Friday, May 29, 2009

Aaron Copland (1900 - 1990)

Aaron Copland was an American composer of the 20th century. His early work can be described as traditional European-influenced classical music. But while still a young man, Aaron Copland began composing a uniquely "American" style of music, incorporating jazz, Mexican-American, and other influences unique to the United States. He composed for symphonies but also for ballets and movies.
Aaron Copland was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1900. He studied in Paris for several years, and later got a Guggenheim grant that provided him with financial assistance that allowed him to devote himself to composition. He produced traditional classical forms of composition until he was in his mid-30s, at which time he decided that he wanted to create a new style of music which would appeal to a broader audience. His first popular work was "El Salon Mexico" (1936).

In 1942, Copland was requested by the conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra to write a "Fanfare" (a short piece for brass and percussion) to be used at the opening of their performances. During World War I, some composers had written "fanfares," and this orchestra wanted to bring back the custom. Copland wrote "Fanfare for the Common Man," which remains one of his most popular works.

(Aaron Copland [right] with Leonard Bernstein [left]).

In 1942, Copland also composed "A Lincoln Portrait" and composed the "Rodeo Suite" for a ballet.

In the late 1930s and into the 1940s, Copland began composing music for the film industry. Among the soundtracks he composed were "Of Mice and Men" (1939) (for which he received an academy award nomination), "Our Town" (1940), "The North Star" (1943), and "The Heiress" (1949) (for which Copland won the Academy Award for Best Music).

Although working for the film industry brought Copland some popularity and financial support, it also got him drug into the red-scares of the late 1940s and the 1950s. Basically, some right-wingers in Congress launched an inquisition in this country claiming that communists had taken over everything, including the movie industry. Secret lists were prepared which supposedly identified hundreds of people who were communists, and who were using the movie industry to sell Americans on communist ideas.

Some of the people who were hauled in front of the Congressional inquisition committee (House Unamerican Activities Committee, or HUAC) refused to testify on the grounds that their associations with others and political beIliefs were not the proper subject of government inquiry under the First Amendment Freedom of Association. Ten of those people (the "Hollywood Ten") were convicted of contempt of court and sent to prison. After that, others who were called in front of the committee relied on the fifth amendment (refusal to testify on the grounds it might tend to incriminate) and could not be held in contempt. But many, those who refused to testify and some who did testify, some who were never even called, were put onto a Blacklist and nobody in Hollywood would give them work after that.

Copland's name was included on a famous list of alleged "Reds," and was called before Congress in 1953. The list was called "Red Channels," and was put together by a few of J. Edgar Hoover's Boys in Taffetta and an extremely right-wing television producer. Copland had spoken in favor of the Communist Party in the 1930s, which was enough to condemn him. He denied that he had ever belonged to the Communist Party, and there was no evidence that he had, although membership was perfectly legal.

Despite the fact that Aaron Copland had never been a Communist, the mere fact that he had ever said anything good about the Communists was enough to have him banned from many forums. For example, his composition "The Lincoln Portrait" had been included in the list of music to be played for Eisenhower's inauguration concert, but when Copland was called a Red by Congress, the piece was removed. The "Red Channels," with its allegations against hundreds of people, unsubstantiated and without evidence, was sent to every person in the movie industry who was in a position to hire talent. Copland, along with many others, could not thereafter find work in the movie industry.

The Fanfare For The Common Man

"Fanfare for the Common Man" (1942) is one of Copland's most famous works. It was recreated by Emerson, Lake & Palmer in 1977, a rock group which had also done a version of Copland's Hoedown in 1972. Fanfare was used as the opening to a Rolling Stones album entitled "Love You Live," and used by the Stones again as the opening of one of their concert tours. Bob Dylan has used Copland's Fanfare to open some of his shows.

Fanfare has been used by many television sports shows as their opening theme. It has been used in U.S. Navy recruitment commercials, and was featured in the movie "Saving Private Ryan." It has been chosen by space shuttle crews as their wake-up music, and used by sports teams as their theme for home games. It was played at the beginning of the "We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial," as well as being played in a concert prior to the inauguration of Bill Clinton.

In 1944 , Martha Graham asked Aaron Copland to compose music for a ballet that she was going to create, although she did not yet know what would be the theme or subject matter of the ballet. Copland was simply asked to compose music for "an American Ballet." His working title was "Music for Martha." Copland composed the piece "Appalachian Spring," which is also one of his most famous pieces. Once the music was completed, Graham choreographed and composed her ballet using a story from a Hart Carne poem called "Applachian Spring," which is how the music was named. Copland was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in composition for "Applachian Spring."

From Appalachian Spring:

(Aaron Copland in his later years)

Another one of Copland's popular pieces was the "Rodeo Suite," also composed in 1944. Hoedown, from Rodeo Suite:

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