Aaron Copland (1900-1990) - defining the American sound

The Copland Collection - 3 CD set cover Aaron Copland is a classical composer of enormous standing. His music defined a new style and seemed to embody the spirit of American art - modern and new, yet easy to comprehend. Copland was born in New York and learned piano from his older sister. He later went on to sudy music in Paris under Nadia Boulanger before returning to New York. His music was influenced by trends in both classical and popular music. From the world of classical music he admired the work of Igor Stravinsky and later experimented with the technique of serialism invented by Arnold Schoenberg. From the jazz world he embraced a number of ideas such as the music of George Gershwin, but mostly Copland is remembered for his own unique voice. His style was deceptively simple from a casual acquaintance yet with a hidden richness and depth. His expansive melodic sweep and novel rhythmic drive was put to excellent use on the ballet music for "Appalachian Spring", "Rodeo" and "Billy the Kid". It is perhaps in part the American setting of these ballets that led to his music becoming associated with things American, but it was also in part seem as a break away from the European-centric world of previous classical music. This American voice was in turn to influence many other composers in the field. The last movement in Appalachian Spring orchestrates the melody from a Shaker tune "'Tis a Gift to be Simple" also known as "Lord of the Dance".

Copland was also an experimentalist, incorporating a number of stylistic ideas including Jazz and Mexican dance rhythms in his music. He produced a number of film scores which exemplify his unique style and experimental characteristics to varying degrees. Aaron Copland was also an influence on the music of other film composers who embraced both classical and popular idioms including Leonard Bernstein, Bernard Herrmann, Elmer Bernstein and Alex North. In the realm of film music, Copland received two Oscar nominations, for "Of Mice and Men" and "Our Town". It is his music to "The Heiress" that many regard as his best for film. He was asked by director William Wyler to include references to the song "Plaisir d'Amour" within the score and this he did. (As an aside, the music for this song was later adapted into "I Can't Help falling in Love with You" sung by Elvis Presley and then in Reggae style by UB40.) However the director thought this was insufficient and on the final soundtrack replaced much of Copland's work with other pedestrian arrangements of the song. After this experience, Copland did not work on film music again.

Here's an animation set to Copland's Hoedown from "Rodeo":

Hoedown from Rodeo from Eleanor Stewart on Vimeo.

Main works of Aaron Copland:

Films and television music by Aaron Copland:


There are many CDs available containing music by Aaron Copland but the following showcase his best works:

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