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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Louis Kaufman and the Sound of Hollywood’s Golden Age

While you may not recognize his name, chances are good that you have heard American violinist Louis Kaufman (1905-1994). Kaufman has been called “possibly the most recorded musical artist of the twentieth century.” In addition to making around 125 classical recordings, his rich, chocolatey sound is etched into as many as 500 film soundtracks. His singing tone, with its generous use of portamento and fast, shimmering vibrato, is the distinct sound we …

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Anthony McGill Plays Copland

This past weekend’s Richmond Symphony program included Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto, performed by Anthony McGill. It was a thrill and an honor to share the stage with such a sublime musician. One of my colleagues in the orchestra remarked aptly that McGill’s playing is so natural that it seems as if the instrument is an extension of his body. Listening to Anthony McGill, you are drawn in by the singing quality of the sound, which …

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Three Youthful American Overtures: Music of Barber, Copland, and Schuman

Festive American music will be as much on the menu as hot dogs and hamburgers this week as we celebrate Independence Day across the United States. In anticipation of the holiday, here are three thrilling and festive American overtures from the mid twentieth century. The indomitable spirit of youth permeates all three of these pieces: Barber: Overture to “The School for Scandal,” Op. 5 This was the young 21-year-old Samuel Barber’s first …

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Copland’s “Quiet City”: The Trumpet’s Mystic Call

HARK, some wild trumpeter, some strange musician, Hovering unseen in air, vibrates capricious tunes to-night. I hear thee trumpeter, listening alert I catch thy notes, Now pouring, whirling like a tempest round me, Now low, subdued, now in the distance lost. – opening lines of “The Mystic Trumpeter,” Walt Whitman Aaron Copland’s Quiet City begins with primal open intervals (fourths and fifths) which seem to emerge from a vast, wide-open landscape. The expansive pandiatonicism of …

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“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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