Aaron Copland
(1900-1990)

Aaron Copland's name is, for many, synonymous with American music. It was his pioneering achievement to break free from Europe and create a concert music that is recognizably and characteristically American. At the same time, he was able to stamp his music with a compositional personality so vivid as to transcend stylistic boundaries, making every work - from the easily-grasped to the demanding - identifiable as his alone.

In many ways, Copland had a quintessentially American start in life as the son of immigrant store owners in Brooklyn. His love of music started at a young age, learning piano from one of his four older siblings and beginning to compose by age 12. He soon after began receiving piano lessons and later, lessons in composition as well. His frequent attendance of music, theatre, and dance performances and visits to the library to study scores also contributed to his solid musical foundation.

In 1920, Copland set out for Paris, beginning conducting lessons, while continuing piano and composition lessons. Among the many vital legacies of his stay in Paris were his association with his teacher and mentor, Nadia Boulanger, exposition to the arts and culture throughout Europe, and the insight that there was yet no American counterpart to the national styles being created by composers from France, Russia, and Spain. He became determined to create, in his words, "a naturally American strain of so-called serious music".

After returning to America, the premieres of many of his early works were not well received. Copland’s fame did not begin to grow until the 1930s and 1940s when his ballets and lighter orchestral works gained the attention of the public, as well as that of music critics, earning him numerous awards and further opportunities. Worldwide recognition came not only from Europe, but Latin and South America as well, as he travelled there often and had developed friendships with Latin composers of the time.

1958 marked the start of his conducting career as he performed and recorded his own works, along with those of dozens of other composers. His creativity continued to flow until the 1970s when his health began to decline, but his genius lives on not only through his music. He wrote countless books, articles, and essays, and many of his lectures have been published as well. Further contributions to modern American art music came through his roles as a teacher and mentor, concert planner, promoter of new music, and member and administrator of various organizations. Copland’s lifetime output includes two operas, eight film scores, six ballets, many vocal and chorus pieces, piano solos, chamber music, and orchestra works. Copland helped to solidify the place of serious music in twentieth-century America and, as a composer, will forever be known as the catalyst of a distinctly nationalistic sound.

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