Famous Like Me > Composer > C > Aaron Copland
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Profile of Aaron Copland
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|Date of Birth:
||14th November 1900
|Place of Birth:
||New York, New York, USA
Aaron Copland (November 14, 1900â€“December 2, 1990) was an American composer of concert and film music. Instrumental in forging a uniquely American style of composition, he was widely known as "the dean of American composers." Copland's music achieved a difficult balance between modern music and American folk styles, and the open, slowly changing harmonies of many of his works recall the vast American landscape. He incorporated percussive orchestration, changing meter, polyrhythms, polychords and tone rows. Outside of composing, Copland often served as a teacher and lecturer. During his career he also wrote books and articles, and served as a conductor (most frequently for his own works).
Copland was born in Brooklyn, New York. Of Lithuanian Jewish descent (his father's surname was "Kaplan" before he anglicized it to "Copland" while in England, before emigrating to the United States), he spent his childhood living above his parents' Brooklyn shop. Although his parents never encouraged or directly exposed him to music, at age fifteen he had already taken an interest in the subject and aspired to be a composer. His music education included time with Leopold Wolfsohn and Rubin Goldmark, also one of George Gershwin's teachers, and with Nadia Boulanger in Paris from 1921.
Upon his return from his studies in Paris, he decided that he wanted to write works that were "American in character" and thus he chose jazz as the American idiom. His first significant work was the necromantic ballet Grohg which contributed thematic material to his later Dance Symphony. Other major works of his first (austere) period include the Short Symphony (1933), Music for Theater (1925) and Piano Variations (1930). This jazz inspired period was brief, however as his style evolved toward the goal of writing more accessible works.
Many composers rejected the notion of writing music for the elite during the depression, thus the common American folklore served as the basis for his work along with revival hymns, cowboy and folk songs. Copland's second (vernacular) period began around 1936 with Billy the Kid and El SalÃ³n MÃ©xico. Perhaps Copland's most famous work, Fanfare for the Common Man, scored for brass and percussion was written in 1942 at the request of the conductor Eugene Goossens. The fanfare was also used as the main theme of the fourth movement of Copland's Third Symphony. The same year Copland wrote Lincoln Portrait which became popular with the larger public leading to a strengthening of his association with American music. He was commissioned to write a ballet, Appalachian Spring, which later he arranged as a popular orchestral suite. Rodeo, a tale of a ranch wedding written around the same time as Lincoln Portrait (1942) is another enduring composition for Copland, and Hoe-Down is one of the most immortal compositions by any American composer.
Copland was an important contributor to the film score genre. Several of the themes he created are encapsulated in the suite, Music for Movies, and his score for the film of Steinbeck's novel, The Red Pony, one of Copland's favourite scores, was given a suite of its own. Posthumously, his music was used to score Spike Lee's 1998 film, He Got Game, which included Hoe-Down being the score for a basketball game in a neighborhood court.
Having defended the Communist Party USA during the 1936 presidential election, Copland was investigated by the FBI during the red scare of the 1950s. Blacklisted, in 1953, his music was pulled from President Eisenhower's inaugural concert due to the political climate; that same year Copland testified before U.S. Congress that he was never a Communist. The investigation went inactive in 1955 and was closed in 1975. Copland's membership in the party was never proven.
Copland was a friend of Leonard Bernstein and a major influence on his composing style. Bernstein is considered the finest conductor of Copland's works. British progressive rock band Emerson, Lake & Palmer recorded two songs based on Copland works: "Fanfare for the Common Man" and "Hoe-Down."
Aaron Copland started showing signs of Alzheimer's disease in the early 1970's, as a result of which he gave up composing. Some believe the disease affected the quality of his final works. He died in North Tarrytown, New York (now Sleepy Hollow). His bisexuality was documented in Howard Pollack's biography, Aaron Copland: The Life and Work of an Uncommon Man
- Four Motets (1921)
- Symphony for Organ and Orchestra (1924)
- Music for the Theater (1925)
- Dance Symphony (1925)
- Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (1926)
- Symphonic Ode (1927-29)
- Piano Variations (1930)
- Grohg (1925/32) (ballet)
- Statements for orchestra (1932-35)
- The Second Hurricane, play-opera for high school performance (1936)
- El SalÃ³n MÃ©xico (1936)
- Billy the Kid (1938) (ballet)
- Quiet City (1940)
- Piano Sonata (1941)
- Fanfare for the Common Man (1942)
- Lincoln Portrait (1942)
- Rodeo (1942) (ballet)
- Danzon Cubano (1942)
- Music for the Movies (1942)
- Sonata for violin and piano (1943)
- Appalachian Spring (1944) (ballet)
- Third Symphony (1944-46)
- In the Beginning (1947)
- The Red Pony (1948)
- Clarinet Concerto (commissioned by Benny Goodman) (1947-48)
- Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson (1950)
- Piano Quartet (1950)
- Old American Songs (1952)
- The Tender Land (1954) (opera)
- Canticle of Freedom (1955)
- Orchestral Variations (1957)
- Piano Fantasy (1957)
- Dance Panels (1959; revised 1962) (ballet)
- Connotations (1962)
- Music for a Great City (1964)
- Emblems, for wind band (1964)
- Inscape (1967)
- Duo for flute and piano (1971)
- Three Latin American Sketches (1972)
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