Copland’s “Music for the Theatre”: Jazzy American Vignettes

In the 1920s, jazz entered the concert hall and infused new symphonic music with a brash, vibrant, and distinctly American sound. On February 12, 1924, George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue was premiered in New York at a concert bearing the grandiose title, An Experiment in Modern Music. A year later, the young Aaron Copland returned home from studies in Paris with the eminent Nadia Boulanger and wrote the chamber orchestra suite, Music for the Theatre.  At moments, …

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Copland’s “The Red Pony” Suite: Film Music of the American Frontier

Aaron Copland was the quintessential city dweller. Born in 1900 to Lithuanian-Jewish parents, Copland grew up amid the brownstones of Brooklyn, New York. At the age of 21, he set sail for Paris to study with the legendary composition teacher, Nadia Boulanger. Returning to the United States four years later, Copland settled in a studio apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Although his maternal grandfather had lived on the Illinois prairie in …

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Copland’s “Short Symphony”: Bounding into Rhythmic Adventure

From its opening bars, Aaron Copland’s Short Symphony erupts with an infectious exuberance. This music unleashes bright, playful conversations between instrumental voices. Its frolicking “characters” take us on a musical joyride filled with unending rhythmic adventure. Completed in 1933, the Short Symphony (technically Copland’s Second) is scored for a spare, classical orchestra. Its tantalizingly abstract harmonic language flirts with polytonality and serialism. Underlying all of this is a sizzling Mexican vitality. While working on the score, Copland …

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Copland’s “Appalachian Spring”: Ballet for Martha

In interviews, Aaron Copland recounted, with amusement, conversations he had with concertgoers following performances of Appalachian Spring: “Mr. Copland, when I hear your music I can just see the Appalachian Mountains and I can feel spring.” In fact, Copland composed this music under the working title, “Ballet for Martha.” The more evocative title, inspired by a line from Hart Crane’s poem The Dance, came after the music was written. Still, for most of us there is something distinctly American about Appalachian …

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Fanfare for the Common Man

Over the course of five sweltering months spanning the summer of 1787, delegates assembled in Philadelphia to establish one of the most revolutionary documents in human history—the Constitution of the United States. Enshrined in the document is the dignity of the individual. The Constitution’s Bill of Rights, ratified in 1791, guarantees civil rights and liberties to the individual, including freedom of speech, press, and religion. These rights, not granted by law but instead …

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“The Promise Of Living”: Copland’s Hymn of Thanksgiving

The Promise of Living forms the first act finale of Aaron Copland’s opera, The Tender Land. Conceived for the NBC Television Opera Workshop but ultimately rejected by the network’s producers, The Tender Land was premiered by New York City Opera on April 1, 1954. Dramatically, it occupies the same hazy, surreal space we encounter in Copland’s ballet, Appalachian Spring. Set in the rural American heartland during the Great Depression, the plot centers around the coming of age of Laurie …

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Copland’s Third Symphony: American Threads

Aaron Copland’s Third Symphony begins with a single melodic thread which seems to emerge out of thin air. Crystalizing as a shimmering pastel blend of high strings and winds, this restlessly searching eight-note motif develops with a self-organizing inevitability. It feels like we are experiencing a “composition in progress” as the motif shapes itself, painstakingly trying out each possibility. Built on the intervals of fourths and fifths, its outline gives us a sense …

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