Aaron Copland

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Aaron Copland

Aaron Copland [ ˈærən ˈkoʊplənd ] (born November 14, 1900 in Brooklyn , New York , † December 2, 1990 in North Tarrytown ) was an American composer .

Copland was born the son of Lithuanian immigrants. He is considered one of the most important representatives of American modernism, especially incidental music was his preference. After early expressionistic and experimental works (it was once said about his organ concert: “Whoever writes such music will probably commit murder later”) he turned to a clearly understandable, rhythmic tonal style that included folk songs , marches and dances . He never closed himself to contemporary music, for example in connotations for orchestra, and also allowed harmonies and rhythm of jazz to flow into his works. The composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein was very committed to his music.

Well known is his work Fanfare for the Common Man (1942 for brass ensemble), which in 1977 by the British rock band Emerson, Lake and Palmer on the album Works Volume I has been interpreted. In 1972 they had already interpreted a work by Copland on their album Trilogy with Hoedown . In 1945, Copland received the Pulitzer Prize for his piece Appalachian Spring . He was named after the software project Copland of the company Apple . The Copland Peak , a mountain on Alexander I Island in Antarctica, and the asteroid (4532) Copland also bear his name .


Copland was born in Brooklyn, New York, the youngest of five children in a Conservative Jewish family of Lithuanian origin. His father had changed the original name of the family "Kaplan" after the crossing to the United States in "Copland". Copland lived above his parents' store in Brooklyn when he was a kid. Copland's father had no musical interests. His mother sang, played the piano and organized music lessons for her children. Aaron's oldest brother Ralph became a good violinist. His sister Laurine gave Aaron his first piano lessons and supported his musical interests. Copland gained his earliest musical experience at Jewish weddings and family events. When he was 15, he seriously considered becoming a composer . He received his musical training from Leopold Wolfsohn, Rubin Goldmark (also one of George Gershwin's teachers ), and from 1921 he studied at the American Conservatory in Fontainebleau , where Nadia Boulanger also taught.

Aaron Copland School of Music, Queens College (City University of New York)

After studying in Paris , Copland decided to write works with an American character , using jazz as an American idiom. His first important work was the Grohg ballet , from which Copland took thematic material for his later Dance Symphony . Other important works in this first period were Short Symphony (1933), Music for Theater (1925) and Piano Variations (1930). However, the period inspired by jazz was short. Soon he began composing more accessible music.

Rock Hill, Copland's home in Cortlandt Manor, NY

Many composers refused to write music for the elite during the Great Depression , including Aaron Copland. He served the well-known American folk music , revival hymns and cowboy - and folk -songs as the basis for his compositions.

Copland's second period began around 1936 when he composed the works Billy the Kid and El Salón México . Fanfare for the Common Man, composed for brass instruments and percussion and written in 1942 at the order of the conductor Eugène Goossens , is probably Copland's best-known work. The fanfare also appears as the main theme in the fourth movement of Copland's Third Symphony . That same year, Copland wrote a Lincoln Portrait that became familiar to a wider audience. Copland was therefore increasingly perceived as a composer with a strong connection to American music. He was commissioned by Martha Graham, a ballet to write, which they named Appalachian Spring was. He later arranged the piece as an orchestral suite. The ballet rodeo is another composition by Copland that belongs to the canon of American music, in particular the Hoe-Down from it is one of the most famous works by an American composer. Rodeo tells the story of a ranch wedding and was written around 1942, around the same time as Lincoln Portrait .

Copland was also an important film music composer. The Music for Movies suite includes several of the themes he composed for films. He even arranged the film music for Steinbeck's novel The Red Pony in a separate suite . His music was also incorporated into films after his death, for example in the film He Got Game (1998) by Spike Lee . Hoe-Down accompanies a basketball game in a backyard.

Because Copland had defended the Communist Party of the United States during the 1936 presidential election , the FBI investigated him during the McCarthy era in the 1950s. He was blacklisted by Hollywood studios and in 1953 his music was removed from the program for the opening concert for the Dwight D. Eisenhower presidency . That same year, Copland testified before the US Congress that he was never a communist . Most contemporary musicians clearly showed his patriotism in Copland's music, and were accordingly upset by the baseless allegations. The investigation was suspended in 1955 and finally terminated in 1975. It has never been proven that Copland was a member of the Communist Party. 1964 handed US President Lyndon B. Johnson Copland, the Medal of Freedom ( "The Presidential Medal of Freedom"), the highest civilian honor in the United States. In 1951, Copland was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences . In 1942 he was accepted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters . In 1970 Copland was made an honorary member of the International Society for Contemporary Music ISCM .

Copland was a friend of Leonard Bernstein and had a great influence on his compositional style. In return, Bernstein is considered the best conductor of Copland's works. The English rock band Emerson, Lake & Palmer recorded two tracks based on the works of Copland: Fanfare for the Common Man and Hoe-Down . Some of the live recordings by Emerson, Lake & Palmer also refer to the end of the second movement of Third Symphony .

From around 1960 Copland devoted himself increasingly to conducting and composed little from the 1970s. The composer contracted Alzheimer's disease in the mid-1980s and died in 1990. His ashes were scattered in the Tanglewood garden , where he was a faculty member at the Koussevitsky Berkshire Music Center (BMC) from 1940 to 1965 - together with Leonard Bernstein was and taught composition.

Copland's homosexuality is documented in the biography "Aaron Copland: The Life and Work of an Uncommon Man" by Howard Pollack.



  • The Tender Land (1954)


Film music (selection)

Orchestral works (selection)

  • Symphony for Organ and Orchestra (1924)
  • Piano Concerto (1926)
  • 3 symphonies:
    • 1st Symphony (1924 as Symphony for Organ and Orchestra , premiered January 11, 1925); revised 1927–28, UA December 1931
    • Short Symphony (= 2nd Symphony ) (1933), premiered November 23, 1934
    • 3rd Symphony (1944–46), premiered October 18, 1946
  • El Salón México (1936)
  • An Outdoor Overture (1938)
  • John Henry - a railroad ballad (1940)
  • Quiet City for trumpet, english horn and string orchestra (1940)
  • Fanfare for the common Man (1942)
  • Lincoln Portrait for Speaker and Orchestra (1942)
  • Old American Songs for baritone and orchestra (1942)
  • Danzón cubana (1942-44)
  • Appalachian Spring , orchestral suite for 13 instruments (1945) based on the ballet (see above)
  • Concerto for clarinet and string orchestra with harp and piano (1948)
  • Orchestral Variations (1957)
  • Dance Panels (1959, revised 1962)
  • Connotations (1961-62)
  • Emblems for Band (1964)
  • Music for a great city (1964)
  • Inscape (1967)

Chamber music (selection)

  • Passacaglia for piano (1922)
  • Variations for piano (1930)
  • Sextet for string quartet, clarinet and piano (1937)
  • Sonata for piano (1941)
  • Violin Sonata (1943)
  • Quartet for Piano and Strings (1950)
  • Twelve Poems by Emily Dickinson, for voice and piano (1950)
  • Piano Fantasy for piano (1955–57)
  • Nonet for three violins, three violas, and three cellos (1960)
  • Duo for flute and piano (1971)


  • 1921: Four Motets (choir)
    1. Help Us, O Lord
    2. Have Mercy On Us, O My Lord
    3. Sing Ye Praises To Our King
    4. Though, O Jehovah, Abideth Forever
  • 1950: Twelve Poems by Emily Dickinson (for soprano and piano, or orchestra)
    1. Nature, the gentlest mother
    2. There came a wind like a bugle
    3. Why do they shut me out of Heaven
    4. The world feels dusty
    5. Heart, we will forget him
    6. Dear March, come in!
    7. Sleep is supposed to be
    8. When they come back
    9. I felt a funeral in my brain
    10. I've heard an organ talk sometimes
    11. Going to Heaven!
    12. The Chariot.
  • 1950: Old American Songs, set 1 (for baritone and piano, or orchestra)
    1. The Boatmen's Dance (minstrel song from 1843)
    2. The Dodger (campaign song)
    3. Long Time Ago (ballad)
    4. Simple Gifts (Shaker song)
    5. I Bought Me a Cat (children's song)
  • 1952: Old American Songs, set 2 (for baritone and piano, or orchestra)
    1. The Little Horses (lullaby)
    2. Zion's Walls (revivalist song)
    3. The Golden Willow Tree (Anglo-American ballad)
    4. At the River (hymn tune)
    5. Ching-A-Ring Chaw (minstrel song)


  • Our new music. Translated from English by Minna Reinhardt and Adalbert Brunner. Edition Kasparek, Munich 1947, 208 pp.


  • David Ewen (Ed.): The World of Twentieth-Century Music. 2nd revised edition. Hale, London 1991, ISBN 0-7090-4398-8 .
  • Howard Pollack: Aaron Copland. The Life and Work of an Uncommon Man. Holt, New York NY 1999, ISBN 0-8050-4909-6 .
  • Peter Dickinson (Ed.): Copland Connotations. Studies and Interviews. Boydell Press, Woodbridge et al. 2002, ISBN 0-85115-902-8 .

Web links

Commons : Aaron Copland  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. www.pulitzer.org
  2. ^ Members: Aaron Copland. American Academy of Arts and Letters, accessed February 23, 2019 .
  3. ^ ISCM Honorary Members
  4. ^ Andante: On the Outside Looking In: Gay Composers Gave America Its Music ( Memento of December 20, 2008 in the Internet Archive )