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Aaron Copland

Biography

Born: 1900   Died: 1990   Country: USA   Period: 20th Century
Few figures in American music loom as large as Aaron Copland. As one of the first wave of literary and musical expatriates in Paris during the 1920s, Copland returned to the United States with the means to assume, for the next half century, a central role in American music as composer, promoter, and educator. Copland's sheer popularity and iconic status are such that his music has transcended the concert hall and entered the popular Read more consciousness; it both accompanies solemn and joyous celebrations the world over (Fanfare for the Common Man) and punctuates the familiar words "Beef: It's What's for Dinner!" (Rodeo) for millions of television viewers.

Copland was the youngest of five children born to Harris and Sarah Copland, Lithuanian Jewish immigrants who owned a department store in Brooklyn. He did not take formal piano lessons until he was 13, by which time he had also begun writing small pieces. Instead of attending college, Copland studied theory and composition with Rubin Goldmark and piano with Victor Wittgenstein and Clarence Adler, and attended as many concerts, operas, and ballets as possible. In 1921, he went to Fontainebleau, France, taking conducting and composition classes at the American Conservatory. He went on to study in Paris with Ricardo Viñes and Nadia Boulanger and spent the next three years soaking up all the European culture, both new and old, that he could. He learned to admire not only composers like Stravinsky, Milhaud, Fauré, and Mahler, but others such as author André Gide. Boulanger's performance of Copland's 1924 Organ Symphony with Koussevitzky was the beginning of a friendship between the conductor and composer that led to Copland teaching at the Berkshire Music Center (Tanglewood) from 1940 until 1965.

After his return to America, Copland drifted toward an incisive, austere style that captured something of the sobriety of Depression-torn America. The most representative work of this period -- the Piano Variations (1930) -- remains one of the composer's seminal efforts. He tried to avoid taking a university position, instead writing for journals and newspapers, organizing concerts, and taking on administrative duties for composers' organizations, trying to promote American music. By the mid-1930s, taking the direct engagement of and communication with audiences as one of his central tenets, Copland's compositions developed (in parallel with other composers like Virgil Thomson and Roy Harris) an "American" style marked by folk influences, a new melodic and harmonic simplicity, and an appealing directness free from intellectual pretension. This is nowhere more in evidence than in Copland's ballets of this period, and it finally earned him the respect of the general public. While Copland gradually became less prolific from the mid-1950s on, he continued to experiment and explore "fresh" means of musical expression, including a highly individual adoption of 12-tone principles in works like the Piano Fantasy and Connotations for orchestra. Still, the fundamentally lyrical nature of Copland's language remained intact and occasionally emerged -- with an often surprising retrospective air -- in works like the Duo for flute and piano (1971). He continued to teach and write and received numerous awards both in America and abroad. In 1958, he began conducting orchestras around the world, performing works by 80 other composers as well as his own over the next 20 years. By the mid-'70s, Copland had for all intents and purposes ceased composing. One of the last of his creative accomplishments was the completion of his two-volume autobiography (with musicologist Vivian Perlis), an essential document in understanding the growth of American music in the twentieth century. Read less
American Classics - Copland: Works For Violin And Piano
Release Date: 07/16/2002   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8559102   Number of Discs: 1
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Copland: The Tender Land Suite, Piano Concerto, Etc / Pasternack, Hanson
Release Date: 05/27/2008   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8559297   Number of Discs: 1
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Copland: Red Pony Suite, Prairie Journal / Falletta,  Buffalo Philharmonic
Release Date: 10/31/2006   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8559240   Number of Discs: 1
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Landscapes - Torke, Ticheli, Copland / Popiel, University Of Kansas Wind Ensemble
Release Date: 03/26/2013   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8573104   Number of Discs: 1
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Copland: Rodeo, Dance Panels... / Slatkin, Detroit
Release Date: 06/25/2013   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8559758   Number of Discs: 1
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Work: Concerto for Clarinet

 

About This Work
Copland began work on his Clarinet Concerto while traveling in Latin America in 1947. After setting it aside when he was unable to come up with a suitable theme for the second movement, Copland completed the work during his annual sojourn at Read more Tanglewood in the following year. The concerto, commissioned by the prominent clarinetist Benny Goodman, was premiered by Goodman and the NBC Symphony Orchestra in a broadcast of November 6, 1950. Though the initial critical reception of the work was less favorable than what had greeted a number of Copland's other works, the concerto gradually caught on with performers and audiences alike. It received a substantial boost in the year following its premiere, when choreographer Jerome Robbins adopted it as the musical setting for his ballet The Pied Piper.

Copland drew inspiration for the Clarinet Concerto from a number of sources. The work took shape under the influence of the Brazilian folk music Copland heard during his travels, while the second movement in particular was tailored to fit Goodman's own playing style and skills. (Copland's manuscript drafts, in fact, indicate a number of alterations made expressly to accommodate Goodman's technique.) The work is divided into two movements, the first marked "Slowly and expressively," the second, "Rather fast"; the two are connected by an extended cadenza for the soloist. The first movement is meditative and rhapsodic, combining dramatic leaps in the solo clarinet line with an unhurried, waltz-like accompaniment in the strings and harp. A more restive and harmonically adventurous section interrupts the lilt of the the triple meter, and the movement is rounded out by a return to its original mood.

The cadenza between the movements acts as a transition, extending the mood of the first movement and introducing the lively melodic and rhythmic material of the second. The piano, which sits silent during the first movement, is freely employed in the second, assuming both soloistic and less obtrusive textural roles. After a mysterious introduction, the clarinet introduces the melodic material of the movement, which is altered and recombined in a variety of jazzy contexts as the movement unfolds in a rondo-like form. The clarinet often declaims its line over an ostinato accompaniment, and at one point Copland heightens the jazzy atmosphere by directing the basses to play in a "slap-string" style. A concluding virtuosic coda has the clarinetist wailing in the upper ranges of the instrument and bringing the work to a close with a long glissando (in jazz, a "smear"), accompanied by the ensemble.

-- All Music Guide Read less

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