Aaron Copland and America’s Musical Identity
Aaron Copland (1900-1990) is ensconced in the annals of music history as one of the foremost composers of the 20th century. Perhaps the most salient part of his legacy, however, is that his music is suffused with a distinctly “American” character. Often, he accomplished this by writing works that evoked tableaus of American history and culture. Ironically, he began his career by studying composition at the famed Palais de Fontainebleau. During this period, Copland became wary of the increasingly dissonant music written by European composers of the age and, in his own works, would eschew modernistic tendencies such as atonality. During this program, Professor Gil Harel will discuss Copland’s important pieces, such as Appalachian Spring, Rodeo, Fanfare for the Common Man. and more. In each case, we will see how Aaron Copland – born in Brooklyn to a Jewish family of Lithuanian origin – embraced his love of and fascination with American culture to shape profoundly memorable musical compositions.
What to Listen for in Music, by Aaron Copland
Aaron Copland: The Life and Work of an Uncommon Man, by Howard Pollack
Aaron Copland’s America: A Cultural Perspective, by Gail Levin and Judith Tick
- How did Copland’s music depict aspects of Americana? What specifically about America inspired his works?
- What is “Gebrauchsmusik” and how did exposure to modernism (specifically: atonality) shape Copland’s compositional style?
- Music and politics were intertwined for many composers, from Shostakovich to Bernstein to Copland himself. How did this affect his life and career?
- What are the most enduring and oft-performed works in the Copland catalog? Why might we suppose these works have captivated audiences so profoundly?