The Music of Aaron Copland

October 9, 2016, 2:22 PM · Having spent some time today listening to bits of Copland's music and reading Howard Pollack's biography on him, I thought it would be fun to share a little about the American composer I've known for a long time but haven't really known. Plus, I am playing his Suite from "Rodeo" that he extracted in 1943 from the full ballet, so it's been nice to get to know this particular piece a little more!

"Rodeo" is about a Cowgirl who is on a ranch in the middle of Texas, and goes from afternoon to evening, trying to get the attention of the Buck, being very lonely. The five sections also use quotes from various folk songs, many of which popular country artists have replicated. Agnes de Mille created the scenario and had specific instructions for Copland in how she wanted different sections of the piece, like "girl rides alone - twelve measures" or "fiddle-tune hit hard", the latter of which I am of course having lots of fun with playing in the "Hoe-Down". One example of a musical quote is "If He'd Be a Buckaroo" in the first movement "Buckaroo Holiday," which to Copland depicts the Cowgirl preparing to ride a bronco. De Mille staged the passage differently, which shows an interesting mismatch of the composer and the choreographer. The "Corral Nocturne" takes place during the sunset with simple strings triads, and a forlorn duet between the bassoon and oboe suggests the Cowgirl's loneliness. I particularly like "Ranch House Party," which Copland did not include in his suite, with its opening "honkey-tonk" piano solo. De Mille's request for Copland was that he had "Dance music inside. Night music outside." The "barroom piano" represents inside music, and after, the orchestra takes on the Left Hand and a clarinet plays a variant of the Right Hand, suggesting nighttime music. The "Saturday Night Waltz" is also very beautiful, with a sweep of violins, and finally the "Hoe-Down", with those country fiddles we all know from popular commercials. Designer Oliver Smith created fantastic vistas of the twilight sky for the ballet to give the impression of a beautiful western skyline - as seen in states like Nevada or Oregon. And what rounds this off is that this ballet was originally for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, which wanted to do the same thing that had been done for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, the latter of which I am very familiar.

I don't know too much of Copland's music, so I'm not really going to talk about anything else here, but I did listen to some of his Violin Sonata (1943), which I can see his style a little, and the beautiful soft incidental music of "Quiet City" (1940), which has its suite for English horn, trumpet, and string orchestra.

I think it's so cool how every composer has his or her own style, and what better way to discover this than by listening to lots of different composers back-to-back. (Just yesterday, I listened to Vaughan-Williams' "London" Symphony No. 2 (with the harp playing the "Big Ben" chimes of the famous clock tower!), which is obviously worlds different from Copland. And from 2015 and the rest of my freshmen year at college being all about Ravel (as much as it still makes me very happy to listen to him whenever I do!), it's nice to start exploring other composers and works I haven't heard before, to get more ideas for my compositions and my own personal style.

In personal performance news, next weekend is the orchestra concert, and Tuesday I'll be playing two new compositions (one of them my "Painting of Japan in 8 Movements" I wrote over the summer) on violin and another premiere on piano, which will be crazy!

Replies

October 12, 2016 at 07:40 PM · I LOVE Copland! This is a fantastic post. Some other awesome Copland pieces to listen to are the Piano Quartet (love the 1st movement), Appalachian Spring, the Clarinet Concerto, and his funky ballet music for Billy the Kid. Thanks for bringing attention to such a significant composer.

October 13, 2016 at 04:31 PM · I love Copeland too. I truly feel that Copeland is to American music as Tchaikovsky is to Russian. But, for some reason everyone got on the Gershwin bandwagon and never got off. Maybe people just relate better to the jazz and swing elements of Gershwin, which speak of the city, as our world becomes more and more densely populated. The whole idea of the vast prairie, and pioneer living are so foreign that people just don't relate anymore. But, fortunately there are young people like you out there to carry on the interest in this great composer. And, that's a good thing.

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