 2 Pianos, 1942; orch. version, 1944; Baltimore, Feb. 17, 1946); Sym. No. 3 (1944–46; Boston, Oct. 18, 1946); Concerto for Clarinet, Strings, Harp, and Piano (1947–48; N.Y, Nov. 6, 1950); The Red Pony, suite from the film (Houston, Nov. 1, 1948); Preamble for a Solemn Occasion for Speaker and Orch. (N.Y, Dec. 10, 1949; arr. for Organ, 1953; arr. for Band, 1973); Orchestral Variations (orch. version of the Piano Variations; 1930; 1957; Louisville, March 5, 1958); Connotations (commissioned for the opening of Phil. Hall, Lincoln Center, N.Y, Sept. 23, 1962); Music for a Great City (symphonic suite descriptive of life in N.Y.C.; London, May 26, 1964); Emblems for Band (1964); Down a Country Lane for School Orch. (London, Nov. 20, 1964); Inscape (commissioned by the N.Y Phil, and 1st perf. by that orch. at the Univ. of Mich., Ann Arbor, Sept. 13, 1967); Inaugural Fanfare (Grand Rapids, Mich., June 1969; rev. 1975); 3 Latin American Sketches: Estribillo, Paisaje mexicano, Danza de Jalisco (N.Y, June 7, 1972); Proclamation (1982; orchestrated by P. Ramey, 1985; N.Y, Nov. 14, 1985). CHAMBER : Capriccio for Violin and Piano; Poem for Cello and Piano; Lament for Cello and Piano; Preludes for Violin and Piano; String Quartet (unfinished); Piano Trio (unfinished); Rondino for String Quartet (1923; N.Y, Oct. 18, 1984); Nocturne for Violin and Piano (1926); Ukelele Serenade for Violin and Piano (1926); Lento molto for String Quartet (1928); Vitebsk, Study on a Jewish Theme for Piano Trio (1928; N.Y, Feb. 16, 1929); Elegies for Violin and Viola (1932); Sextet for Clarinet, Piano, and String Quartet (arranged from Short Symphony- 1932–33; 1937; N.Y, Feb. 26, 1939); Violin Sonata (1942–43); Quartet for Piano and Strings (Washington, D.C., Oct. 29, 1950); Nonet for 3 Violins, 3 Violas, and 3 Cellos (1960; Washington, D.C., March 2, 1961); Duo for Flute and Piano (1971); Threnody I: Igor Stravinsky, In Memoriam for Flute and String Trio (1971) and II: Beatrice Cunningham, Im Memoriam for G-Flute and String Trio (1973); Vocalise for Flute and Piano (arrangement of Vocalise; 1928; 1972). KEYBOARD : Piano : Moment musical (1917); Danse caracteristique for Piano Duet or Orch. (1918); Waltz Caprice (1918); Sonnets, 1–3 (1918–20); Moods (3 esquisses): Amertume, pensif, jazzy and Petit portrait, a supplement (1920–21); Piano Sonata in G major (1920–21); Scherzo humoristique: Le Chat et la souris (1920); Passacaglia (1921–22); Sentimental Melody (1926); 4 Piano Blues (1926–48); Piano Variations (1930; orch. version, 1957); Sunday Afternoon Music (The Young Pioneers) (1935); Piano Sonata (1939–1; Buenos Aires, Oct. 21, 1941, composer pianist); Piano Fantasy (1952–57); Down a Country Lam (1962); Rodeo (arrangement from the ballet; 1962); Danza de Jalisco for 2 Pianos (1963; orch. version, 1972); Dance Panels (arrangement from the ballet; 1965); In Evening Air (excerpt arranged from the film score The Cummington Story- 1969); Night Thoughts (Homage to Ives) (1972); Midsummer Nocturne (1977); Midday Thoughts (1982); Proclamation (1982). VOCAL: C h o r a 1 : 4 Motets (1921); The House on the Hill for Women’s Voices (1925); An Immorality for Soprano, Women’s Voices, and Piano (1925); What Do We Plant? for Women’s Voices and Piano (1935); Lark for Bass and Chorus (1938); Las agachadas for Chorus (1942); Song of the Guerrillas for Baritone, Men’s Voices, and Piano (1943); The Younger Generation for Chorus and Piano (1943); In the Beginning for Mezzo-soprano and Chorus (commissioned for the Harvard Symposium; Cambridge, Mass., May 2, 1947); Canticle of Freedom (1955; rev. 1965). S o n g s : Melancholy (1917); Spurned Love (1917); After Antwerp (1917); Night (1918); A Summer Vacation (1918); My Heart Is in the East (1918); Simone (1919); Music I Heard (1920); Old Poem (1920); Pastorale (1921); As It Fell upon a Day (1923); Poet’s Song (1927); Vocalise (1928); 12 Poems of Emily Dickinson (1949–50); Old American Songs for Voice and Orch. (arrangements in 2 sets, 1950 and 1952); Dirge in Woods (1954).
What to Listen for in Music (N.Y, 1939; 2nd ed., 1957; tr. into German, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Arabic, and Chinese); Our New Music (N.Y, 1941; 2nd ed., rev. and enl. as The New Music, 1900–1960, N.Y, 1968); Music and Imagination, a collection of lectures delivered at Harvard Univ., 1951–52 (Cambridge, Mass., 1952); Copland on Music (N.Y, 1960); an autobiography, Copland (with V. Perlis; 2 vols., N.Y, 1984,1989).
P. Rosenfeld, An Hour with American Music (Philadelphia, 1929); A. Berger, A. C. (N.Y, 1953); J. Smith, A. C.: His Work and Contribution to American Music (N.Y, 1955); C. Peare, A. C. His Life (N.Y, 1969); Q. Hilliard, A Theoretical Analysis of the Symphonies of A. C. (diss., Univ. of Fla., 1984); N. Butterworth, The Music of A. C. (N.Y, 1985); J. Skowronski, A. C.: A Bio-Bibliography (Westport, Conn., 1985); V. Perlis, C: 1900–1942(N.Y, 1987); idem., C.: Since 1943 (N.Y, 1990); H. Pollalack, A.C.: The Life and Work of an Uncommon Man (N.Y, 1999); M. Robertson and R. Armstrong, A. C.: A Guide to Research (N.Y, 2000).
—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire
Aaron Copland was one of the most important figures in American music during the second quarter of the twentieth century, both as a composer (a writer of music) and as a spokesman who was concerned about making Americans aware of the importance of music. He won the Pulitzer Prize for music in 1945.
Early life and education
Aaron Copland was born on November 14, 1900, in Brooklyn, New York, the youngest of five children born to Harris Morris Copland and Sarah Mittenthal Copland. The family lived above a department store, which they owned. One of Copland's sisters showed him how to play piano when he was eleven years old, and soon afterward he began taking lessons from a teacher in the neighborhood. At age fifteen he decided he wanted to be a composer. While attending Boys' High School he began to study music theory beginning in 1917.
Copland continued his music lessons after graduating from high school, and in 1921 he went to France to study at the American Conservatory in Fontainebleau, where his main teacher was the French composer Nadia Boulanger (1887–1979). During his early studies, Copland had been attracted to the music of Scriabin (1872–1915), Debussy (1862–1918), and Ravel (1875–1937). The years in Paris provided him an opportunity to hear and absorb all the most recent trends in European music, including the works of Stravinsky (1882–1971), Bartók (1881–1945), and Schoenberg (1847–1951).
After Copland completed his studies in 1924, he returned to America and composed the Symphony for Organ and Orchestra, his first major work, which Boulanger played in New York City in 1925. Music for the Theater (1925) and a Piano Concerto (1926) explored the possibilities of combining jazz and symphony music. Serge Koussevitzky (1874–1951), conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, became interested in what he heard from the young composer, and he helped gain a wider audience for Copland's—and much of America's—music.
In the late 1920s Copland turned to an increasingly experimental style, featuring irregular rhythms and often jarring sounds. His works were entirely personal; there are no outside influences that can be identified in the Piano Variations (1930), Short Symphony (1933), and Statements. The basic features of these works remained in one way or another central to his musical style in the following years.
The 1920s and 1930s were a period of deep concern about the limited audience for new (and especially American) music, and Copland was active in many organizations devoted to performance and sponsorship. These included the League of Composers, the Copland-Sessions concerts, and the American Composers' Alliance. His organizational abilities earned him the title of "American music's natural president" from his fellow composer Virgil Thomson (1896–1989).
Promoter of "American" music
Beginning in the mid-1930s through 1950, Copland made a serious effort to widen the audience for American music and took steps to change his style when writing pieces requested for different occasions. He composed music for theater, ballet, and films, as well as for concert situations. In his ballets—Billy the Kid (1938), Rodeo (1942), and Appalachian Spring (1944; Pulitzer Prize, 1945)—he made use of folk melodies and relaxed his previous style to arrive at a sound more broadly recognized as "American." Other well-known works of this period are El Salón México (1935) and A Lincoln Portrait (1942), while the Piano Sonata (1943) and the Third Symphony (1946) continue the development of his concert music. Among his famous film scores are those for Of Mice and Men (1939), Our Town (1940), The Red Pony (1948), and The Heiress (1949).
Copland's concern for establishing a tradition of music in American life increased when he became a teacher at The New School for Social Research at Harvard University, and as head of the composition department at the Berkshire Music Center in Tanglewood, Massachusetts, a school founded by Koussevitzky. His Norton Lectures at Harvard (1951–52) were published as Music and Imagination (1952). Earlier books are What to Listen for in Music (1939) and Our New Music (1941).
Beginning with the Quartet for Piano and Strings (1950), Copland made use of the methods developed by Austrian American composer Arnold Schoenberg, who developed a tonal system not based on any key. This confused many listeners. Copland's most important works of these years include the Piano Fantasy (1957), Nonet for Strings (1960), Connotations (1962), and Inscape (1967). The Tender Land (1954) represents an extension of the style of ballet to the opera stage.
Copland spent the final years of his life living primarily in the New York City area. He engaged in many cultural missions, especially to South America. Although he had been out of the major spotlight for almost twenty years, he remained semiactive in the music world up until his death, conducting his last symphony in 1983.
Aaron Copland died in New York City on December 2, 1990. He was remembered as a man who encouraged young composers to find their own voice, no matter the style, just as he had done for sixty years.
For More Information
Copland, Aaron, and Vivian Perlis. Copland: 1900 through 1942. New York: St. Martin's/Marek, 1984.
Copland, Aaron, and Vivian Perlis. Copland: Since 1943. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1989.
Pollack, Howard. Aaron Copland: The Life and Work of an Uncommon Man. New York: Henry Holt & Company, 1999.
Copland always worked hard on the promotional side of Amer. mus. as lecturer and teacher (head of the comp. faculty at Berkshire Mus. Center 1940–65). He toured the world as cond. and ambassador for his country's mus.; co-founded (with Sessions) a series of NY concerts of new Amer. works 1928–31, founded a publishing press, and was active with the League of Composers. In 1937 he founded the Amer. Composers' Alliance. He received Pulitzer Prize for Mus. 1944, Gold Medal of Amer. Acad. 1956, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom 1964. He wrote several books. Prin. comps.: OPERA: The Tender Land (1952–4, rev. 1955). BALLETS: Grohg (1922–5); Billy the Kid (1938); Rodeo (1942); Appalachian Spring (1943–4). ORCH.: Sym. for Organ (1924) (version without organ is Sym. No.1, 1928); Music for the Theater (1925); pf. conc. (1926); Symphonic Ode (1928–9, rev. 1955); A Dance Symphony (1930, based on ballet Grohg); Short Symphony (sym. No.2) (1932–3); Statements (1932–5); suite: Billy the Kid (1938); El salón México (1933–6); An Outdoor Ov. (1938, arr. for band 1941); Quiet City (1939); suite from film mus. Our Town (1940); A Lincoln Portrait for speaker, orch. (1942); Fanfare for the Common Man (1942); Music for the Movies (1942); suite, Rodeo (1943); suite, Appalachian Spring (1945); Sym. No.3 (1944–6); cl. conc. (1947–8); Orchestral Variations (1957, orch. version of pf. variations); Connotations (1962); Music for a Great City (1964); 3 Latin-American Sketches (1972); Inscape (1967). CHORAL: The House on the Hill (1925); In the Beginning, mez. and unacc. ch. (1947); Canticle of Freedom (1955, rev. 1965). CHAMBER MUSIC: As it fell upon a day, for sop., fl., and cl. (1923); 2 pieces for str. qt. (1923 and 1928, also for str. orch.); Vitebsk (Study on a Jewish Theme), pf. trio (1928); vn. sonata (1943); pf. qt. (1950); nonet for str. (1960); Duo for fl. and pf. (1971); Threnody (in memoriam Stravinsky), fl. qt. (1971). PIANO: The Cat and the Mouse (1920); Piano Variations (1930, orch. version 1957); Sonata (1939–41); Fantasy (1952–7). Also pf. suites from Billy the Kid and Our Town.
Also songs, incl. 12 Poems of Emily Dickinson (1950) and Old American Songs (1950–2), and film mus. incl. Of Mice and Men (1939), Our Town (1940), The Red Pony (1948) and The Heiress (1949) (Hollywood ‘Oscar’).
Aaron Copland (1900-1990) was one of the most important figures in American music during the second quarter of the 20th century, both as a composer and as a spokesman who was concerned about making Americans conscious of the importance of their indigenous music.
Aaron Copland was born on November 14, 1900, in Brooklyn, New York, the youngest of five children born to Harris Morris Copland and Sarah (Mittenthal) Copland. He attended Boys' High School and studied music privately (theory and composition with Rubin Goldmark, beginning in 1917). In 1921 he went to France to study at the American Conservatory in Fontainebleau, where his principal teacher was Nadia Boulanger. During his early studies, he had been much attracted by the music of Scriabin, Debussy, and Ravel; the years in Paris provided an opportunity to hear and absorb all the most recent trends in European music, notably the works of Stravinsky, Bartók, and Schoenberg.
Upon completion of his studies in 1924, Copland returned to America and composed the Symphony for Organ and Orchestra, his first major work, which Boulanger played in New York in 1925. Music for the Theater (1925) and a Piano Concerto (1926) explored the possibilities of jazz idioms in symphonic music; from this period dates the interest of Serge Koussevitzky, conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, in Copland's music—a sponsorship that proved important in gaining a wider audience for his own and much of America's music.
In the late 1920s Copland turned to an increasingly abstract style, characterized by angular melodic lines, spare textures, irregular rhythms, and often abrasive sonorities. The already distinctive idiom of the early works became entirely personal and free of identifiable outside influence in the Piano Variations (1930), Short Symphony (1933), and Statements, and the basic features of these works remained in one way or another central to his musical style thereafter.
The 1920s and 1930s were a period of intense concern about the limited audience for new (and especially American) music, and Copland was active in many organizations devoted to performance and sponsorship, notably the League of Composers, the Copland-Sessions concerts, and the American Composers' Alliance. His organizational abilities earned him the sobriquet of American music's natural president from his colleague Virgil Thomson.
Beginning in the mid-1930s, Copland made a conscious effort to broaden the audience for American music and took steps to adapt his style when writing works commissioned for various functional occasions. The years between 1935 and 1950 saw his extensive involvement in music for theater, school, ballet, and cinema, as well as for more conventional concert situations. In the ballets, Billy the Kid (1938), Rodeo (1942), and Appalachian Spring (1944; Pulitzer Prize, 1945), he made use of folk or folklike melodies and relaxed his previous highly concentrated style, to arrive at an idiom broadly recognized as "American" without the sacrifice of craftsmanship or inventiveness. Other well-known works of this period are El Salón México (1935) and A Lincoln Portrait (1942), while the Piano Sonata (1943) and the Third Symphony (1946) continue the line of development of his concert music. Among his widely acclaimed film scores are those for Of Mice and Men (1939), Our Town (1940), The Red Pony (1948), and The Heiress (1949).
Copland's concern for establishing a tradition of music in American life was manifested in his activities as teacher at The New School for Social Research and Harvard and as head of the composition department at the Berkshire Music Center in Tanglewood, Massachusetts, founded by Koussevitzky. His Norton Lectures at Harvard (1951-1952) were published as Music and Imagination (1952); earlier books, of similar gracefully didactic intent, are What to Listen for in Music (1939) and Our New Music (1941).
Beginning with the Quartet for Piano and Strings (1950), Copland made use of the serial methods developed by Arnold Schoenberg, amplifying concerns of linear texture long present in his music. The most important works of these years include the Piano Fantasy (1957), Nonet for Strings (1960), Connotations (1962), and Inscape (1967); the opera The Tender Land (1954) represents an extension of the style of the ballets to the lyric stage.
After his return from France, Copland resided in the New York City area. He engaged in many cultural missions, especially to South America. Although he had been out of the major spotlight for almost twenty years, he remained semi-active in the music world up until his death, conducting his last symphony in 1983.
Copland died on December 2, 1990 in New York City and was remembered as a man who encouraged young composers to find their own voice, no matter the style, just as he had done for six decades.
An autobiographical sketch is included in Copland's The New Music, 1900-1960 (titled Our New Music) (1968). Arthur V. Berger Aaron Copland (1953), contains more penetrating observations about Copland's music, but Julia F. Smith Aaron Copland: His Work and Contribution to American Music (1955), is also useful. A detailed biography up to that point appears in the 1951 issue of Current Biography.
Copland's obituary appears in the December 17, 1990 issue of Time magazine. □
Aaron Copland was one of the most innovative and highly respected American classical composers of the twentieth century.
Copland was born in Brooklyn to a family of Lithuanian Jewish descent on November 14, 1900. Although never directly encouraged by his parents, Copland demonstrated an interest in and talent for music by his teenage years. He took piano lessons from his older sister and, while in high school, began studying music in Manhattan with Rubin Goldmark (1872–1936), a private instructor who taught Copland the basics of music theory and composition. Copland also attended many concerts, educating himself in the great works written for orchestra.
Copland left New York at the age of twenty to study at the Summer School of Music for American Students in France. There he found a home within a musical community, and he sold his first composition to the most well-known music publisher in the country. In 1925, he composed a piece for the Boston Symphony Orchestra at the request of conductor Serge Koussevitsky (1874–1951). His Symphony for Organ and Orchestra marked Copland's entry into professional American music.
Jazz and folk influences
Copland's compositions were heavily influenced by jazz. The young composer incorporated the techniques and sounds of jazz—which he saw as the first truly American musical movement—to develop a new type of symphonic music. He hoped this new American music would distinguish itself from its European roots.
Copland moved away from jazz in the late 1920s and concentrated instead on the popular music of other countries, including the folk music of Mexico. Certain that classical music could be as popular as jazz in America, he joined various composers’ organizations to promote music and build audiences. Copland wanted to help lead the way as a music pioneer. To that end, he partnered with his friend Roger Sessions (1896–1985), also a composer, to present the works of young composers in the Copland-Sessions concerts.
Around this same time, Copland began planning the first American music festival. Europe had been hosting such festivals for years, and Copland felt it was time for America to catch up to Europe, musically speaking. The Yaddo Festival of American Music made its debut in 1932.
Ballets, movies, and a fanfare
By the mid-1930s, Copland was one of the most popular composers in America. He applied his talent to writing music for ballets and movies, hoping to win wider audiences. His collaborations with modern dance choreographers Agnes de Mille (1905?–1993) and Martha Graham (1894–1991) produced two of the most beloved works of American dance—de Mille's Rodeo (1942) and Graham's Appalachian Spring (1944), for which Copland won the Pulitzer Prize. Some of his most famous movie scores are those he wrote for Of Mice and Men (1939), Our Town (1940), and The Heiress (1949), for which he won an Academy Award for best score.
During this period, Copland also wrote what has become his most familiar work. Written in 1942 for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Fanfare for the Common Man, for brass and percussion, has often been played at national political events and by various rock bands.
Conductor, teacher, writer
In the 1950s, Copland turned his attention to conducting, and his output as a composer began to slow down. He toured the world for the next twenty years, conducting his own work as well as that of other composers. During this time, he also made many important recordings that preserve the major works of mid-twentieth-century American music.
By the early 1970s, Copland's career as a composer of original works was behind him. He conducted his last symphony in 1983. His other major contribution to American music was as a teacher at colleges and music festivals, where he inspired many young composers and musicians. He also earned acclaim as a scholar of music, writing more than sixty articles and essays and publishing five books by the time of his death in 1990. Because of his own compositions as well as the ardent support he lent to other American composers, Copland is recognized as one of the major influences on American music.
COPLAND, AARON (1900–1990), U.S. composer. Copland was born in Brooklyn, studied with Rubin *Goldmark in New York, and with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. Returning to the U.S. in 1924, he became active as a composer, teacher, and conductor.
In his early years Copland attracted the attention of Serge *Koussevitzky, then conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, who became an ardent champion of his music. His Piano Concerto, which he played with Koussevitzky in 1927, shocked the staid Boston audience by its aggressive jazz idiom. But Copland's talent soon won for him universal acceptance. At Koussevitzky's invitation, he joined the faculty of the Berkshire Music Center in Tanglewood, and for 25 years was the head of its composition department (1940–65). He traveled extensively in Europe, visited Russia in 1960, toured Latin America, and was guest conductor in Israel several times. Copland stopped composing abruptly and completely in 1970, but remained active as a conductor and lecturer until the mid–1980s. There were performances throughout the world to mark his seventieth, seventy-fifth, eightieth, and eighty-fifth birthdays, and New York City honored him with a "Wall-to-Wall" Cop-land Day tribute. He published several books: What to Listen for in Music (1939); Our New Music (1941); Music and Imagination, a collection of lectures delivered at Harvard University (1952); and Copland on Music (1960). In 1964 he received the Medal of Freedom from the U.S. government. Many of his works, such as the ballet Billy the Kid (1938), Lincoln Portrait for speaker and orchestra (1942), and the ballets Rodeo (1942) and Appalachian Spring (1944) were based on distinctly American themes. El Salón México (1937) for orchestra made use of authentic Mexican dance tunes, united in the form of a rhapsody; Danzón Cubano for two pianos (1942), a similar stylization of Cuban rhythms, was also arranged for orchestra.
Copland wrote much chamber music, notably: Vitebsk for piano, violin, and cello, based on a popular Jewish theme (1929), Concerto for clarinet, strings, harp, and piano (1950), Piano Quartet (1950) and Nonet for strings (1960). His piano works include Variations (1930); Sonata (1941); Fantasy (1957). In 1962, for the opening concert of Lincoln Center in New York, Copland wrote his first work explicitly composed in the 12-tone technique, entitled Connotations. He also wrote music for the play Quiet City and several film scores.
A.V. Berger, Aaron Copland (Eng., 1953); J.F. Smith, Aaron Copland, his Work and Contribution to American Music (1955); Sternfeld, in: Musical Quarterly, 37 (1951), 161–75; G. Saleski, Famous Musicians of Jewish Origin (1949), 36–41; Grove, Dict; Baker, Biog Dict; Sendrey, Music, index; Riemann-Gurlitt; mgg.