Lesson 11: Aaron Copland

Aaron Copland (1900-1990) is one of the most famous American classical composers of the 20th century. He grew up and went to school in Brooklyn, New York. He later studied for four years in Paris under the famous composition teacher, Nadia Boulanger, as her first American student. (You may recall that George Gershwin was another of her students.) He returned to America in 1924 to create true American music—and he did! His style can be compared to some of the 20th century European composers who wrote nationalistic music.

Copland wrote many compositions for ballets. He also wrote a number of film scores, including Of Mice and Men (1939), Our Town (1940), and The Red Pony (1948).

Enjoy listening to some of Aaron Copland's music below.

  • Piano Concerto (1927) is influenced by jazz music:

  • El Salon Mexico (1936)

  • Billy the Kid (1938) Ballet. The story: Billy kills the man who killed his mother during a fight in a frontier town. He kills others and becomes an outlaw. Billy is playing cards one night when a posse catches up with him. He’s captured, but escapes. They find him hiding in the desert, and that’s the end of Billy.

  • Rodeo “Hoedown” (1942) Ballet. The story: A cowgirl is lonely. She goes to a Saturday night dance but wears cowboy pants. She is sad when she sees others dancing but no one wants to dance with her. She runs away crying but returns wearing a dress and a bow in her hair. Now she is noticed. Head Wrangler and Champion Roper both try to win her, but she chooses Roper since he had been friendly to her before.

  • Lincoln Portrait (1942) Uses spoken excerpts of Lincoln’s writings along with folk tunes Lincoln might have heard during his day.

  • Appalachian Spring (1944) This ballet won a Pulitzer Prize for Music Composition in 1945. It has the old Shaker melody “Simple Gifts” in it.

  • The Tender Land “The Promise of Living” (1954) The Tender Land is Copland’s only opera.

  • Fanfare for the Common Man is used as the Olympics theme music.

“So long as the human spirit thrives on this planet, music in some living form will accompany and sustain it and give it expressive meaning.” –Aaron Copland

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