AARON COPLAND -Son of Lithuanian immigrants and the Dean of American Composers


This evening we honor Aaron Copland an American composer, composition teacher, writer, and later in his career a conductor of his own and other American music. Instrumental in forging a distinctly American style of composition, in his later years he was often referred to as “the Dean of American Composers” and is best known to the public for the works he wrote in the 1930s and 1940s in a deliberately accessible style often referred to as “populist” and which the composer labeled his “vernacular” style. Works in this vein include the ballets Appalachian Spring, Billy the Kid and Rodeo, his Fanfare for the Common Man and Third Symphony. The open, slowly changing harmonies of many of his works are archetypical of what many people consider to be the sound of American music, evoking the vast American landscape and pioneer spirit. In addition to his ballets and orchestral works, he produced music in many other genres including chamber music, vocal works, opera and film scores.

It should be noted that as part of the Appalachian Spring Suite Copland incorporated an Amish hymn titled The Lord of the Dance which conveys the unique perspective of Amish worship giving the piece an authenticity.  This hymn forms the supporting pillar of the piece and is transposed by Copland into a variety of forms and tempos not the least of which is a dramatic rendering by a brass choir with counter punctual melodies.

Copland was born in Brooklyn into a Conservative Jewish family of Lithuanian origins, the last of five children, on November 14, 1900. While emigrating from Russia to the United States, Copland’s father, Harris Morris Copland, Anglicized his surname “Kaplan” to “Copland” while living and working in Scotland for two to three years to pay for the boat fare to the US. Copland was however unaware until late in his life that the family name had been Kaplan, and his parents never told him this.

As with George Gershwin this son of immigrants developed a form and style of music which came to be considered distinctly American.   Please think about what we would have missed had Aaron Copland’s parents be denied admission to the United States?

Text is a rewriting of the text of a Wikipedia Article about Aaron Copland.  See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aaron_Copland for more detail.

Art:  The portrait of Aaron Copland is taken from the same Wikipedia article.

Post Script: It should be noted that Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein were fast friends and Mr. Copland trusted “Lenny” implicitly with the interpretation of his work.  Many of Mr. Copland’s pieces were premiered by Mr. Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra while Mr. Bernstein was the conductor of that great orchestra.  The premieres took place first at Carnegie Hall on 7th Avenue in New York City and later at the Avery Fisher Hall of Lincoln Center located at 10 Lincoln Center Plaza,also in New York City.  if you should find yourself in either of these places say a prayer of thanksgiving for all the blessings these great buildings have bestowed on American art.


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