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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Aaron Copland was born 112 years ago today

If a young man at the age of twenty-three can write a symphony like that, in five years he will be ready to commit murder.
- Walter Damrosch (1862-1950) (after conducting Aaron Copland's Symphony for Organ and Orchestra in 1923)

The whole problem can be stated quite simply by asking, "Is there meaning in music?" My answer to that would be, "Yes." And "Can you state in so many words what the meaning is?" My answer to that would be, No."
- Aaron Copland (What to Listen For in Music)

Music that is born complex is not inherently better or worse than music that is born simple.
- Copland (quoted in Jacobson, Reverberations)

I object to background music no matter how good it is. Composers want people to listen to their music, they don't want them doing something else while their music is on.  I'd like to get the guy who sold all those big businessmen the idea of putting music in the elevators, for he was really clever. What on earth good does it do anybody to hear those four or eight bars while going up a few flights?
- Copland (quoted in Classic Essays on Twentieth-Century Music)

Today is the 112th anniversary of the birth of the most popular American composer of the 20th century, Aaron Copland (1900-1990). Born in Brooklyn, Copland was the first American composition student accepted by the legendary Nadia Boulanger in Paris (1921-1924)and then found a strong supporter in Serge Koussevitzky, conductor of the Boston Symphony during that era. At first, Copland incorporated a strong jazz element in his music, but abandoned that in the early 1930s for a consciously American "folk" idiom. His most popular works, the ballets Billy the Kid (1938), Rodeo (1942), the sublime Appalachian Spring (1942), and his 3rd symphony (1946) - for my money, the best symphony written by an American composer - all reflect that orientation. Subsequently, Copland's turn to modernism was less successful, but some of his smaller-scale works, such as his Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson (1950) and Old American Songs (1955) will probably survive.

Opining what many of us have long believed, Copland once remarked, "The melody is generally what the piece is about."

The "Simple Gifts" section of Copland's Appalachian Spring:



And here's Thomas Hampson singing the version in Old American Songs:



Aaron Copland:

Taken from Ed's Quotation of the Day, only available via email. If you'd like to be added to his list, leave your email address in the comments.

2 comments:

  1. Copeland was one of the great American composers, to be sure. His expansive melodies and open harmonies reflected something in the character of the wide, open country, even though he was a Brooklyn kid. (Didn't all kids play "cowboy" though, back in the day?)

    Bernstein or Gershwin might arguably be more popular, but there's no question Copeland is on that short list.

    As for the greatest American symphony though, give me the Ives 4th or 2nd. For my money, Ives is at the top of the American class, for his symphonies, orchestra suites, songs, the Concord piano sonata, and the string quartets.

    Just sayin'

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  2. Thanks for your post. It is good to revisit a well known song because sometimes the obvious leaps up and slaps you after years.

    I was listening to his version of Simple Gifts imbedded above and a meaning of this phrase, which I always glossed over as being about dancing, struck me. It lept up and slapped me silly.

    "To turn, turn will be our delight,;Till by turning, turning we come 'round right"

    Slap. Slap. "It means 'turn the other cheek,' you idiot. Shakers are Christians after all and the previous line is 'When true simplicity is gain'd, To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd," a clear confirmation of Christian humility.' Slap. Slap. Slap.

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