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American Composer Aaron Copland

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    Aaron Copland

    Aaron Copland was an American composer who was said to have left a deep legacy in the music industry of the United States due to his musical contributions in the field of dance, movies, and play. Aside from his musical association, Copland was also a well-known conductor, teacher, author, pianist, and speaker, making him one of the most accomplished musicians of all time.

    Born on November 14, 1900 in Brooklyn, New York of Russian-Jewish descent, Aaron Copland was the youngest among five children. For Copland, music was an art that he learned and discovered by himself. Such point of view could be expected to come from a man who, at a young age of eight, was able to compose his first song dedicated to his mother, and at the age of 15, he studied music in New York City together with the American composer Rubin Goldmark. He was also able to attend the class of one of Paris’ most influential French teacher, Nadia Boulanger, in 1921. Copland was also said to be the first American to attend the French impressionist Boulanger’s class. Thus, his earliest musical works seem to be heavily influenced by Boulanger, but later on, he developed his own personalized musical style which has made him popular to date (“Aaron Copland,” 2009).

    Three years after studying in Paris, Copland returned to New York and was very eager to write his own song, with which he desired to have the distinct American characteristics. As such, in 1925, he finished “The Music for the Theater,” which he created for a small orchestra. The song contains both blues and ragtime elements that have a Stravinsky way of approach in rhythm and harmony (Key, Rothe, & Thomas, 2001). Such jazzy approach resonated in his “Piano concerto” which he created in 1927 (“Aaron Copland,” 2009). After his experimentation with jazz rhythms, Copland composed more serious and highly dissonant music that was directed towards more sophisticated listeners. Such approach was evident in his 1930 “Piano Variations,” which conveys intense concentration, starkness, and powerful percussive, and “Statements (1933-1935),” which expresses a combination of “irregular rhythms, angular melodies, and highly dissonant melodies” (“Aaron Copland,” 2009, n.p.).

    Between 1930’s and 1940’s, Copland altered his highly dissonant musical approach to a much simpler style in order to make his works more accessible to a much larger audience. Hence, his music became more lyrical and melodic, which he applied in creating ballet musical pieces. He frequently drew his inspiration from American folk music, as seen from “Billy the Kid (1938),” “Rodeo (1942),” and “Spring Appalachian (1944)” (Dagoon, 1993, p. 248). Copland’s use of jazzy revival hymns, cowboy songs, and other forms of folk tunes reflected American themes and encapsulated the American way of life, notable of which is the 1942 patriotic work “Lincoln Portrait,” which he created for an orchestra and a narrator. He also adapted Mexican folk music to finalize “El Salon Mexico” in 1942. Other orchestral pieces that Copland is known for include: “Symphony for Organ and Orchestra (1925),” “The Symphonic Ode” in 1932, and “The Third Symphony (1946)” where he incorporated another work which is the “Fanfare for the Common Man (1942).” It was also during this period when he created an opera directed to high school students, “The Second Hurricane” in 1937, and started creating music for films such as “Of Mice and Men (1937),” “Our Town (1940),” and his well recognized “The Heiress (1949),” which won an Academy Award for best dramatic film score (“Aaron Copland,” 2009)

    From his creations, it could be pointed out that Copland’s musical pieces are both clear and transparent, and at the same time, they contain motionless harmonies that illumine the American lifestyle during his time. Although tonal, his willingness to seek for new musical techniques in order to present something new showed his versatility and at the same time reflected the person of wonder that he was. While innovative in nature, his musical approach can also be treated as a classic at the same time, in a sense that it leaves its audience the impression of becoming simply an American (Key et al., 2001).

    In 1950’s, Aaron Copland returned to his highly dissonant style, which can be observed in his complex and virtuosic piece, “Piano Fantasy (1957)” (“Aaron Copland,” 2009). He also turned to a serial technique that used the tone row or series manipulation in his 1962 work, “Connotations for Orchestra” (Key et al., 2001).

    Aside from being a skillful composer, Copland also became a director for a composer’s group, an organizer for American music and lecturer. He also taught young composers at Tanglewood’s Berkshire Music Center for 25 years, and was recognized for promoting the music of other contemporary composers (Key et al., 2001). As an author, much of his musical know-hows were culminated in pieces such as “What to Listen for in Music (1939), “Music and Imagination (1952),” “Our New Music (1941)” which was revised into “The New Music” in 1968, and finally, “Copland on Music (1960)” (“Aaron Copland,” 2009).

                Copland lived to celebrate his 90th birthday before death finally claimed him on December 2, 1990 in New York’s North Tarrytown (“Aaron Copland,” 2009). Nevertheless, his death did not hinder him and his music to gain a following of devoted musicians, proving his strong influence in classical American music.

                Aaron Copland certainly played a significant role in shaping much of the American music landscape, as seen from his artistic excellence and contributions. His popularity based on his undertakings proved to be worthy of praise. His innovative musical techniques as well as his passion for music radiated in his compositions and reflected the important values of American living. Hence, several of his works served as an inspiration for many aspiring musicians and became a ground for advancing the appreciation of indigenous music in the United States. Currently, Aaron Copland’s life and work continue to live on and inspire many young individuals with the same pursuit as he did.


    Aaron Copland. (2009). Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia. Retrieved June 8, 2009,from Key, S., Rothe, L., & Thomas, M. (2001). American Mavericks. California: University of California Press.

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