Aaron Copland Essay Research Paper Aaron CoplandAaron

Aaron Copland Essay, Research Paper

Aaron Copland

Aaron Warner

Aaron Copland was the embodiment of what a composer can hope to become.

Copland was very much in touch not only with himself and his feelings, but with

the audience he intended to reach. Very few composers have a concrete idea of

what “types” of people they wish their music to reach. Copland was one of these

few. The “Common Man” was the central part of much of his volumes of music

strived to reach. Copland felt that, “. .everyone should have a chance to see

things through this music. Limiting who can understand it only limits your

usefulness” Throughout his 75+ years as a composer and conductor, he touched

the lives and hearts of as many people as he could.

Copland was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1900 to fairly affluent

parents. Because of his family’s financial status, he started formally training

as a teen, and moved to Paris where he became the first American student of

Nadia Boulanger. It was here that Copland developed much of his neo-classical

style. Although he enjoyed the precise structure that Boulanger had taught him,

Copland’s heart was truly in creating music that people other than musicians

could appreciate. It was upon his return to America in 1924 that he decided that

he would write “. . .truly American music.” He traveled throughout America,

getting a taste of what the “common man” was listening to. During these travels

he strayed into Mexico, and wrote the highly successful El Salon Mexico. A quote

from the fall of 1932 sums up his intentions in writing this piece: “Any

composer who goes outside his native land wants to return bearing musical

souvenirs.” This is exactly what he did. The piece is a lively adaptation of

Frances Toor’s Cancionero Mexicano, with a very loose tempo, and heavy use of

the horn section.

It was after the success of El Salon Mexico that Copland proceeded to

produce what is now considered the epitome of “American” music. He combined his

neo-classical schooling with jazz-like syncopation and a new, more “open” use of

old chordal progressions. He created Billy The Kid in 1938, producing the

first “Western” musical. The score achieved a remarkable balance between

outright humor and pathos, and oftentimes bordered on tragic. It was this base

understanding of humanity that made Copland’s music what it is. Many texts also

refer to a certain built in sympathy that Copland may have had for the main

character, citing his homosexuality as a cause for his deep understanding of

what it is to be looked down upon by society.

Another rowdy musical followed, entitled Rodeo. This piece was comprised

of a similar hybrid of popular western themes, and used as a story line the

universally known as “The Ugly Duckling”. Rodeo had it’s premiere in 1942 at

the Metropolitan Opera House, and was judged as an unqualified success.

Copland was clearly breaking down barriers with his “common” music. The

Metropolitan Opera was known at this time for it’s stuffy renditions of Verdi

and Puccini’s operas, and not for the joyful playfulness of such a work.

The warm exuberance of Copland’s music attracted Martha Graham in 1943.

She commissioned him to write a score for her ballet entitled Appalachian Spring,

which is impossible not to mention. (despite the fact that we heard it in class)

Appalachian spring brought nothing but good fortune to Copland, assuring him an

eternal place in classical music. It was after the widespread success of Spring

that he produced his most prolific piece, and perhaps the best summation of his

attitude towards classical music, “Fanfare for the Common Man” Finished in 1942,

this was one of 18 pieces commissioned by Eugene Goossens for the Cincinnati

Symphony Orchestra. The horns and the timpani play a major role, producing a

strong and bold urgency. This provides an interesting paradox: “Common Man”

seems to be as “American” as a piece could get. It is strong, bold, to the point

and unquestioning. Interestingly enough, Copland was spending much of his time

with an extreme leftist group of friends who made plays about the injustice and

hypocrisy that existed in society during the 1940’s.

Copland was not only known for his prolific style and unquestionable

compositional language. He was also a great supporter of other musicians,

sponsoring event after event, and starting the career of the now world renowned

Leonard Bernstein . He spoke and taught at countless Universities across the

country, and gave to the American people a style of music that they could claim

as their own. All of this is an example of the caring and humanity that was both

the cornerstone and the trademark of his music. Although he died in 1990, his

music will live on in the hearts and minds of the American people as long as

there is a place called “America.”


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