A Great Composer
Inspiration may be a form of super-consciousness, or perhaps
of subconsciousnessI wouldnt know. But I am sure it is
the antithesis of self-consciousness.
Only one man could claim the title as probably the greatest composer in American history for writing so many unforgettable works: Aaron Copland. He lived a life inspired by many things as well as inspiring people all across the nation, and it really led to the opposite of being drawn into himself, as he described in the quote above. He was born in Brooklyn, New York on November 14 in 1900. He was the youngest of five children to Sarah and Harris Copland. A musical spark came out in Copland already at the age of 11 as he began piano lessons with his sister. His musical talents needed tutoring from a higher level of teaching and so he studied with a professional piano teacher, Ludwig Wolfsohn, at age 14. Copland said later, No one ever connected music with my family. The idea was entirely original with me. And unfortunately the idea occurred to me seriously only at 13 or thereaboutswhich is rather late for a musician to get started, (Charles Moritz 190). He graduated in 1918 and was able to devote all his time to writing and composing music. Wanting to further his knowledge in music, he was taught harmony and counterpoint by Rubin Goldmark. Understandably, the two men shared different views and Goldmark completely disagreed with Coplands styles, so to demonstrate his own stubbornness, Copland came back to Goldmark with a piece he wrote entitled The Cat and The Mouse, (Charles Moritz 191). Copland would then attend the newly established American Conservatory at Fontainebleau in Paris, and he was honored in being the first American student of the amazing teacher, Nadia Boulanger. After three years he returned to New York without any knowledge of how a composer got his works published or performed, nor how he planned on keeping himself financially stable. Copland ended his
troubling when he was given a grant of from two Guggenheim Fellowships, and some women who found an interest in his compositions that gave him some donations so he could devote all his time to writing. His first major work upon returning to America was Symphony for Organ and Orchestra which he wrote just for the few performances of Nadia Boulanger; the first one in Carnegie Hall in 1925 and another in Boston. As the twenties roared on, Copland began to show how his musical career would truly follow the ever-changing style of America.
During the 1920s, Aaron Copland went with the trend and experimented with jazz styles in his music, which proved to be extraordinary in the views of many. His choice for other pieces came through modern music about which he once said, I just happened upon it in the natural course of my musical exploration. This was apparent in the way he would use ideals of Neoclassicism in his Piano Variations. Copland then hit a downfall in about 1936. He wrote a few works which were harder to perform and not taken in by many audiences due to the use of much more advanced techniques which were uncommon for the time. Copland knew a change had to be made because he quickly saw how many composers were working themselves into a vacuum, so he would follow a new path of the more simplistic American way for much of his life. This simple to understand type of writing is what brought audiences back and made Aaron Copland great. He started writing functional music like The Second Hurricane and The Outdoor Adventure for kids, as well as Of Mice and Men, Or Town, North Star, and The Red Pony for movies; Music For Radio for radio; and a few American folk songs. He worked specifically with western themes in three major pieces, Rodeo (obvious Western setting), Billy the Kid (another setting in the farther west), and the ever so
famous Appalachian Spring (set in Pennsylvania when it was still Americas frontier). Appalachian Spring proves how well connected Copland was with the United States as it has lasted for generations and is still herd today, but it was really an original shakers folk song called Simple Gifts. He continued a process of American influence with a few famous works from 12 Emily Dickinson poems, and from texts by Edwin Arlington Robinson, Ezra Pound, and E. E. Cummings. He did films based on late 19th century New York in a contemporary state of being. Copland spread his American affiliation outside the U.S. to include works like El Saln Mxico and Danzn Cubano related to the Northern Hemisphere.
Aaron Copland would show leadership and have to prove his qualities in different situations. At about 1938, Copland became president of the American Composers Alliance and that was just the start to many organizations he would lead, help create, or partake in, such as being the head of the composition department at the Berkshire Music Center in 1940-1965. In 1946 he was also elected member of ASCAP and in 1948 he became the Director of the League of Composers. It was around 1953, and in the midst of an anticommunist craze, in which Senator Joseph McCarthy called Aaron Copland forth to be interrogated about his past relations with German composer Hanns Eisler and with U.S. political organizations that supported labor leaders Harry Bridges and Earl Browder (Liberty, Equality, Power 856). Copland proved to be a difficult witness and deflected the senators questions with ingenious answers, so that he was never called back by McCarthy. After 1960, he bought Rock Hill in the town of Cortlandt and began a slow decline in his musical performances and works. About 1965 Copland participated in a public television series called Music in the Twenties.
Copland had fulfilled a life of endless achievements, as he had great impacts in promoting interests of American composers through organizations such as Copland-Sessions Concerts, American Festival of Contemporary Music, and American Composers Alliance. He was continually given many awards, like an Academy Award nomination for film score of North Star, an Academy Award for best original musical score in The Heiress, the Pulitzer Prize in music, the New York Music Critics Circle Award for Appalachian Spring, the Gold Medal of the American Academy Institute of Arts and Letters, the MacDowell Colony Medal of Honor, winning the RCA Victor Composer Competition with Dance Symphony, the Presidential Medal of Freedom (Americas top civilian honor), the Kennedy Center Honors, the Congressional Medal of Honor, the National Medal of Arts (given to him by President Reagan), the Commanders Cross of the Order of Merit from West Germany, the Howland Memorial Medal from Yale University, and the Department of Music at Queens College of the City University of New York was renamed Aaron Copland School of Music. After 1970, Copland continued lecturing and some conducting as he gradually stopped composing. He died at Phelps Memorial Hospital in Tarrytown, New York on December 2 after 90 years of musical genius and American glory. His ashes were scattered at Tanglewood, but the legend of Aaron Copland resides in us all forever.