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Aaron Copland, 1900-1990: His Music Taught

Americans About Themselves



Photo: loc.gov
Aaron Copland at home in his library
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STEVE EMBER: Im Steve Ember.
BARBARA KLEIN: And Im Barbara Klein with People in America in VOA Special
English. Today we tell about Aaron Copland, one of Americas best modern music
composers.
(MUSIC)
STEVE EMBER: Aaron Copland wrote many kinds of music. He wrote music for the
orchestra, piano, and voice. He wrote music for plays, movies and dance. Copland also
was a conductor, pianist, speaker, teacher and author.
Music critics say Copland taught Americans about themselves through his music. He
used parts of many old traditional American folk songs in his work. He was influenced to
do this after studying music in France. He said that composers there had a very French
way of writing music. He said Americans had nothing like that in this country. So he
decided to compose music that was truly American.

loc.gov
Aaron always dreamt of becoming a composer
BARBARA KLEIN: Aaron Copland was born in nineteen hundred in Brooklyn, New
York. He was the youngest of five children. His parents had come to the United States
from eastern Europe. They owned a store in Brooklyn. Aaron began playing the piano
when he was a young child. He wrote his first song for his mother when he was eight
years old. His dreams of becoming a composer began when he was young.
When he was sixteen, he urged his parents to let him study composing with Rubin
Goldmark. Goldmark had taught the composer George Gershwin.
STEVE EMBER: When he was in his early twenties, Copland went to Paris where he
studied music with Nadia Boulanger. She was one of the most important music teachers
of the time. He returned to New York in nineteen twenty-four.
The famous conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Serge Koussevitzky, learned
about Copland's music. Koussevitzky led the orchestra for the first performance of
Copland's early work, "Music for the Theater," in nineteen twenty-five. Koussevitzky
also conducted Copland's "Concerto for Piano and Orchestra" in nineteen twenty-seven.
This work was unusual because Copland used ideas from jazz music in his concerto.
BARBARA KLEIN: Copland later wrote the music for two ballets about the American
West. One was about the life of a famous gunfighter called Billy the Kid. Copland used
music from American cowboy songs in this work. This piece from "Billy the Kid: Ballet
Suite" is called "Street in a Frontier Town."
(MUSIC)

loc.gov
The famous composer began playing the piano as a child
STEVE EMBER: In nineteen forty-two, the conductor Andre Kostelanetz asked Copland
to write music about a great American, Abraham Lincoln. Copland wrote "Lincoln
Portrait" to honor America's sixteenth president. Copland's music included parts of
American folk songs and songs popular during the American Civil War. He added words
from President Lincoln's speeches and letters.
"A Lincoln Portrait" has been performed many times in America. Many famous people
have done the speaking part. Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of President Franklin Roosevelt,
was one of them. Here, actor James Earl Jones performs in Copland's "A Lincoln
Portrait."
(MUSIC)
BARBARA KLEIN: Also in nineteen forty-two, the music director of the Cincinnati
Symphony Orchestra asked eighteen composers to write music expressing love for
America. For the competition, Copland composed "Fanfare for the Common Man." This
music is played in America during many national events, including some presidential
inaugurations.
(MUSIC)
STEVE EMBER: Experts say "Fanfare for the Common Man" was an example of
Copland's change in direction during the nineteen forties. He began writing music that
was more easily understood and more popular. Copland wrote about this in nineteen
forty-one in his book, Our New Music. He wrote that a whole new public for music had
developed as a result of the popularity of the radio and record player. He said that there
was no reason to continue writing music as if these devices did not exist. So he decided to
write music in a simpler way.
BARBARA KLEIN: Copland spread his ideas about music in other ways. He taught at
the New School for Social Research in New York City and at Harvard University in
Cambridge, Massachusetts. One of the many awards he received was the Pulitzer Prize.
He won it in nineteen forty-five for his famous music for a ballet called "Appalachian
Spring." It is one of his most popular works. The last part of the ballet is based on a
traditional song, "A Gift to be Simple."
(MUSIC)

loc.gov
Aaron Copland was one of Americas best modern music composers
STEVE EMBER: Copland also wrote music for several major motion pictures. He won
an Academy Award in nineteen fifty for composing the music for the film, "The Heiress."
Then, he began experimenting with what is called a twelve-tone system of composing.
His music no longer was as easy to understand, or as popular.
Copland stopped composing at the end of the nineteen sixties. Yet he continued to be
active as a conductor and speaker. In nineteen eighty-two, Queens College of the City
University of New York established the Aaron Copland School of Music.
BARBARA KLEIN: Copland was a strong supporter of liberal ideas. In the early
nineteen- fifties, he and other famous writers, actors and intellectuals were accused of
supporting communism. Public opinion changed, though. In nineteen sixty-four,
President Lyndon Johnson presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. It is
America's highest award to civilians. Aaron Copland died in nineteen ninety at the age of
ninety. But his music lives on.
(MUSIC)
STEVE EMBER: This Special English program was written by Shelley Gollust. It was
produced by Lawan Davis. Im Steve Ember.
BARBARA KLEIN: And I'm Barbara Klein. Join us again next week for another People
in America program in VOA Special English.