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by Jennifer DeLapp

Copland for Chorus
Aaron Copland's music for chorus reveals his stylistic range, from accessible to challenging, simple to grand, from student works to his mature style. Copland's Four Motets (1921) were his first compositions for chorus, and the first compositions he wrote for the late Nadia Boulanger, the now-famous French pedagogue. Predating Copland's conscious turn to Americanism, these works bear the influence of European composers like Mussorsgsky, Messiaen, and Stravinsky. Copland once said the Motet's style was "not yet very personal." But, for today's listeners, the settings of these Biblical texts are progressive and fresh.

In the following years, Copland produced little choral music. But in 1947, he completed In the Beginning, a through-composed work that sets 38 verses from the Book of Genesis. This challenging piece is packed with subtle musical devices that depict the actions in the Creation story.

Copland's only full-length opera, The Tender Land (1952-1954), tells the story of a young girl, Laurie Moss, who grows up on a Midwestern farm and is about to leave home. Two numbers from this opera have become choral favorites. In "The Promise of Living," at the close of the first act, three generations of the Moss family and their hired hands sing a hymn of gratitude for life, the land, and the spring harvest. "Stomp Your Foot" is a rousing square dance number sung by the entire cast at Laurie's high school graduation party.

In 1955, Copland wrote the 13-minute Canticle of Freedom for the dedication of Kresge Auditorium at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The text, by 14th century Scottish poet John Barbour, extols the virtues of freedom. The chorus enters after the halfway point in the work, after an extensive orchestral introduction. The main melodic motive begins with a descending major third in a "Scotch-snap" rhythm; this appears at various times in the brass, strings, and woodwinds, and prominently in the choral entrance on the word "freedom." The predominance of bare, open fifths in the harmony lends an appropriately strong, raw feeling to the unembellished bluntness of the medieval text.

Copland and Koussevitsky
Aaron Copland first met conductor Serge Koussevitzky (1874-1951) in 1923 in Paris, as introduced by Nadia Boulanger, the famed composer's pedagogue. About to move to the United States to assume a post with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Koussevitzky requested that the then-unknown Copland write a symphonic work for Nadia Boulanger, an organist as well, to perform with the Boston Symphony. It was a challenge for Copland, but it paid off. The modernist Symphony for Organ and Orchestra shocked conservative audiences in Boston and New York, but succeeded in bringing Copland and his talent to national attention as a significant American symphonist.

In 1927, Copland was piano soloist for the premiere of his own Piano Concerto with the Boston Symphony under Koussevitzky. Koussevitzky remained Copland's greatest champion until his death in 1951, recording and performing numerous Copland works with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. During the summers at Tanglewood in the 1940s, Copland's relationship with Koussevitzky matured, as noted by musicologist Vivian Perlis.

In 1944, the Koussevitzky Foundation commissioned another symphony from Copland. At this point in his career, his style was fully developed and reputation strong. Copland wrote the 40-minute Symphony No. 3 with Koussevitzky in mind. "I knew exactly the kind of music he enjoyed conducting and the sentiments he brought to it, and I knew the sound of his orchestra, so I had every reason to write a symphony in the grand manner," Copland wrote in his autobiography. The work's final movement prominently features Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man. Since its premiere, specialist and general audiences have hailed this work as a monumental statement that combines Copland's esoteric and popular musical languages.

Copland and Bernstein
Leonard Bernstein first met Aaron Copland at a concert on Copland's 37th birthday. At a private party afterward, the 19-year-old Harvard junior played Copland's Piano Variations from memory, with Copland in the room. From that event and throughout their lives -- they died within months of each other in 1990 -- Bernstein championed Copland's music and Copland encouraged Bernstein's career. 18 years younger than Copland, Bernstein looked to Copland as a mentor. As a result of studying with him at Tanglewood, much of Bernstein's music reveals the influence of Copland's musical voice. On the whole, however, Copland encouraged Bernstein's conducting more than his composing.

Bernstein was a great champion and promoter of Copland's music. The two often performed together: Copland was a guest performer on Bernstein's Young People's Concerts, and in 1942 the two men premiered Copland's Danzon Cubano for two pianos. After 1950, Bernstein's affinity for Copland's new compositions declined, but he continued to perform and record the earlier works. After Bernstein became conductor of the New York Philharmonic in 1958, he recorded much of Copland's music for Columbia records. One such recording, now rare, was Lincoln Portrait, with William Warfield as narrator.

Lincoln Portrait was commissioned by Andre Kostelanetz for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in early 1942. Copland initially chose Walt Whitman as his subject, but picked Lincoln instead when Kostelanetz suggested a historical government figure. For the narration, which occurs only in the Portrait's third and final section, Copland used Lincoln's words, adding his own brief descriptions of the former president. Characteristic of Copland's populist and patriotic music, Lincoln Portrait quotes traditional popular tunes: "Springfield Mountain" and Stephen Foster's "Camptown Races."

A Copland Bouquet
Aaron Copland's influence on other composers was far-reaching. From his early days in New York as a struggling young composer, he promoted his fellow composers's music. As his career blossomed, he founded or actively participated in many important musical organizations that supported new music. He regularly wrote about his fellow composers for specialized periodicals and the popular press, and taught generations of young composers at Tanglewood.

Four years Copland's senior, Virgil Thomson often claimed Copland's turn to musical simplicity was inspired by Thomson's own work. Thomson composed 140 musical portraits, each in one or two sittings with the subject present. Dating from the 1940s, Thomson's portrait of Copland, Persistently Pastoral, was never published. Its gentle, ambling lines contain numerous Coplandesque gestures: broken ascending triads, echoes of square dance rhythms, and parallel harmonies, within a contrapuntal, neo-Baroque texture.

Steven Dankner (b.1944) composed the Nocturne, for Aaron Copland in 1980. Pianist Claudia Stevens described the work as not a Chopin-style nocturne, but brooding, jungle-like, and lugubrious. Although the Nocturne is just over 10 minutes long, it recalls Copland's Piano Fantasy in several respects: its thick, dark chords, luminescent, non-cadential, trills, exploitation of the piano's extreme registers, and seamless, rhapsodic changes in tempo, dynamics, and mood. Near the end of the work, he quotes the opening four notes of Copland's Piano Variations.

Sheila Silver (b. 1946) based her Fantasy Quasi Theme and Variations on the Piano Variations's opening four-note cell: two interlocking minor thirds. The piece contains numerous references to Copland's pianistic style, including trills, light syncopation, and metrical shifts. Richard Bales (1915-1998) composed Aaronesque in 1980. Bales built this short work around the motive A-A-C-C, derived from Copland's initials.

David Diamond and Leonard Bernstein were Copland's friends and professional associates for many years. Diamond and Copland met in 1935; at his recommendation, Diamond studied with Copland's former teacher, Nadia Boulanger. In recognition of their friendship, Diamond dedicated a number of works to Copland, including his Eighth Symphony. A Roust is short and under a minute in length; the lively A-C motive appears and re-appears with a vengeance. Its title and character may suggest the two composers's relationship -- the customarily restrained Copland sometimes had strong words for the emotionally volatile younger composer. Bernstein's For Aaron Copland is one of a set of Seven Anniversaries (1943-44). (Bernstein wrote an "anniversary" for David Diamond in 1948.)

A single, 30-minute movement, Copland's Piano Fantasy is among his most abstract works. Its textures are thicker and melodic lines more chromatic than Copland's familiar works, which creates the effect of a slow journey through dark, complex emotions. Composer William Schuman, then-president of The Juilliard School, asked for a work for the school's 50th anniversary, coming up in 1954. Copland began a choral cantata on a Walt Whitman text. But he decided instead to develop sketches he had begun for pianist William Kapell, who died suddenly in a plane crash while Copland worked on the Juilliard commission. In part because of the work's scope and complexity, Copland missed the initial deadline, and the work was not premiered until 1957.

Copland for Winds
[Note: If you missed our live broadcast of the U.S. Coast Guard's Copland concert, feel free to
take a listen to it now.]
In 1949, the National Broadcasting Corporation commissioned a short work from Copland to commemorate the first anniversary of the United Nations's Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Preamble for a Solemn Occasion was originally scored for orchestra; not until 1974 did the composer transcribe it for band. The text of the United Nations declaration is recited by a narrator near the end of this four-minute work. 20 years after the NBC commission, the Metropolitan Museum of Art requested a celebratory piece for its 100th anniversary. Copland wrote the four-minute Ceremonial Fanfare, scoring it for 11 brass parts without percussion.

Copland wrote Emblems for band in 1964, in response to another commission, this by Keith Wilson, president of the College Band Directors National Association. Emblems, an 11-minute, one-movement work is a sampler of Copland's varied output: simple triadic passages, polytonality, folk melodies, dissonance, waltzes, polymeters, and elements of jazz all appear. The work's initial reception was lukewarm, in part due to its technical challenges, but as Copland's only work for band it won a secure place in the repertoire. Of the work's cryptic title, Copland said only that it was meant "to suggest musical states of being ... the exact nature of which must be determined by the listener."

In 1942, choreographer Martha Graham and arts patron Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge commissioned Copland to write a ballet score with an American theme. The content of Graham's script changed many times, but always centered around figures emblematic of the American tradition: Puritans, a preacher, matriarch, pioneer, citizen, abolitionist; and activities like homesteading, revival meetings, courtship, childbirth, celebrations, weddings, and war. The Shaker tune "Simple Gifts," written by Joseph Brackett in 1848, fits well with Graham's image of unity, simplicity, and American rural life. Copland presents a series of variations on this Shaker tune at the climax of the ballet. Now delicate, dancelike, broad, and majestic, this section is often performed separately as "Variations on a Shaker Tune" in Copland's own arrangement for orchestra (1967) or band (1958).

Appalachian Spring was originally scored for 13 instruments. Soon after the premiere, Copland cut about 10 minutes of music and created a suite for full orchestra. It has been frequently recorded in this guise and is hence widely known as a quintessential representative of American musical nationalism.

The Suite from the Red Pony derives from Copland's score to the 1948 Hollywood film about a boy and his horse on a California ranch. In 1966, Copland transcribed selections from his 1948 orchestral Red Pony Suite for band. The first two movements -- "Dream March" and "Circus Music" -- depict the boy imagining his pony leading knights into battle, and then performing under the bigtop. "Walk to the Bunkhouse" portrays the cowhand the boy idolized, while "Grandfather's Story" accompanies the old man's tales of his days as a pioneer. The band suite closes with the movie's opening music, originally titled "Morning on the Ranch," reworked into "Happy Ending."

The Aaron Copland Centennial Concert
Copland composed the short piano work The Cat and the Mouse in 1920, behind the back of his fairly traditional composition teacher Rubin Goldmark. When he arrived in Paris, he was delighted to find that Durand & Co. wanted to publish this charming programmatic work. Subtitled "Scherzo Humoristique," the work contains more than a trace of Stravinsky's influence, as well as many rapid ascents and descents, pouncing chords, and a brief funeral dirge.

The Three Latin-American Sketches, for small orchestra, were first performed as a set in 1972. The first, "Estribillo," Copland composed last, for Andre Kostelanetz, who premiered the set with the New York Philharmonic. He had written the second and third movements in 1959, at Gian Carlo Menotti's. The movements all use traditional Latin American tunes. Much as he did with El Salon Mexico, Copland adds metrical interest and dissonance, reworking and developing the pre-existing material.

Midday Thoughts (1982) for piano reworks music from the Cummington Story that had also been used for the 1966 piano piece In Evening Air. Its simplicity and open-fifth harmonizations recall the pastoral mood of some of Copland's populist works.

In 1942, choreographer Martha Graham and arts patron Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge commissioned Copland to write a ballet score with an American theme. The content of Graham's script changed many times, but always centered around figures emblematic of the American tradition: Puritans, a preacher, matriarch, pioneer, citizen, abolitionist; and activities like homesteading, revival meetings, courtship, childbirth, celebrations, weddings, and war.

The Shaker tune "Simple Gifts," written by Joseph Brackett in 1848, fits well with Graham's images of unity, simplicity and American rural life. Copland presents a series of variations on this Shaker tune at the climax of the ballet. Now delicate, dancelike, broad, and majestic, this section is often performed separately as "Variations on a Shaker Tune" in Copland's own arrangement for orchestra (1967) or band (1958).

Appalachian Spring was originally scored for 13 instruments. Soon after the premiere, Copland cut about 10 minutes of music and created a suite for full orchestra. It has been frequently recorded in this guise and hence is widely known as a quintessential representative of American musical nationalism.

The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra Tribute
In 1942, choreographer Martha Graham and arts patron Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge commissioned Copland to write a ballet score with an American theme. The content of Graham's script changed many times, but always centered around figures emblematic of the American tradition: Puritans, a preacher, matriarch, pioneer, citizen, abolitionist; and activities like homesteading, revival meetings, courtship, childbirth, celebrations, weddings, and war.

The Shaker tune "Simple Gifts," written by Joseph Brackett in 1848, fits well with Graham's image of unity, simplicity and American rural life. Copland presents a series of variations on this Shaker tune at the climax of the ballet. Now delicate, dancelike, broad, and majestic, this section is often performed separately as "Variations on a Shaker Tune" in Copland's own arrangement for orchestra (1967) or band (1958).

Appalachian Spring was originally scored for thirteen instruments. Soon after the premiere, Copland cut about ten minutes of music and created a suite for full orchestra. In this guise it was frequently recorded and became widely known as a quintessential representative of American musical nationalism.

Lincoln Portrait was commissioned by Andre Kostelanetz for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in early 1942. Copland initially chose Walt Whitman as his subject, but picked Lincoln instead when Kostelanetz suggested a historical government figure. For the narration, which occurs only in the Portrait's third and final section, Copland used Lincoln's words, adding his own brief descriptions of the former president. Characteristic of Copland's populist and patriotic music, Lincoln Portrait quotes traditional popular tunes: "Springfield Mountain" and Stephen Foster's "Camptown Races."

In 1944, the Koussevitzky Foundation commissioned another symphony from Copland. At this point in his career, his style was fully developed and reputation strong. Copland wrote the forty-minute Symphony No. 3 with Koussevitzky in mind. "I knew exactly the kind of music he enjoyed conducting and the sentiments he brought to it, and I knew the sound of his orchestra, so I had every reason to write a symphony in the grand manner," Copland wrote in his autobiography. The work's final movement prominently features Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man. Since its premiere, specialist and general audiences have hailed this work as a monumental statement that combines Copland's esoteric and popular musical languages.

Patriotic Copland
Around the time of the Great Depression, Copland, like many artists and intellectuals, became concerned with the "common man," the lower-to-middle-class American citizen. He and others, like James Agee and Walker Evans, the authors of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, wanted to depict the nobility that comes from everyday perseverance in the face of hardship. To speak to, and for, a broader audience, Copland used more conventional harmonies and less dissonance in his musical language. Often, he quoted folk tunes.

When the United States entered World War II in 1941, writing optimistic, encouraging music for the American public became a way Copland could serve his country. His 1945 score, the Office of War Information's documentary, The Cummington Story was such a contribution. Andre Kostelanetz's commission of Copland's Lincoln Portrait was another. Some have criticized Copland's patriotic works as simplistic and insincere, but a close examination of this music reveals structural integrity and imagination only Copland could muster. Copland's patriotic, "common-man" music does not necessitate study for appreciation: it has an immediate appeal and makes a direct, dramatic impact.

Its gestures are accessible, broad, and bold, meant to inspire a wide public to patriotic sentiments. Fanfare for the Common Man, one of a series of fanfares requested from eighteen American composers, was commissioned and premiered by Eugene Goosens, then conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony. It was 1942, and with war in mind, Copland considered many titles, including "Fanfare for the Day of Victory," "Fanfare for our Heroes," as well as more generally patriotic titles like "Fanfare for a Solemn Ceremony" and the overly alliterative "Fanfare for Four Freedoms." Copland later used this fanfare as the basis for his Symphony No. 3.

The piece is scored for brass and percussion only: four horns, three trumpets, two trombones, tuba with timpani, bass drum, and tam-tam. It opens with a startling tam-tam crash, extended by two pounding strokes of the timpani and bass drum. That gesture twice repeated, the slightly unpredictable pauses between them create incomparable suspense. The first melodic motive is a regal, ascending, unison-trumpet flourish leaping up to a long, clear tone. The second motive is composed of four evenly spaced notes that descend majestically by leaps. The flourishes, the majestic descent, and the percussion's pounding motive alternate and recur throughout the fanfare, changing, lengthening gradually to a climatic finish.

Classic Copland
In the 1930s, Copland began to question the purpose of his modernist aesthetic. As he wrote in 1941, "During the mid-30s, I began to feel an increasing dissatisfaction with the relations of the music-loving public and the living composer ... It seemed to me that we composers were in danger of working in a vacuum. Moreover, an entirely new public for music had grown up around the radio and phonograph. It made no sense to ignore them and to continue writing as if they did not exist. I felt that it was worth the effort to see if I couldn't say what I had to say in the simplest possible terms."

El Salon Mexico is one of the first works in Copland's so-called populist style. Traveling in Mexico, Copland visited a dance hall of the same name. Impressed by the spirit and character of the its common patronage, he composed a 10-minute work that contains fragments of more than nine different Mexican tunes from two separately published collections. Though Copland once called the work an "exotic travel souvenir," the manner in which the Latin American rhythms and distinctive timbres conjoin to form a highly individual, exuberant synthesis points to the work of a master composer.

In 1942, choreographer Martha Graham and arts patron Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge commissioned Copland to write a ballet score with an American theme. The content of Graham's script changed many times, but always centered around figures emblematic of the American tradition: Puritans, a preacher, matriarch, pioneer, citizen, abolitionist; and activities like homesteading, revival meetings, courtship, childbirth, celebrations, weddings, and war. The Shaker tune "Simple Gifts," written by Joseph Brackett in 1848, fits well with Graham's image of unity, simplicity and American rural life. Copland presents a series of variations on this Shaker tune at the climax of the ballet. Now delicate, dancelike, broad, and majestic, this section is often performed separately as "Variations on a Shaker Tune" in Copland's own arrangement for orchestra (1967) or band (1958).

Appalachian Spring was originally scored for 13 instruments. Soon after the premiere, Copland cut about 10 minutes of music and created a suite for full orchestra. It has been frequently recorded in this giuse and is hence widely known as a quintessential representative of American musical nationalism.

By 1950, when Copland set his first collection of Old American Songs, the golden age of musical populism and American nationalism was past. The Cold War was in full swing, creating an atmosphere Copland said was stifling to the creative artist. In arranging two sets of 19th century American songs for solo voice, Copland may have been longing for a simpler past. Consisting of 10 songs grouped into two sets (Copland completed the second in 1952), the Old American Songs present images from American history: the minstrel stage, politics, children, and religion. Originally written for voice and piano, the songs are also available in versions for solo voice and orchestra, and many are arranged for chorus with piano or orchestra.

Young Copland
Contrary to the popular image of Copland on America's vast prairies, the young Copland was urban, cosmopolitan, and concerned with impressing musical cognoscenti. Later in life, he recalled the excitement of "bucking the trends" as part of the daring 1920s avant-garde. In his early works, Copland did not yet attain his trademark style; European influences are obvious. The works are well crafted and imaginative, however, and reveal Copland's characteristic instinct for compelling drama.

The Symphony No. 1 began life as the Symphony for Organ and Orchestra in 1924. In 1928 he re-scored the work to omit the organ part and provide additional performance options. Stravinsky's music, especially the Rite of Spring, loomed especially large in Copland's imagination while composing this work. After a mysterious introduction, wild, polytonal bird-call-like figures occur above primitive woodwind ostinatos which build to forceful, dissonant chords. The symphony closes with a macabre march that gradually approaches a manic state.

When Copland returned to New York after his student years in Paris, he was determined to compose American music. In the five-movement Music for the Theater, Copland turned to jazz elements in a conscious attempt at an American sound. Syncopation and blue notes -- more reminiscent of popular dance tunes than of authentic jazz -- are re-interpreted in a modernist context using unconventional harmonies and mixed meter.

Copland wrote the score to the ballet Hear Ye! Hear Ye! in 1934 for Ruth Page, a well-known choreographer in Chicago, for a fee of $250. The plot parodies the court system. After a short overture, the judge's gavel strikes three times, revealing a stage filled with a jury, attorneys, and an on-looking crowd. The case against a nightclub dancer provides the excuse for a parade of entertaining witnesses and high-spirited music. Ultimately, the defendant is judged guilty and the ballet suite closes with gavel strokes.

Copland in the City, Copland in the Country
Copland was a city boy, born and raised in Brooklyn. His desire to speak for a larger America led him to compose music that convincingly portrayed settings outside his own experiences; the regional settings of Copland's depictions include both city and country.

An Outdoor Overture dates from 1938, when Copland was hard at work on Billy the Kid. This was functional music, meant to interest and inspire the budding high-school musicians of America. The nine-minute work accomplished this goal so well that the Outdoor Overture is among Copland's most popular pieces. In 1942, he arranged it for symphonic band.

Quiet City (1940) was originally intended as incidental music to a short-running play by Irwin Shaw. The play told the story of two brothers, one of whom rejected his heritage in an effort to conform to the business world, while the other maintained an unconventional, artistic, socially conscious lifestyle. In the score, the prominent trumpet part embodies one of the brothers wandering about the city at night, imagining the thoughts of the people around him.

In 1945, the Office of War Information hired Copland to compose the music for The Cummington Story, a documentary/propaganda film depicting the successful assimilation of Eastern European refugees into a small New England town. Set in New England as well, Our Town also depicts a rural village, for the 1940 film adaptation of Thornton Wilder's play. Copland created a suite from the Our Town film score in 1940; Bernstein premiered it in 1944 with the Boston Pops orchestra.

Copland for Dancers
"Copland ballets" most often call to mind Billy the Kid (1938), written for Lincoln Kirstein, Rodeo (1942), for Agnes de Mille, and Appalachian Spring (1944), a collaboration with Martha Graham. The 20-minute Dance Symphony of 1929 draws its music from Copland's very first dance composition, a never-performed work titled Grohg (1922-25). With a scenario by Copland's friend Harold Clurman, Grohg is based on a German silent horror film the young men saw in Europe. The title character is a sorcerer who looks for affection among the dead. The music for the symphony's first two movements depicts corpses emerging from their coffins to dance, half asleep, with the sorcerer. When they awake, they recoil in disgust. In the music of the third movement, the dancers mock the awkward and pathetic Grohg.

Jerome Robbins commissioned Dance Panels in 1959. The last ballet Copland wrote, Dance Panels is also Copland's only ballet without a story line. The work's seven movements are composed after specific waltzes that Robbins suggested. Though some sections are quite dissonant, on the whole, the work is lush and somewhat romantic, using the thick chords common to Copland's late style. Upon hearing the work, Robbins decided not to choreograph it. Instead, he created a work danced in silence, based on the meters of Copland's piece. The U.S. premiere occurred six years later, choreographed by John Taras of the New York City Ballet.

"Hoedown" from Rodeo is a dance within a dance. Here, Copland quite literally quotes dance tunes from the 19th century Anglo-American square dance tradition. After a rhythmic introduction that evokes the open-fifth tuning of fiddles, "Bonaparte's Retreat," "McLeod's Reel," and other tunes follow in close succession -- always in a strict tempo and regular meter. The "Hoedown" exists in many versions, one made famous by a television commercial for beef.

Many of Copland's works not specifically written for the stage have inspired choreographers. Martha Graham's Dithyrambic (1931) uses Copland's 1930 Piano Variations, while Music for the Theatre (1925) was set by at least six choreographers. In 1951, Jerome Robbins created The Pied Piper to Copland's Clarinet Concerto, and Eliot Feld's 1978 Danzon Cubano remained in his company's repertoire for many years.

Jennifer DeLapp is Assistant Professor of Music, Musicology/Ethnomusicology Division, at the University of Maryland, College Park. Titled "Copland in the Fifties: Music and Ideology in the McCarthy Era," her dissertation won the 1997 Society for American Music Dissertation Prize. She has spoken at numerous national conventions and is writing a book on Copland with support from the University of Maryland and the National Endowment for the Humanities.




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