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
The Ultimate Copland Album
Release Date: 11/09/1999   Label: Decca  
Catalog: 466909   Number of Discs: 1
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Copland, Nielsen: Clarinet Concerti, Etc / Hilton, Bamert
Release Date: 10/28/1992   Label: Chandos  
Catalog: 8618   Number of Discs: 1
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Copland, Harris: Symphony No 3 / Järvi, Detroit So
Release Date: 09/24/1996   Label: Chandos  
Catalog: 9474   Number of Discs: 1
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Copland: Old American Songs I & Ii, Etc / Willard White
Release Date: 10/28/1992   Label: Chandos  
Catalog: 8960   Number of Discs: 1
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Mozart, Copland, Kats-Chernin: Works for Clarinet & Orchestra / Collins
Release Date: 01/29/2013   Label: Chandos  
Catalog: 10756   Number of Discs: 1
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Work: El salón México

 

About This Work
Copland's period as a full-time populist didn't begin until 1936, when he completed El Salón México. On a trip to Mexico in 1932, Copland resolved to write a piece using popular Mexican themes, and when he finally began its slow Read more assembly the following year, he borrowed tunes from collections recently published by Ruben Campos and Frances Toor. The result is a gaudy souvenir, as Copland intended; he felt unqualified, as a foreigner, to write something more serious drawing from Mexico's history or its revolutionary present. He connected the piece with a dancehall he'd visited, El Salón México, a "hot spot," Copland wrote, where "one felt, in a very natural and unaffected way, a close contact with the Mexican people. It wasn't the music I heard, but the spirit that I felt there, which attracted me."

For this work, Copland favored the Mexican huapango rhythm, essentially a measure in 6/8 answered exuberantly by a measure in 3/4. The piece begins with rhythmic brass chords and a rising string figure, but almost immediately the music, having toyed with fragments of "El Palo Verde" and "La Jesusita," loses its energy and collapses with a thud. The trumpet lazily introduces the folk tune "El Mosco" over a wheezing, inebriated-sounding accompaniment. The lower winds bring on a slow, quiet, sexy, rhythmic theme of their own, which the strings take up more grandly. Next, the higher woodwinds announce a faster, jaunty tune, which is picked up in turn by other sections of the orchestra, although the strings and percussion quickly reduce it to little more than rhythm. The brass and percussion take the lead in developing this into a dynamic, strongly accented motif. This soon plays itself out, whereupon a softer, broader, dreamier section arises. This grows organically into a faster, more vigorous section whose most arresting feature is a raucous little tune for clarinet. Now Copland builds the excitement more patiently and gradually than before, layering on and then stripping away various sections of the orchestra. A tiny bit of "El Mosco" comes to dominate the proceedings, building to an exuberant finale that Copland intentionally sabotages with a percussive whack on the offbeat.

-- James Reel, All Music Guide Read less

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