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 clubhouse on Vimeo.

Main works of Aaron Copland:

    Aaron Copland - 3rd Symphony and Quiet City CD cover
  • El Salon Mexico
  • Billy the Kid - ballet
  • Rodeo - ballet
  • Appalachian Spring - the music from these ballets is mostly heard in the form of orchestral suites
  • Danzon Cubano
  • Lincoln Portrait - for narrator and orchestra
  • Quiet City - based on on his incidental music for a play
  • 3 Symphonies - the third composed just after World War Two, its 4th movement providing the theme for "Fanfare for the Common Man"
  • Fanfare for the Common Man - rousing work for brass and percussion
  • 2 Concertos - one for Piano and one for Clarinet, written for Benny Goodman
  • Some piano works
  • Sonata for Violin and Piano
  • Numerous other works for chamber or orchestral forces
  • The Tender Land - an opera
  • Old American Songs
  • Song Cycle "Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson" - for voice and piano

Films and television music by Aaron Copland:

    a Copland celebration volume 3 CD cover
  • The City - despite its title, this film is set in rural New England
  • Of Mice and Men
  • Our Town
  • The North Star - words by Ira Gershwin
  • The Red Pony - film based on the John Steinbeck novella, this is an excellent example of how Copland adapted his "Americana" style into film music with a Western flavour, and he later adapted the music into a concert suite
  • Something Wild
  • Miles from Home
  • The Heiress - after the way his music was treated on this movie, Copland resolved to give film music a wide berth
  • Apollo Soyuz - "Fanfare for the Common Man" was used by the BBC as the signature tune for its programmes covering the Apollo Soyuz linkup mission in the mid 1970s

Aaron-Copland - Recommendations:

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

    Aaron Copland - Appalachian Spring, Rodeo and Fanfare for the Common Man CD cover
  • The Copland Collection (3 CD collection, with El Salon Mexico, An Outdoor Overture, Rodeo, 3rd Symphony, Clarinet Concerto, and music from Billy the Kid, The City, Of Mice and Men, and Lincoln Portrait - from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com
  • Symphony No.3 and Quiet City (conducted by Leonard Bernstein) - from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com
  • A Copland Celebration, volume 3 (including Old American Songs and The Tender Land) - from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com
  • Aaron Copland: Fanfare for the Common Man, Rodeo (complete), Appalachian Spring (orchestral suite) - from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com