Aaron Copland, classical music composer

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Aaron Copland

Biography

Often referred to as "the Dean of American Composers," Aaron Copland was an influential composer of the 20th century and instrumental in the development of a distinct American style of composition. Born in Brooklyn, New York on November 14th, 1900 to parents of Lithuanian Jewish descent, he was the last of five children. While his father had no interest in music, his mother and older sister Laurine encouraged Copland's musical education. After attending a concert by composer-pianist Ignacy Jan Paderewski, Copland resolved to become a composer and soon began formal lessons with Rubin Goldmark. Goldmark introduced Copland to the Germanic tradition of composition, which gave Copland a firm foundation but was nevertheless in his opinion too narrow in taste. Consequently, Copland only shared with his teacher those compositions that would find favor and his more daring and unorthodox ones he kept to himself.

Following his lessons with Goldmark, Copland's music remained heavily influenced by Liszt and Debussy and limited to only short piano pieces and art songs. However, his interest in the latest musical trends of Europe was growing and with the support of his mother he undertook the journey to Paris to continue his musical studies. At the Fontainebleau School of Music, he initially studied with pianist Isidor Philipp, but realizing Philipp was too much like Goldmark, switched to renowned teacher Nadia Boulanger.  Finding a kindred spirit, Copland extended his stay in Paris and studies with Boulanger from one year to three. During this time, he also began writing musical critiques, which he would continue to do throughout his career, and helped his reputation spread throughout the musical community.

Returning to the United States, Copland set out to establish himself as a full-time composer. He rented an apartment on New York City's Upper West Side so as to be close to Carnegie Hall and publishers. He lived frugally taking what income he could from small commissions, teaching, writing and lecture-recitals. Joining with other young American composers, such as Roger Sessions, Roy Harris, Virgil Thomson and Walter Piston, Copland found a mutually beneficial group of like-minded artists. This group, known as the "commando unit," gave joint concerts of their music but also engaged in heated debates and rivalries particularly after Copland was proclaimed by the press as the "truly American composer."

With the advent of the Great Depression, Copland sought to create more accessible music for the general public similar in ideals to Gebrauchsmusik in Germany—in essence, music that was easy to learn and possessed wide appeal. His first works in this direction appeared in the mid-1930s and included music for children. During this time, he also travelled extensively to Europe, Africa and Mexico. It was during a visit to this latter country that he began working on the first of his most popular pieces, El Salón Mexico, which was completed in 1936. During late 1930s, Copland expanded into many genres. Beside, his American Gebrauchsmusik, he ventured into ballet with his highly successful Billy the Kid which premiered in 1939 and, in the same year, into movies with Of Mice and Men and Our Town.

The 1940s, however, was undoubtedly Copland's most productive decade in part fueled by patriotism on the home front during World War II. He received two commissions for patriotic pieces, Fanfare for the Common Man and A Lincoln Portrait, and composed two more widely successful ballets: Rodeo and Appalachian Spring. Following the war, he returned to Europe in 1949 and was introduced to the twelve-tone serialism of Arnold Schoenberg and his followers. Discovering he had more in common with Schoenberg's music than the latest trends in France, Copland adopted the twelve-tone system in his Piano Quartet composed in 1950.

Troubles, however, arose for Copland during the next decade. Despite his patriotic pieces during the war, in 1953 Copland found himself in the crosshairs of Joseph McCarthy and the FBI because of affiliations he had with known Communists. However, the investigations were ceased in 1955 and in the end had little negative effect on his career. In 1954, Copland ventured into opera despite reservations with a commission from Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein with The Tender Land. Well aware of the many pitfalls of the operatic form, Copland nevertheless accepted the commission. However, his fears inevitably came true as the opera was criticized for its weak libretto.

From the 1960s onward, Copland composed less and turned more towards conducting. He became a frequent guest conductor of orchestra in the US and UK and made a series of recordings of his own music. Despite diminishing inspiration, however, he did continue to compose, his last composition appearing in 1982. During the 1980s, his health continued to deteriorate and on December 2nd, 1990, Copland died of Alzheimer's disease and respiratory failure.


Composer Title Date Action
Aaron Copland Vitebsk (Study on a Jewish Theme) 01/25/2009 Play Add to playlist
Aaron Copland Duo for Flute and Piano 01/15/2009 Play Add to playlist
Aaron Copland Nature, the Gentlest Mother, from Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson 02/26/2011 Play Add to playlist
Aaron Copland Heart, We Will Forget Him, from Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson 02/26/2011 Play Add to playlist
Aaron Copland Going to Heaven!, from Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson 02/26/2011 Play Add to playlist
Aaron Copland Why Do They Shut Me Out of Heaven? from Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson 02/26/2011 Play Add to playlist
Aaron Copland The Dodger, from Old American Songs 09/24/2011 Play Add to playlist
Aaron Copland Simple Gifts, from Old American Songs 09/24/2011 Play Add to playlist
Aaron Copland The Little Horses, from Old American Songs 09/24/2011 Play Add to playlist
Aaron Copland Zion’s Walls, from Old American Songs 09/24/2011 Play Add to playlist
Aaron Copland At the River, from Old American Songs 09/24/2011 Play Add to playlist
Aaron Copland Old American Songs 09/24/2011 Play Add to playlist
Aaron Copland Duo for Flute and Piano 01/08/2009 Play Add to playlist
Aaron Copland The Dodger, from Old American Songs 03/05/2013 Play Add to playlist
Aaron Copland Long Time Ago, from Old American Song 03/05/2013 Play Add to playlist
Aaron Copland Simple Gifts, from Old American Songs 03/05/2013 Play Add to playlist
Aaron Copland I Bought Me a Cat, from Old American Song 03/05/2013 Play Add to playlist
Aaron Copland Fanfare for the Common Man 11/11/2013 Play Add to playlist
Aaron Copland Simple Gifts, from Old American Songs 03/13/2014 Play Add to playlist
Aaron Copland Why Do They Shut Me Out of Heaven? from Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson 06/25/2014 Play Add to playlist
Aaron Copland Heart, We Will Forget Him, from Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson 06/25/2014 Play Add to playlist
Aaron Copland Dear March, come in!, from Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson 06/25/2014 Play Add to playlist
Aaron Copland Sleep is supposed to be, from Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson 06/25/2014 Play Add to playlist