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Category Archives: Copland-Aaron

Aaron Copland (1900-1990) is one of the titans of American art music.  A native New Yorker, he went to France at age 21 and became the first American to study with the legendary Nadia Boulanger.  His Organ Symphony, written for Boulanger, provided his breakthrough into composition stardom.  After experimenting with many different styles, he became best known for his idiomatic treatment of Americana, leaving behind such chestnuts as The Tender Land (1954), Billy The Kid (1938), and Appalachian Spring (1944).  This last piece won Copland the Pulitzer Prize in Music in 1945.  He was also an acclaimed conductor and writer.

Rodeo was originally a ballet choreographed by Agnes DeMille and scored by Copland in 1942 for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.  It premiered that year at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City with DeMille in the title role to great acclaim.  Copland converted the music into an orchestral suite, Four Dance Episodes from Rodeo, which was premiered by the Boston Pops in 1943.  This version, whose chief difference from the ballet music was the removal of one movement and the trimming of other sections, became one of Copland’s most popular and enduring works.  This is especially true of the first movement, Buckaroo Holiday, and the last, Hoedown.  Both of these have been arranged for band.

First, a snippet of the original ballet as performed by the American Ballet Theatre in 1973.  This clip includes an interview with Agnes DeMille and most of the opening Buckaroo Holiday scene:

Sadly, there is no good version of Buckaroo Holiday as arranged for band (very capably by Kenneth Megan) on the internet.  This adds to the heap of evidence that it is actually very difficult to play any of Copland’s music, despite the ease and accessibility of his sound.  I hope to be able to add a video of Columbia Summer Winds playing this movement once I conduct my two performances with them this July.

Here is Hoedown in its original version, in a zippy live performance:

Conductors, DO NOT hold your baton like that guy – his grip leaves him zero wrist flexibility!

Here is a good (if primitively recorded) rendition of Mark Rogers’s band transcription:

Of course, you can’t talk about Hoedown without mentioning the ad campaign that introduced those of us of a certain age to the piece in the early 1990s:

Finally, the completionists out there will enjoy both this full recording of the complete Four Dance Episodes:

Copland has a huge presence on the internet, thus this site will feature only the main portals into his work.  Please click far beyond the sites listed here for a complete idea of Copland’s footprint on the web.

Fanfare for Aaron Copland – a blog with information on the composer, extraordinarily useful links, and some downloadable versions of old LP recordings.  This is the place to explore the several links beyond the main site.

Aaron Copland Wikipedia Biography.

Quotes from Aaron Copland on Wikiquote.

New York Times archive of Copland-related material. Includes reviews of his music and books as well as several fascinating articles that he wrote.

Copland Centennial (from 2000) on NPR.

Aaron Copland (1900-1990) is one of the titans of American art music.  A native New Yorker, he went to France at age 21 and became the first American to study with the legendary Nadia Boulanger.  His Organ Symphony, written for Boulanger, provided his breakthrough into composition stardom.  After experimenting with many different styles, he became best known for his idiomatic treatment of Americana, leaving behind such chestnuts as The Tender Land (1954), Billy The Kid (1938), and Appalachian Spring (1944).  This last piece won Copland the Pulitzer Prize in Music in 1945.  He was also an acclaimed conductor and writer.

The Promise of Living comes from The Tender Land.  It was transcribed for band by Kenneth Singleton, who provides this program note in the score:

Aaron Copland’s only full-length opera (the 90-minute Second Hurricane of 1937 was written for student performance), The Tender Land was begun in 1952 and completed in 1954, with a libretto by Erik Johns (using the pen name Horace Everett).  Although containing some of Copland’s most lyrical and heart-felt music, the opera took time to establish its place in the repertoire.  In 1958 Copland extracted a three-movement orchestral suite, using music from the introduction to Act II and the love duet, the square dance from Act II, and the vocal quintet from the end of Act I.  The composer conducted the first performance of the suite in April, 1959 with Boston Symphony Orchestra, and he later recalled: “the reviews were far better than they had been for the opera.”

The final movement of the suite, The Promise of Living, is based largely on the folk song “Zion’s Walls (the first full appearance is after letter G – in 9/8 time) and epitomizes Copland at his most lyrical and direct.  The entire movement is cast in F major, with no chromatically altered pitches.

Mallory Thompson conducts the Northwestern University Symphonic Wind Ensemble in The Promise of Living.  Alas, the video doesn’t allow embedding, so you’ll have to settle for a link.  Very much worth a click!

promise-living-%E2%80%93-aaron-copland-symphonic-wind-ensemble

Here is the version from the orchestral suite set to a bunch of old movies.  It is, indeed, appropriate nostalgia music:

John Williams arranged The Promise of Living for chorus and orchestra:

Finally, here is a semi-staged presentation of The Promise of Living in its original operatic setting:

Bonus: a choral version of Zion’s Walls, the folk song Copland uses in The Promise of Living.

To see more about The Promise of Living and The Tender Land, check out the LA Phil and US Opera.

Copland has a huge presence on the internet, thus this site will feature only the main portals into his work.  Please click far beyond the sites listed here for a complete idea of Copland’s footprint on the web.

Fanfare for Aaron Copland – a blog with information on the composer, extraordinarily useful links, and some downloadable versions of old LP recordings.  This is the place to explore the several links beyond the main site.

Aaron Copland Wikipedia Biography.

Quotes from Aaron Copland on Wikiquote.

New York Times archive of Copland-related material. Includes reviews of his music and books as well as several fascinating articles that he wrote.

Copland Centennial (from 2000) on NPR.

As I’m going through my score collection and writing about every piece that I haven’t yet, it just so happens that Copland’s A Lincoln Portrait comes right on the heels of the party conventions in the 2012 election.  This seems like as good a time as any to pay some attention to one of America’s greatest orators and most revered presidents.

Aaron Copland (1900-1990) is one of the titans of American art music.  A native New Yorker, he went to France at age 21 and became the first American to study with the legendary Nadia Boulanger.  His Organ Symphony, written for Boulanger, provided his breakthrough into composition stardom.  After experimenting with many different styles, he became best known for his idiomatic treatment of Americana, leaving behind such chestnuts as The Tender Land (1954), Billy The Kid (1938), and Appalachian Spring (1944).  This last piece won Copland the Pulitzer Prize in Music in 1945.  He was also an acclaimed conductor and writer.

Copland wrote A Lincoln Portrait in 1942 on a commission from the conductor Andre Kostelanetz.  The attack on Pearl Harbor was fresh, having taken place on December 7, 1941.  The United States was mobilizing for entry into World War II.  Kostelanetz was looking for orchestral music that would celebrate the spirit of the American people (morale-boosting propaganda music, in other words).  Copland was among three composers (the others were Jerome Kern and Virgil Thomson) that Kostelanetz commissioned to create orchestral portraits of famous Americans.  Copland’s first choice was Walt Whitman, but since Kern had already chosen Mark Twain as his subject, Kostelanetz encouraged Copland to select a politician.  Lincoln seemed a natural choice, and given his powerful oratory relating to war and freedom, Copland chose to include a narration with the piece.  The piece begins with a solemn instrumental introduction based on the folk song “Springfield Mountain”.  A much brighter section portrays Lincoln’s exuberant youth, set to the tune of Stephen Foster’s “Camptown Races”.  The “Springfield Mountain” theme gradually returns, calming the mood of the piece. Finally, at the 7 minute mark, the narrator enters, and the orchestra takes on an accompanying role.  The text is cobbled together from several writings and speeches of Lincoln’s, including his famous Gettysburg Address, and connected by original text that Copland wrote as commentary for the narrator.  Together, narrator and orchestra proceed through moods that are at times dark, challenging, pensive, hopeful, and at last triumphant.

I tried, and failed, to find a complete recording of the band version (transcribed by Walter Beeler) of A Lincoln Portrait on Youtube.  The half dozen or so performances that are on there suffer from poor recording quality, inaccurate tempos, unfriendly intonation, or any of several other unfortunately common amateur music maladies.  But this NPR story features a full recording of the US Marine Band with Fred Childs narrating.  The story opens with Childs interviewing Copland about the piece.  The interview happened in 1980, when Copland was 80 years old, and still of sound mind.

Copland himself conducts the London Symphony Orchestra with Henry Fonda narrating:

The folk song “Springfield Mountain” forms the basis of the first theme:

Stephen Foster‘s “Camptown Races” dominates the fast, youthful section of the piece.  Listen to Johnny Cash sing it:

A Lincoln Portrait has its own Wikipedia entry.  It’s also featured at an NPR blog, the American Public Media website, an “Insider’s Perspective” from musicologist Elizabeth Bergman, public television station WGBH, and the Kennedy Center.  Also, this Education Through Music lesson plan for fifth graders contains the full text of the narration.

Copland has a huge presence on the internet, thus this site will feature only the main portals into his work.  Please click far beyond the sites listed here for a complete idea of Copland’s footprint on the web.

Fanfare for Aaron Copland – a blog with information on the composer, extraordinarily useful links, and some downloadable versions of old LP recordings.  This is the place to explore the several links beyond the main site.

Aaron Copland Wikipedia Biography.

Quotes from Aaron Copland on Wikiquote.

New York Times archive of Copland-related material. Includes reviews of his music and books as well as several fascinating articles that he wrote.

Copland Centennial (from 2000) on NPR.

The Columbia Wind Ensemble performed A Lincoln Portrait in 2006 with Prof. Eric Foner, Columbia’s resident Lincoln expert, narrating.

Aaron Copland (1900-1990) is one of the titans of American art music.  A native New Yorker, he went to France at age 21 and became the first American to study with the legendary Nadia Boulanger.  His Organ Symphony, written for Boulanger, provided his breakthrough into composition stardom.  After experimenting with many different styles, he became best known for his idiomatic treatment of Americana, leaving behind such chestnuts as The Tender Land (1954), Billy The Kid (1938), and Appalachian Spring (1944).  This last piece won Copland the Pulitzer Prize in Music in 1945.  He was also an acclaimed conductor and writer.

An Outdoor Overture had its genesis as a commission from Alexander Richter, the music director at the High School for Music and Art (now LaGuardia High School) in New York City.  Richter was looking for music that would appeal to American youth.  Copland responded with a brightly optimistic, wide-open triumph of Americana, in versions for both orchestra and band.  It was premiered in December 1938 (ironically, indoors) at the high school.  Copland describes how the piece progresses:

The piece starts in a large and grandiose manner with a theme that is immediately developed as a long solo for the trumpet with a string pizzicato accompaniment.  A short bridge passage in the woodwinds leads imperceptibly to the first theme of the allegro section, characterized by repeated notes.  Shortly afterwards, these same repeated notes, played broadly, give us a second, snappy march-like theme, developed in a canon form.  There is an abrupt pause, a sudden decrescendo, and the third, lyric theme appears, first in the flute, then the clarinet, and finally, high up in the strings.  Repeated notes on the bassoon seem to lead the piece in the direction of the opening allegro.  Instead, a fourth and final theme evolves another march theme, but this time less snappy, and with more serious implications.  There is a build-up to the opening grandiose introduction again, continuing with the trumpet solo melody, this time sung by all the strings in a somewhat smoother version.  A short bridge section based on steady rhythm brings a condensed recapitulation of the allegro section.  As a climactic moment all the themes are combined.  A brief coda ends the work on the grandiose note of the beginning.

Copland’s greatest works started to appear immediately on the heels of this piece.  He even interrupted work on Billy the Kid, the first of his famous Americana-themed ballets, to write An Outdoor Overture.  It is thus a window into an important period in his career, as he developed the musical language that would be associated both with him and with the broader idea of Americana in classical music in the following decades.

The Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra plays the band version An Outdoor Overture:

Leonard Bernstein conducts the New York Philharmonic in the orchestra version:

To see more about An Outdoor Overture, visit the Redwood Symphony, the LA Phil, allmusic, the Fargo-Moorehouse Symphony Orchestra, and the East Texas Symphony Orchestra.

Copland has a huge presence on the internet, thus this site will feature only the main portals into his work.  Please click far beyond the sites listed here for a complete idea of Copland’s footprint on the web.

Fanfare for Aaron Copland – a blog with information on the composer, extraordinarily useful links, and some downloadable versions of old LP recordings.  This is the place to explore the several links beyond the main site.

Aaron Copland Wikipedia Biography.

Quotes from Aaron Copland on Wikiquote.

New York Times archive of Copland-related material. Includes reviews of his music and books as well as several fascinating articles that he wrote.

Copland Centennial (from 2000) on NPR.

I’ve played An Outdoor Overture twice with Columbia University Wind Ensemble (2003 and 2007) and once with Columbia Summer Winds (2003).

Aaron Copland (1900-1990) is one of the titans of American art music.  A native New Yorker, he went to France at age 21 and became the first American to study with the legendary Nadia Boulanger.  His Organ Symphony, written for Boulanger, provided his breakthrough into composition stardom.  After experimenting with many different styles, he became best known for his idiomatic treatment of Americana, leaving behind such chestnuts as The Tender Land (1954), Billy The Kid (1938), and Appalachian Spring (1944).  This last piece won Copland the Pulitzer Prize in Music in 1945.  He was also an acclaimed conductor and writer.

Emblems is the only piece that Copland originally wrote for a large band (although he arranged several of his own orchestral compositions for band, including An Outdoor OvertureA Lincoln Portrait, and Variations on a Shaker Melody, to name a few).  He describes its origin:

In May, 1963, I received a letter from Keith Wilson, President of the College Band Directors National Association, asking me to accept a commission from that organization to compose a work for band. He wrote: ‘The purpose of this commission is to enrich the band repertory with music that is representative of the composer’s best work, and not one written with all sorts of technical or practical limitations.’ That was the origin of Emblems. I began work on the piece in the summer of 1964 and completed it in November of that year. It was first played at the CBDNA National Convention in Tempe, Arizona, on December 18, 1964, by the Trojan Band of the University of Southern California, conducted by William Schaefer.

Keeping Mr. Wilson’s injunction in mind, I wanted to write a work that was challenging to young players without overstraining their technical abilities. The work ist tripartite in form: slow-fast-slow, with the return of the first part varied. Embedded in the quiet, slow music the listener may hear a brief quotation of a well known hymn tune, ‘Amazing Grace‘, published by William Walker in The Southern Harmony in 1835. Curiously enough, the accompanying harmonies had been conceived first, without reference to any tune. It was only a chance of perusal of a recent anthology of old ‘Music in America’ that made me realize a connection existed between my harmonies and the old hymn tune.

An emblem stands for something – it is a symbol. I called the work Emblems because it seemed to me to suggest musical states of being: noble or aspirational feelings, playful or spirited feelings. The exact nature of these emblematic sounds must be determined for himself by each listener.”

Emblems is not Copland’s most accessible piece.  The harmonies that accompany “Amazing Grace” are unabashedly dissonant major/minor chords.  At times the texture is so bare that only a triangle is playing.  Yet the outer sections possess Copland’s signature grandiosity, and energy courses persistently through the middle section, which even suggests a Latin American party atmosphere at times.

William Revelli conducts Emblems in a very early performance (1965) at the University of Michigan:

There’s so much more to read about Emblems. See especially the Wind Repertory Project, Classical Archives, and the US Marine Band.  Also, check out the performance guide (for players) courtesy of the Army Field Band.

Copland has a huge presence on the internet, thus this site will feature only the main portals into his work.  Please click far beyond the sites listed here for a complete idea of Copland’s footprint on the web.

Fanfare for Aaron Copland – a blog with information on the composer, extraordinarily useful links, and some downloadable versions of old LP recordings.  This is the place to explore the several links beyond the main site.

Aaron Copland Wikipedia Biography.

Quotes from Aaron Copland on Wikiquote.

New York Times archive of Copland-related material. Includes reviews of his music and books as well as several fascinating articles that he wrote.

Copland Centennial (from 2000) on NPR.

Emblems was a senior choice for clarinetist Mike Haskell and percussionist Morgan Rhodes, both class of 2008.  It was on the bleeding edge of our technical abilities, but it was well worth the effort.

Aaron Copland (1900-1990) is one of the titans of American art music.  A native New Yorker, he went to France at age 21 and became the first American to study with the legendary Nadia Boulanger.  His Organ Symphony, written for Boulanger, provided his breakthrough into composition stardom.  After experimenting with many different styles, he became best known for his idiomatic treatment of Americana, leaving behind such chestnuts as The Tender Land (1954), Billy The Kid (1938), and Appalachian Spring (1944).  This last piece won Copland the Pulitzer Prize in Music in 1945.  He was also an acclaimed conductor and writer.

Down a Country Lane was originally a piano piece.  Copland wrote it in 1962 on a commission from Life magazine, which published it in hopes of providing quality music to the common piano student.  It has been transcribed for both orchestra and band.

It turns out I’m not the first to put together a resource site for this piece.  Check out this existing information site – it looks very old by internet standards!  But very useful all the same.

More about the piece at the Classical Archives.

Down a Country Lane page at the Wind Repertory Project.

Here is a band performance of Down a Country Lane:

And the original piano version (quite a bit faster than it ought to be!):

Copland has a huge presence on the internet, thus this site will feature only the main portals into his work.  Please click far beyond the sites listed here for a complete idea of Copland’s footprint on the web.

Fanfare for Aaron Copland – a blog with information on the composer, extraordinarily useful links, and some downloadable versions of old LP recordings.  This is the place to explore the several links beyond the main site.

Aaron Copland Wikipedia Biography.

Quotes from Aaron Copland on Wikiquote.

New York Times archive of Copland-related material. Includes reviews of his music and books as well as several fascinating articles that he wrote.

Down a Country Lane is a 2011 Senior Choice for multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Jager, who will conduct the piece in our April concert.

Aaron Copland (1900-1990) is one of the titans of American art music.  A native New Yorker, he went to France at age 21 and became the first American to study with the legendary Nadia Boulanger.  His Organ Symphony, written for Boulanger, provided his breakthrough into composition stardom.  After experimenting with many different styles, he became best known for his idiomatic treatment of Americana, leaving behind such chestnuts as The Tender Land (1954), Billy The Kid (1938), and Appalachian Spring (1944).  This last piece won Copland the Pulitzer Prize in Music in 1945.  He was also an acclaimed conductor and writer.

John Steinbeck’s 1933 novella The Red Pony was adapted into a feature length film of the same name in 1949.  Aaron Copland composed the score for the film.  The Oklamhoma City University band program note database provides more information on the music and its origin:

Copland wrote the music for the film The Red Pony in 1948, on the studio lot of Republic Pictures in the San Fernando Valley, California.  The orchestral concert suite, completed during August of the same year, was prepared in response to a commission from Efrem Kurtz, who included it in his first program as conductor of the Houston Symphony Orchestra on October 30, 1948.  The band version of The Red Pony was made by the composer in 1966.  Four movements of the six-part orchestral suite were retained as best suitable for band transcription.  The first performance of this work was scheduled for the U.S. Navy Band under Anthony Mitchell at the Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic in December 1968.

John Steinbeck’s well-known tale is a series of vignettes concerning a ten-year-old boy named Jody and his life in a California ranch setting.  In the first movement, “Dream March and Circus Music”, Jody has a way of going off into daydreams.  Two of them are pictured here:  in the first, Jody imagines himself with the cow-hand Billy Buck at the head of an army of knights in silvery armor; in the second, Jody is a whip-cracking ringmaster at the circus.  The fourth movement, “Happy Ending”, contains a folk-like melody suggesting the open-air quality of country living and then builds to a climax.

Wikipedia article on the original novella.

Scoredaddy blog entry on Copland’s Red Pony score. If you look hard enough, you’ll find a link to download the original LP recording of the full soundtrack.

Copland has a huge presence on the internet, thus this site will feature only the main portals into his work.  Please click far beyond the sites listed here for a complete idea of Copland’s footprint on the web.

Fanfare for Aaron Copland – a blog with information on the composer, extraordinarily useful links, and some downloadable versions of old LP recordings.  This is the place to explore the several links beyond the main site.

Aaron Copland Wikipedia Biography.

Quotes from Aaron Copland on Wikiquote.

New York Times archive of Copland-related material. Includes reviews of his music and books as well as several fascinating articles that he wrote.

Now some videos.  At last, a full band recording has emerged.  This comes from the Gustavus Wind Orchestra:

Here are a couple of the movements (Dream March and Circus Music) in the orchestra version:

Some highlights of the rest of the music in this trailer/preview for the movie: