Personalities | Aaron Copland | Modern Era | Classical

American composer

Born in Brooklyn of Russian Jewish parents (his surname is an immigration officer’s mishearing of the family name, Kaplan), Copland became the archetypal composer of the American West, his style much imitated by the writers of Hollywood film scores. Trained in Paris by Nadia Boulanger, he was strongly influenced by Stravinsky and began using jazz elements in early works such as the Piano Concerto (1926). He then developed a tougher style, with affinities to Schoenberg in the austere and masterly Piano Variations (1931, later scored as ‘Orchestral Variations’).

His next and most familiar phase was a more popular style, using folk music (including cowboy songs) in the ballets Billy the Kid (1938) and Rodeo (1942) and Latin rhythms in El salón México (1936), his transparent scoring and plain, open harmonies conjuring up wide-open spaces. The masterpiece of this style is the moving ‘pioneer’ ballet Appalachian Spring (1944), but this was followed by a return to the leaner manner of the Variations and an adoption of Schoenbergian serialism. However, even these works, which included the orchestral Inscape (1967) and Connotations (1962), retain a characteristic Copland sound, and the late works are not exclusively serial.

Recommended Recording:
Appalachian Spring suite, New York PO (cond) Leonard Bernstein (Sony)

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