“El Salón México”: Aaron Copland Conducts the New York Philharmonic

Today marks the 118th anniversary of the birth of American composer Aaron Copland (1900-1990). In celebration, let’s listen to a clip of Copland conducting his exuberant orchestral tone poem, El Salón México, as part of a New York Philharmonic Young People’s Concert, recorded on November 12, 1960. In the episode, entitled Happy Birthday Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein stresses the youthful, distinctly American vitality of Copland’s music, from An Outdoor Overture, to the Hoe Down from Rodeo, to excerpts from Early American Songs, …

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An Obscure Corner of Copland’s “Appalachian Spring”

O Appalachian Spring! I gained the ledge; Steep, inaccessible smile that eastward bends And northward reaches in that violet wedge Of Adirondacks! – Hart Crane, The Bridge: The Dance Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring is usually heard in its concert suite form for full orchestra. (Leonard Bernstein’s 1982 recording with the Los Angeles Philharmonic remains one of my favorite performances of the suite). But the 1944 ballet, written for Martha Graham, was originally a more intimate chamber …

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New Release: Teddy Abrams and the Louisville Orchestra’s “All In”

In September, the Louisville Orchestra released All In, its first recording in nearly 30 years. The album, which reached number one on Billboard’s Traditional Classical Chart, is filled with youthful energy and a thrilling disregard for boundaries. It opens with the music of the Louisville Orchestra’s dynamic, 30-year-old Music Director Teddy Abrams, a conductor, composer, clarinetist, pianist, and force of nature. Unified Field unfolds in four continuous movements and runs the gamut from cinematic impressionist colors, to …

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John Henry

According to legend, the African American folk hero John Henry was one of the strongest and fastest steel-driving men to work on the railroads in the post-Civil War era. The steel-driver’s work involved hammering a steel drill into rock. Explosives were placed in the crevice in order to blast away the rock to construct railroad tunnels. In the late nineteenth century, manual labor was replaced by the steam-powered hammer. John Henry entered …

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Aaron Copland’s “Letter from Home”

Aaron Copland’s Letter from Home seems strangely appropriate for the solemn, reflective spirit of Memorial Day. It’s music filled with distant voices, from the lonely nostalgia of the opening clarinet statement to the plaintive nobility of the solo trumpet, with all of its distant battlefield connotations. This is a piece concerned with memory. Letter from Home was written in 1944 in support of the war effort. Commissioned by the bandleader Paul Whiteman for live …

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Copland’s Interlude: A Brief, Hypnotic Dreamscape

In Aaron Copland’s Music for the Theatre, the ghosts of early American popular music come out to play. Opening with a sharp drumroll and a brash, fanfare-like trumpet announcement, the work’s five movements are filled with jazzy melodies, off-balance rhythms, and Burlesque comedy in the form of “wrong” notes and musical “cat and mouse” games. Written in 1925, Music for the Theatre is scored for chamber orchestra, reveling in the witty, lean sound of a theater pit …

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The Promise of Living: Copland for Labor Day

The Promise of Living, the soaring finale of Aaron Copland’s 1954 opera, The Tender Land, seems vaguely appropriate for Labor Day. Its libretto by Horace Everett (a pseudonym for Erik Johns) evokes the dignity and meaningfulness of labor. Honest work, in this case cultivating the soil of the American heartland and reaping the blessings of a rich harvest, is part of a balanced and fulfilled life: The promise of living with hope and thanksgiving is …

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