Research Paper: Aaron Copland

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Aaron Copland (1900-1990) was an American composer, teacher of composition, writer, and conductor who had an extremely varied career and became one of the most influential American composers of the 20th century. His use of texture, theme, and tonal settings are such that his works seem uniquely American, giving him the title of the "Dean of American Composers" (Pollack). Copland wrote for the ballet, movies, the theater, the symphony, numerous concerti for various instruments, and opera and chamber music. During his productive career between 1925 and the 1970s, he composed such audience favorites as: Billy the Kid, Rodeo, Fanfare for the Common Man, and Appalacian Spring, Much of his output had jazz influence, some had serial techniques, but most agree that his use of open tones and themes give the music a sense of the American spirit and frontier, making Copland one of the most patriotic of all modern American composers in the minds of most audiences (Copland).

Biography

Aaron Copland was born November 14, 1900 in New York City. His parents were Jewish immigrants, his father from Lithuania and his mother moved to New York in 1881. To fit in better with the community in New York, Aaron's father changed their name "Kaplan" to a more Anglicized version of "Copland." Throughout Aaron's youth, he and his family lived above the family Department Store, "H.M. Copland's." Aaron described it as a bit of a neighborhood Macys in which he and his brothers and sisters helped out at the store. Aaron also credits this time as important in learning about business, which would serve him well during his long music career. Aaron was not athletic, and preferred reading to outdoor activities (Smith, 1953, 14-18).

Aaron's father had no interest in music, but his mother ensured the children had musical training. It was his sister Laurine that introduced Aaron to jazz, ragtime, opera and gave him his first piano lessons. By the time he was 11, he already had an idea for an opera, which was his first recorded melody. From age 13-17 he took music lessons from a classical pianist in New York. Aaron hear the famous composer-pianist Paderewski when he was 15 and promptly decided to become a composer. Copland studied with Rubin Goldmark, at the time a noted teacher and composer of specifically American music. Goldmark insisted on a solid foundation of the classics and classical technique, but preferred classical style to the new experimentation in composition. Aaron later comments that studying with Goldmark "was a stroke of luck for me. I was spared the floudering that so many musicians have suffered through incompetent teaching… however, [Goldmark] had little sympathy for the advanced music of the day" and his approved composers ended with Richard Strauss (Pollack, 35-6). Goldmark also encouraged Aaron to attend as many concerts as possible, to become familiar with the standard repetoire and to develop a more critical sense music analysis, and from age 17-21 he composed a number of short piano pieces and songs.

Aaron's father wanted him to go to college in New York, but his friend Aaron Schaffer's letters from Paris and his mother's support allowed him to move and study at the Fontainebleau School of Music, found it too much like Goldmark, and interviewed to study with Nadia Boulanger, very much in demand at the time. Initially Copland planned on only a year in Paris, but eneded up staying for three. Copland noted, "This intellectual Amazon is not only professor at the Conservatoire, is not only familiar with all music from Bach to Stravinsky, but is prepared for anything worse in the way of dissonance. But make no mistake...A more charming womanly woman never lived" (Pollack, 47).

Paris in the 1920s was a haven for artists of all kinds; many became friends or acquaintances with Copland, most of whom influenced his compositions. Some of the active voices of the time were Hemingway, Sinclair Lewis, Gertrude Stine, Ezra Pound, Picasso, Chagall, Modigliani, Proust, and Sartre. However, Copland took a different track than the so-called Lost Generation of expatriates. Instead of brooding about the war and the failure of humanity, Copland returned to America in 1925 quite optimistic about the future (Pollack, 55).

For the next 25 years, Copland dedicated himself to composition full time. He rented an apartment on New York City's Upper West Side, received two Guggenheim Fellowships, appointments, teaching, and loans for the next few decades. Copland also became part of the artistic circle of Alfred Stieglitz which included many of the leading artists of the time. This was seminal for Copland, because Stieglitz believed that the American artist and product should reflect the spirit of America and the ideals of American Democracy. Performers like Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong, and composer/pianist George Gershwin led the infusion of jazz into music. Copland established a Young Composer's Group to try to accentuate this style which eventually included Roger Sessions, Roy Harris, Virgil Thompson and Walter Piston (Pollack, 164-5l; Copland, 177-78). This was quite important because it not only allowed Copland to mentor, but was a vehicle to bring new sounds and musical styles to the American public.

During these years, Copland also travelled to Europe, Africa, and Mexico, forming friendships with young composers globally. He completed one of his first signature works, El Salon Mexico in 1936 after a trip to Mexico in 1932. Copland had been in a musical and intellectual conundrum since he returned to America. He was composing full-time, was tutoring and mentoring, but his compositions lacked wide-appeal and were more for an intellectual audience than what Copland felt was necessary to produce true American style. El Salon Mexico was his musical portrait of the Southwest, but Copland also began to work in the radio and theater industry. In 1939, Copland completed the film scores for of Mice and Men and Our Town, and the ballet Billy the Kid. The overall timing of these pieces was fortuitous; Copland was now in a position to have income, but more than that, to fill a need for American composers for American choreographers and orchestral commissions. Copland also began publishing some of his writings, the most notable "What to Listen for in Music," as well as taking a leading role in the mission of the American Composers Alliance "to regularize and collect all fees pertaining to performance of their copyrighted music and to stimulate interest in the performance of American music"(Pollack, 91; Murchison).

The 1940s were Coplad's most productive and lucrative, establishing him as a prominent American composer and lecturer, as well as a teacher and mentor. During this time he composed Rodeo, Appalachian Spring, Fanfare for the Common Man, a Lincoln Portrait, Third Symphony, Clarinet Concerto, and two film scores the Heiress and the Red Pony. Copland affirmed his relationship with counductor Serge Koussevitzky, won an Academy Award for the Heiress, and introduced new rhythm and tonality to a broad range of America audiences (Smith, pp. 200-202). In 1949, Copland returned to Europe to meet and collaborate with a number of post-War musicians; Pierre Boulez in France, and members of the 12-tone school, Schoenberg, Webern and Berg. Ironically, despite Copland's passion for many things French, he felt that French composers were straying too far from classical principles and not celebrating their heritage or tradition (Pollack, 462-5; Copland).

In the 1950s, Copland was called before Congress to defend himself against being a Communist. Cleared of all charges, he continued to travel and each, even going to Japan. In 1954, he received a comission from Rodgers and Hammerstein to create music for the opera the Tender Land. Copland had not completed an opera, largely due to the complexities of including production value and weak liberetti into an art form that may not reflect the times. However, while the opera is not part of the standard repetoire in performances, it is one of the few American operas regularly performed worldwide. During the 1950s and 1960s Copland alwo includencd a number of American musiticans, Michael Tilson Thomas, John Cage, and most notably Leonard Bernstein who went on to champion many of Copland's works to a global audience. Bernstein later said that Copland's kindness, simplicity and aesthetic were some of the strongest influences in his early compositional career (Lazo).

From the 1960s on, Copland moved to conducting and teaching. He completed a series of recordings of his music and once said that it was amazing that all of a sudden he had no real new ideas for compositions, "it was exactly as if someone had simply turned off a faucet" (Pollack, 516). He lived in a historical New York Area, Cortlandt Manor New York, from 1960 to his death in 1990 from Alzheimer's and respiratory failure. Copland left behind an American tradition of composition that literally changed the way American music was performed and perceived. Many of his students went on to international careers in composition and conducting: Leonard Bernstein, Samuel Adler, Elmer Bernstein, Alberto Ginastera, and Michael Tilson-Thomas. He received the 1964 Presidential Medal of… [END OF PREVIEW]

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