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Who is Aaron Copland?

Aaron Copland was a transformative American composer, known for infusing classical music with American folk styles. His works, like "Appalachian Spring," evoke the vast landscapes and pioneering spirit of the U.S. His influence extends beyond concert halls, shaping the sound of American music. How has Copland's legacy endured in contemporary music? Join us as we explore his enduring impact.
Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Born in 1900 in Brooklyn, New York, Aaron Copland actually began composing before he formally began taking piano lessons at 13. Rather than go to college, he studied theory, composition, and piano, and immersed himself in performance experiences, attending ballets, operas, and concerts.

In 1921, he began attending the American Conservatory in France, studying conducting and composition. He went on to study in Paris with both Ricardo Viñes and Nadia Boulanger, who conducted his Organ Symphony in 1924.

Aaron Copland won an Oscar in 1950.
Aaron Copland won an Oscar in 1950.

Returning to the United States, Copland combined the influences of American folk music with other elements to create his personal idiom. From the mid-thirties through the 1940’s, Copland had an incredibly prolific period. Between 1939 and 1948, he wrote seven film scores; an opera — The Second Hurricane; three ballets — Billy the Kid, Rodeo, and Appalachian Spring; and his noted orchestral pieces, "Quiet City," "Fanfare for the Common Man," "Music for Movies," and "Lincoln Portrait" — the last three of which were all composed in 1942.

Aaron Copland wrote two operas in his lifetime, The Second Hurricane and The Tender Land.
Aaron Copland wrote two operas in his lifetime, The Second Hurricane and The Tender Land.

In the 1950's, his focus seemed to turn more to voice. He completed his second opera, The Tender Land, in this decade, as well as the song cycle 12 Poems of Emily Dickinson, arrangements called Old American Songs, and Canticle of Freedom. It was also during this period that he experimented with Arnold Schoenberg’s serial methods and gave the Norton Lectures at Harvard in 1951–1952. He also revised his book, What to Listen for in Music.

Aaron Copland was born in Brooklyn, which is a burrough of New York City.
Aaron Copland was born in Brooklyn, which is a burrough of New York City.

Copland was nominated for six Academy Awards. In 1940, he was nominated for two Best Music awards in 1940 and 1941 — Original Score and Scoring — for his work on Of Mice and Men and Our Town. In 1944, he was nominated for Best Music: Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture for The North Star. And in 1950 he won the Oscar for Best Music: Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture for The Heiress.

Copland was also the first composer recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. He was awarded the American National Medal of the Arts by the National Endowment of the Arts in 1986.

Copland did not engage in composition much after the mid-1970's, but continued to conduct, most often leading his own works. He died in 1990 in North Tarrytown, New York.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who was Aaron Copland and why is he significant in American music?

Aaron Copland was a renowned American composer, teacher, and conductor, born on November 14, 1900, in Brooklyn, New York. He is significant for his substantial contributions to American music, particularly for his role in creating a distinctly American style of composition. Copland's works, such as "Appalachian Spring," "Fanfare for the Common Man," and "Rodeo," incorporate elements of American folk music and jazz, reflecting the country's cultural landscape. His music is celebrated for its wide appeal, accessibility, and embodiment of the American spirit.

What are some of Aaron Copland's most famous compositions?

Aaron Copland's most famous compositions include "Appalachian Spring," which won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1945, "Fanfare for the Common Man," which has become an iconic piece of American patriotic music, and "Rodeo," particularly the "Hoe-Down" section, which is frequently performed at concerts. Other notable works are "Billy the Kid" and "Lincoln Portrait," which have also cemented his legacy as a quintessential American composer.

How did Aaron Copland contribute to the development of American classical music?

Aaron Copland contributed to the development of American classical music by incorporating American folk tunes, jazz rhythms, and themes that reflected the country's landscape and spirit into his compositions. He sought to create a music that was recognizably American, distinct from the European tradition. Copland also mentored younger American composers and promoted American music through his work as a teacher, writer, and conductor, thus shaping the course of 20th-century American classical music.

Did Aaron Copland receive any awards or recognitions for his work?

Yes, Aaron Copland received numerous awards and recognitions throughout his career. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Music for "Appalachian Spring" in 1945. Copland was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, and he received the National Medal of Arts in 1986. His influence and contributions to American music have been widely acknowledged and celebrated.

How can one access and experience the music of Aaron Copland today?

One can access and experience the music of Aaron Copland through various means today. His compositions are widely available on streaming platforms, CDs, and vinyl records. Many orchestras and ensembles around the world continue to perform his works in concert halls. Additionally, Copland's music is often featured in film scores, television programs, and ballet productions, making it accessible to a broad audience. For those interested in studying his music, scores and recordings are available in libraries and online archives.

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth is passionate about reading, writing, and research, and has a penchant for correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to contributing articles to MusicalExpert about art, literature, and music, Mary Elizabeth is a teacher, composer, and author. She has a B.A. from the University of Chicago’s writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont, and she has written books, study guides, and teacher materials on language and literature, as well as music composition content for Sibelius Software.

Learn more...
Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth is passionate about reading, writing, and research, and has a penchant for correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to contributing articles to MusicalExpert about art, literature, and music, Mary Elizabeth is a teacher, composer, and author. She has a B.A. from the University of Chicago’s writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont, and she has written books, study guides, and teacher materials on language and literature, as well as music composition content for Sibelius Software.

Learn more...

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    • Aaron Copland won an Oscar in 1950.
      By: FrameAngel
      Aaron Copland won an Oscar in 1950.
    • Aaron Copland wrote two operas in his lifetime, The Second Hurricane and The Tender Land.
      By: Kalim
      Aaron Copland wrote two operas in his lifetime, The Second Hurricane and The Tender Land.
    • Aaron Copland was born in Brooklyn, which is a burrough of New York City.
      By: chrupka
      Aaron Copland was born in Brooklyn, which is a burrough of New York City.