Home Backstage ACopland

Return to BalletNotes Home Page

Aaron Copland (1900 - 1990), composer

Copland's parents came to the United States from villages in Polish and Lithuanian Russia. His father's name was Anglicized from Kaplan to Copland during his time in England en route to the United States. The family owned a store in Brooklyn and prospered. Aaron was their fifth child, born on November 14, 1900, seven years after his nearest sister.

After learning what he could of the piano at home, young Aaron enrolled himself in study with Leopold Wolfsohn, with whom he remained three years, before advancing to study with Victor Wittgenstein and Clarence Adler.

Beginning in 1917 he began studying harmony, counterpoint and sonata form under Rubin Goldmark , a devotee of Beethoven and Wagner. At age 20 he had saved enough money to go to France and study at the new American Conservatory at Fontainebleau, near Paris. He was lucky enough to be the first American pupil of Nadia Boulanger, whom he found "exhilarating," and stayed with her until 1924. During these years, not only was he exposed to the tremendous cultural riches of Paris but he also traveled to England, Belgium and Italy. In addition he spent the summers, on Boulanger's advice, in Berlin, Vienna and Salzburg.

A 1921 performance he gave of his piano composition Le Chat et la souris resulted in the French publisher Jacques Durand coming backstage after the work and offering to issue the score. Thus it became Copland's first published work.

His first big work - an unperformed ballet Grohg - was composed at this time. The scenario was provided by Harold Clurman with whom he was sharing a Paris apartment and with whom he would share a common view of the world for years to come. Parts of Grogh turn up later in Dance Symphony (1930). In 1923-24 he composed the Organ Symphony for Mlle. Boulanger's American debut as an organist.

Returning to the United States he tried to establish himself as a private teacher and gained notice as a composer. In 1925 Music for the Theater was commissioned by Koussevitsky, in which Copland introduced jazz elements that he felt purged the "too European" flavor of his music. He joined the League of Composers and reported for its journal Modern Music.

Copland returned often to Europe and, with Roger Sessions, sponsored the Copland-Sessions Concerts 1928-31 in New York. Copland was also among the founders of the Yaddo Festivals, the Arrow Music Press and the American Composers Alliance.

Being concerned with the gap between contemporary composers and the public, Copland began to compose some pieces in a more accessible style, often influenced by his visits to Mexico at the invitation of Carlos Chavez. El Salon Mexico (1936), Billy The Kid (1938) and Rodeo (1942) all fall in this period, as does Appalachian Spring.

In 1940 Kousevitsky established the Berkshire Music Center, where Copland began as a teacher and advisor becoming chairman of the faculty, a position he held until his 1965 retirement. Copland taught for Piston when he was on leave from Harvard, and returned to that institution in 1951 as the first American composer to hold the Norton Professor of Poetics.

Copland was always a great promoter of American music, touring the world, conducting, writing books and teaching. He considered himself, along with Piston, Sessions, Thomson and Harris, part of "a nascent American school."

Aaron Copland was also the recipient of numerous honors including the Pulitzer Prize (1945), New York Music Critic's Circle award (1954), an 'Oscar' for The Heiress (1950), The Presidential Medal of Freedom (1964), and honorary degrees from Princeton, Oberlin, Harvard, and Brandeis Universities. In 1982, The Aaron Copland School of Music was established in his honor at Queens College of the City University of New York. He also authored several books including What to Listen for in Music (1939), Music and Imagination (1952), and Copland on Music (1960).

Copland showed the first signs of Alzheimer's disease in the early 1970s and from that point on virtually stopped composing, although he continued to conduct until he was 83 years old. His final compositions, both being based on earlier material, were Midday Thoughts and Proclamation. Proclamation was performed during a concert celebrating his 85th birthday in 1982. He died December 2, 1990 at North Tarrytown, New York.

Return to top of page
Aaron Copland Works
The Cat and the Mouse (Le Chat et la souris), Three Moods (Trois Esquisses)
Petit Portrait
As It Fell Upon a Day
Symphony for organ and orchestra
Grogh, Dance Symphony, Music for the Theater,The House on the Hill
Piano Concerto, Sentimental Melody (Slow Dance)
Symphony # 1
Symphonic Ode, Vitebsk
Piano Variations, A Dance Symphony
Symphony # 2, (Short Symphony)
Statements, Hear Ye! Hear Ye! (Ballet)
1936 El Salon Mexico, The Second Hurricane
Music for Radio
An Outdoor Overture, Billy The Kid (Ballet)
Of Mice and Men (Soundtrack), The City (Soundtrack)
Quiet City, Our Town (Soundtrack)
Piano Sonata
Danzon Cubano, Rodeo (Ballet), A Lincoln Portrait, Fanfare for the Common Man, Music for the Movies
Violin Sonata, North Star (Soundtrack)
Appalachian Spring (Ballet)
The Cummington Story (Soundtrack)
Symphony # 3
In the Beginning, Midsummer Nocturne
Concerto for Clarinet and Strings, The Red Pony (Soundtrack), Four Piano Blues (1926 - 1948)
The Heiress (Soundtrack)
Piano Quartet, Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson
Pied Piper (Ballet)
Old American Songs
The Tender Land, (Opera)
Symphonic Ode, A Canticle of Freedom
Orchestral Variations, Piano Fantasy
Dance Panels (Ballet) revised 1962
Nonet for strings
Something Wild (Soundtrack)
Connotations, Down a Country Lane
Music for a Great City, Emblems for a Symphonic Band
In Evening Air
Inaugural Fanfare
Duo for flute and piano
Three Latin-American Sketches, Threnody I, Night Thoughts, Vocalise
1973 T
hrenody II
Midday Thoughts (Begun 1944), Proclamation (Begun 1973)
Return to top of page
Other events of 1944, the year of Appalachian Spring's composition.
The Razors Edge - Somerset Maugham
Love is Idleness - Terence Rattigan
Forever Amber - Kathleen Winsor
The Glass Menagerie - Tennessee Williams
Caligula - Camus
Gigi - Colette
The Mad Woman of Chaillot - Jean Giraudoux
Four Quartets - T.S. Eliot
Harvey (play opened) - Mary Chase
The Lost Weekend - Charles Jackson
Best Actor Oscar, Bing Crosby - Going My Way
Best Actress Oscar, Ingrid Bergman - Gaslight
The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet debuts
Meet Me In St. Louis released
Died: Piet Mondriaan
Edvard Munch
Glenn Miller disappears
Popular Songs:
Don't Fence me In
Rum and Coca Cola
Swinging on a Star
Sentimental Journey
Accentuate the Positive
Besame Mucho
First non-stop flight, London to Canada
U.S. cost of living rises 30%
Introduction of jet aircraft by R.A.F. and Luftwaffe
D.N.A. proven to be responsible for heredity
Synthetic Quinine developed
The first eye bank established in New York Hospital, N.Y.
Howard Aiken builds sequence controlled calculator(1st computer)
Allies invade Normandy
U.S. defeat Japanese navy in Leyte Gulf, MacArthur "returns" to the Philippines.
Congress passes G.I. Bill of Rights
F.D.R. President
St. Louis Cardinals win World Series.
Return to top of page
Other classical compositions of 1944
Barber - Capricorn Concerto
Bernstein - Fancy Free, On The Town
Bliss - Miracle in the Gorbals (Ballet)
Cage - A Book of Music
Harris - Symphony #6
Hindemith - Herodiade
Khachaturian - Masquerade Suite
Martinu - Symphony #3
Menotti - Sebastian (Ballet)
Milhaud - Suite francaise, Jeux de printemps
Prokofiev - Symphony #5
Tippet - Symphony #1
Villa-Lobos - Bachianas Brasilieras #8
Return to top of page
Selected Bibliography
Copland: 1900 Through 1942 - Aaron Copland & Vivian Perlis St. Martins Press - Marek
Copland Since 1943 - Aaron Copland & Vivian Perlis, St. Martins Press - Marek
Aaron Copland - Arthur Berger, Oxford University Press
The Music of Aaron Copland - Neil Butterworth , Universe Books
Copland and the Dance - Ballet News, November 1980
A History of Musical America - Barbara Zuck, UMI Research Press, New York.
The New Grove Twentieth Century American Masters - Norton & Co.
Go to Evening Air
Go to Angels in the Architecture
Return to BalletNotes Home Page