Author Topic: Aaron Copland: A Complete Survey (or as damned near complete as you could hope!)  (Read 11040 times)

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DavidW

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Music can't be numerically ranked.  It is art, not a horse race.

Offline Archaic Torso of Apollo

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too much of the oeuvre seems to be significantly below par considering that he is now almost universally seen as one of the Great Composers of the 20th century.

I don't think Copland is anywhere near universally seen as a Great Composer. He gets trashed a lot on forums like this (and elsewhere), and besides a few "pop hits," his music doesn't seem to get played a lot.

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Cage and Feldman are very dear to me also but are far too strange/individual to seem in any way reflective of some kind of national aesthetic.

I would argue that individuality and eccentricity virtually define "the American style" in classical music.
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Offline Benji

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Maybe it would be good to say why you thought Copland was such a great composer first. I have to say that he's probably my least favourite of what I think of as the five biggest names in American composing: Barber, Ives, Copland, Gershwin and Carter.

In my my mind, the first two and last two fall nicely into pairs  - Barber the consummate professional and master of traditional technique opposite Ives the "amateur" with his striving transcendental experimentalism, and Gershwin the popular, melodic and sentimental against Carter the dissonant, spiky, phantasmagorical "musicians" composer. Copland is somewhere in the middle of these pairings, but actually not as good as any of them I think. I love some of his best work (Appalachian Spring, Piano Sonata, Dickinson Songs) but too much of the oeuvre seems to be significantly below par considering that he is now almost universally seen as one of the Great Composers of the 20th century.

Cage and Feldman are very dear to me also but are far too strange/individual to seem in any way reflective of some kind of national aesthetic.

It's difficult to put into words how I feel about Copland. There is something in his music that resonates with me at a very deep level - it evokes nostalgia in me for places and times that I have no experience of and does so very powerfully and convincingly that I can only conclude that Copland was a kindred spirit. It's the same feeling I get from Vaughan Williams, though with RVW I can at least explain some of it away given that we are both English and I have some of the same connection with the national mindset and landscape etc. Of course this is the wishy-washy aspect, which as I say is difficult to express in a way that would be meaningful or understandable to someone who doesn't feel the same way. I'm sure everyone has a composer or two that 'speak' to their soul, and Copland is one of mine.

Subjective assessment aside, I absolutely feel Copland is worthy of, as you say, a Great Composer tag. Everything you've said about Barber, Ives, Gershwin and Carter could equally apply to Copland. Listening to the early songs last night and thinking about how mature (mature as in confident, not as in sounding like the mature Copland) and assured they sound and comparing this with the early orchestral works, such as Grohg , in which we can hear Copland absorbing the music of Europe at the time (Bartók, Stravinsky, Schoenberg) but molding it into a unique, masterful composition, as colourful and spectacular as anything those three composers wrote. 

And then the Piano Concerto, which only a few years down the line from the songs already show a vast talent and imagination at work and, within it the seed of the familiar Copland known to many.

I feel that perhaps overexposure to the big ticket works such as Billy the Kid and Appalachian Spring has dulled peoples appreciation for actually how important and wonderful they really are. My exploration of Copland's music both earlier and later than the familiar Americana works has really enriched my appreciation of Copland and how wide-ranging and often exceptional his oeuvre really is. It seems to me that Copland was a jack of almost all musical trades and a master of many.

I really hope this thread will lead to the same revelation for others by providing a bigger picture, the full context and, with any luck, encouraging you to listen along and enjoy. 

Offline Benji

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I don't think Copland is anywhere near universally seen as a Great Composer. He gets trashed a lot on forums like this (and elsewhere), and besides a few "pop hits," his music doesn't seem to get played a lot.

That's their loss!  :D

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I would argue that individuality and eccentricity virtually define "the American style" in classical music.

I wholeheartedly agree.

Offline Guido

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I look forward to following this thread. As I've said before, Ives and Barber are two of my "soulmate" composers so I know what you are feeling, and part of the reason of which is their yearning nostalgia - sort of what you talk about in Copland, but in Copland it sounds more like a loneliness and the sad alienation of city life from nature (Wilfred Mellers hits the nail on the head here), which is a different sort of nostalgia than the one expressed by either Ives or Barber of course (different people, different concerns).

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I would argue that individuality and eccentricity virtually define "the American style" in classical music.

Maybe, though the two I mentioned never sounded very traditionally American to me, subjective I know and it's a matter for another topic. We would surely say that Schuman, Creston, Diamond, Piston and Shapero all had a very American sound but I'm not sure that we could particularly say they were any more eccentric or individual than contemporanous European composers.
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Offline Archaic Torso of Apollo

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Maybe, though the two I mentioned never sounded very traditionally American to me, subjective I know and it's a matter for another topic. We would surely say that Schuman, Creston, Diamond, Piston and Shapero all had a very American sound but I'm not sure that we could particularly say they were any more eccentric or individual than contemporanous European composers.

Sure...I was being a bit provocative. I do think there is something peculiarly American about the eccentricity of composers like Ives, Nancarrow, Partch, Ruggles, Cage, and the various minimalists and electronic pioneers. This is not a reflection on quality however - I like more "traditional" composers (Schuman, Piston etc.) just as much.
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Offline Sergeant Rock

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...the two I mentioned never sounded very traditionally American to me

Ives doesn't sound American to you?  How odd that statement is to me, someone who thinks Ives is the quintessential American composer. You're English, yes? Do you recognize as American the numerous quotes Ives uses? Of course there is more to his American sound than quotes of popular American music but it is a major part of it and a part perhaps you can't identify? When I hear "Bringing in the Sheaves" woven into the texture of his music I'm immediately transported here:



"Columbia the Gem of the Ocean" or "Turkey in the Straw" likewise conjure up visions of the American landscape and soul. It's music that simply couldn't be imagined by a non-American composer. But if you don't hear those tunes as part of America (at least a bygone America) then I suppose I can partially understand your statement.

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karlhenning

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I think that Copland (with only partial injustice) slots into many people's view as "the musical Norman Rockwell." He has more range than that, even if perhaps he did not always make an effort to inhabit all of his range.

Offline Guido

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Ives doesn't sound American to you?  How odd that statement is to me, someone who thinks Ives is the quintessential American composer.

God no! Talking about Cage and Feldman. Ives is one of my absolute favourite composers - how curious it would be to misunderstand his music to that degree!  :) Ives' music could not have been composed by a non American. Nor could it have been composed by any other american! Which is why it is such a completely unique phenomenon. I would argue that Barber also sounds quite American even although during his lifetime he was repeatedly referred to as sounding very European. Again, I don't find this to be the case.

This thread is being thoroughly derailed! Onto the next Copland works!
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Offline Bogey

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I think that Copland (with only partial injustice) slots into many people's view as "the musical Norman Rockwell." He has more range than that, even if perhaps he did not always make an effort to inhabit all of his range.

I'm feeling you, Karl. I am FEELING YOU!!
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Offline Benji

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The Cat and the Mouse, for piano (1920)

<a href="http://www.youtube.com/v/zcsMhuREKbw" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" class="bbc_link bbc_flash_disabled new_win">http://www.youtube.com/v/zcsMhuREKbw</a>

If found this thing called "Youtube" and you can watch videos and stuff. It's neat! Now you can listen along!  8)

So it's a fun little composition, nothing deep. Very literal in it's musical description. Obviously no denying the influence of Debussy, but it is interesting that I can hear what I would call American-sounding harmonies in there (1:34 onward?).

Old Poem, for soprano and piano (1920)

Listening to Naxos online release: Enrico Maria Polimanti (piano), Lydia Easley (Soprano).

Copland said of this: "one of the first of my pieces to show the beginnings of a musical personality, at least in terms of rhythmic feeling, frequent meter changes, and sense of form."

A musical personality yes, though not a recognisable one. The notes to the Naxos release say the work has a Ravelian influence, which on repeated hearing I can almost identify. I think it's much more noticeable in the vocal writing; the more I listen to the piece the more I'm reminded of the opening vocal lines of Ravel's Shéhérazade, a work with which the Old Poem shares the oriental theme and a nocturnal stillness.

Tomorrow: 1921!  :)

Offline Benji

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p.s. I'm also putting a hyperlink to the post relating to each work on the big index list on my first post.  :)

karlhenning

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You are one organized dude, Ben.

Offline mc ukrneal

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The Cat and the Mouse, for piano (1920)


So it's a fun little composition, nothing deep. Very literal in it's musical description. Obviously no denying the influence of Debussy, but it is interesting that I can hear what I would call American-sounding harmonies in there (1:34 onward?).
Right from the beginning  (and repeated a few times throughout) I am hearing 'I Got Rhythm'. Other than that, very French sounding indeed!
Be kind to your fellow posters!!

Offline Benji

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Pastorale, for high voice and piano (1921)

<a href="http://www.youtube.com/v/Df9tcvCUvro" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" class="bbc_link bbc_flash_disabled new_win">http://www.youtube.com/v/Df9tcvCUvro</a>

Video is a little dodgy at the start, but it clears up after a while - keep with it. It's a simple song, short and sweet.

The first performance of this work was 10 January 1922. I have found two letters Copland wrote to his parents, one from January 6 and another from January 14. In the letter from the 6th he writes:

"While I was away the proof of the outside cover of my piece came. I have sent it back and now it really can't be long before the composition is out. I laugh to think so I can't really complain of being neglected, can I?"

Little did he know!  ;D

In the letter of the 14th he writes:

"The songs were received much more enthusiastically than at the S.M.I. concert. For that affair I went out to buy a stiff-collared white shirt in one of the big department stores. Guess how much I paid - 18 Francs (about $1.50!) also I have been having such awful struggles to make my bow tie each time I wore the tuxedo that I finally decided to buy a ready-made tie for which I had to pay 4 francs or about 30 cents. One can hardly pay things are expensive here!"

I included the above just because I love how he is more interested in telling the story of how much the tie cost than his recent concert! It's very humanising to see such remarks.  :D

Early in the same letter he is relaying a story about a meeting with another composer, whose name I can't make out in Copland's handwriting. Copland goes on to say

"..."told me you got more for your piece than he has ever gotten for one of his!" On second consideration, I have decided that this story is rather sad, since it shows how much serious music is worth in dollars and cents in America. But at the same time one must remember that most composers in America get royalties while most composers in Europe sell their music outright. But the long and short of it is that there is no money to be made in composition either way! Therefore one makes a living in some other way (teaching, accompanying, conducting and so forth)."

I wonder how much things are really different, if at all, nowadays. Still, things turned out pretty well for Copland in the end, he need not have worried!

If you would like to read the correspondence you can do so here at the Library of Congress.

Offline mc ukrneal

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Wow! Thanks for all the wonderful color and the link! Really appreciate all the effort you are putting into this. I think a thread like this is pretty wonderful, and with all the additional information you are adding it is very educational. You help bring his music to life!
Be kind to your fellow posters!!

Offline Benji

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Wow! Thanks for all the wonderful color and the link! Really appreciate all the effort you are putting into this. I think a thread like this is pretty wonderful, and with all the additional information you are adding it is very educational. You help bring his music to life!

That's very kind of you to say, thank you so much. :)

I am enjoying it immensely. I can highly recommend the benefits of a thorough chronolgical examination of your favourite composer!  8)

At the moment I can see that Grohg is just a little further down the list and i'm quite excited to hear the few remaining works that predate it. After hearing these [relatively] simple short songs and piano pieces so far I am expecting a quantum leap in Copland's talent by the time he polished off Grohg. All I can imagine is that Boulanger's teaching must have provided one hell of a steep learning curve! Can't wait to see how the story unfolds... 

Tune in later for more! ;)

Offline Maciek

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And...?

 ???

Offline Palmetto

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Recommendations, please
« Reply #38 on: April 11, 2011, 01:44:07 PM »
Would some of you recommend recordings of the following for a beginner?  If it makes any difference, I'll likely be ordering from Amazon as downloaded .MP3s.

Appalachian Spring
Billy the Kid
El Salon Mexico
Fanfare
Rodeo

I'm trying to decide whether to order selections individually or pull down a complete album (usually cheaper than buying individual tracks).  If enough recommendations are for the same album or recording, I'll go with that.

Thanks!


karlhenning

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Would some of you recommend recordings of the following for a beginner?  If it makes any difference, I'll likely be ordering from Amazon as downloaded .MP3s.

Appalachian Spring
Billy the Kid
El Salon Mexico
Fanfare
Rodeo

I'm trying to decide whether to order selections individually or pull down a complete album (usually cheaper than buying individual tracks).  If enough recommendations are for the same album or recording, I'll go with that.

Thanks!

If they've got the Slatkin/St Louis recording of Rodeo, that includes a "barrel-house piano" interlude in Rodeo that you hardly hear otherwise.

Michael Tilson Thomas & SFSO for Appalachian Spring (complete) & Billy the Kid

Doráti & Detroit for the Fanfare & El salón México